The unpredictability of living with chronic migraine can be stressful. My dogs bring my life levity, comfort, and structure in a way that makes even my hardest days easier.
Dogs have a way of bringing things into perspective. One minute you’re stressing about work, and the next minute, you’re laughing at them hiding under a patio chair cover.
Beyond being a source of amusement, dogs are a constant reminder that life is short.
The things that seem so important when you’re rushing to get ready in the morning can disappear into the background when your dog is sick or in pain.
Much like how I hate to see my dogs suffering, my dogs can’t stand to see me hurting. I’ve found that they try to comfort me in their own way.
If I so much as sneeze, my bulldog, Frankie, will wake up from a nap and stare at me until he’s satisfied that I’m OK.
If I’m shielding my eyes during a migraine attack, Frankie will paw at me or climb onto my lap (all 45 pounds of him) until I reassure him that everything’s fine.
My French bulldog, Rusty, is a different story. He comes across as aloof and indifferent. When I get home from work, it’s as though he needs to warm up to me for the thousandth time.
But his standoffishness is just a thin veneer masking his true personality. Rusty is known to suddenly erupt into a frenzied state, jumping and chasing after me, glued to my heels. He doesn’t pace himself. He gives it all or nothing.
It might sound counterintuitive but Rusty’s all-or-nothing approach to life has helped me see my migraine condition in a new light. Similarly, Frankie’s unwavering affection and attentiveness are exactly the reminders I need to slow down and practice self-care.
Rusty and Frankie are proof that no two dogs are alike. Here’s what I’ve learned from both of them about navigating life with chronic migraine.
You know how some dogs can’t contain their enthusiasm when you say the word “walk”? Before you can even get the full word out, they’re already at the front door with their leash.
My dogs are the opposite. They need some coaxing to go for a walk. When I’m experiencing a migraine attack, I’m not exactly bolting for the door either.
When my head is throbbing, the last thing on my mind is putting on nice clothes or styling my hair. My dogs don’t care how I’m dressed or what I look like.
Since my dogs rely on me for exercise, it pushes me to get out of the house on days when I would rather curl up on the couch.
Outside in the fresh air, I often have a few minutes of relief from the dizziness and pain brought on by migraine.
A bonus of walking my dogs is not having to care about what I look like. When my head is throbbing, the last thing on my mind is putting on nice clothes or styling my hair. My dogs don’t care how I’m dressed or what I look like.
Even when I run into neighbors, all the attention is on my dogs. Having the dogs with me eases the pressure of finding something interesting to say. I can disappear behind my hoodie and messy hair bun.
The stigma surrounding migraine can make it hard to open up to people about the condition.
Some people don’t understand the debilitating nature of migraine and how stress may trigger migraine or worsen symptoms. They may get frustrated or try to make you feel guilty if you repeatedly miss events or try to reschedule plans.
Sometimes, using my dogs as an excuse for declining an invitation feels more socially acceptable than saying I’m experiencing a migraine episode. The person might still be annoyed, but it spares me from having to disclose information about my health or experience stigma over something I can’t control.
While interpersonal relationships carry certain burdens and expectations, you don’t have to explain yourself to a dog.
Dogs thrive on consistency. Because of this, I’ve benefitted from taking part in regular routines that help provide structure and predictability in my daily life.
Being able to recognize your migraine triggers and the early warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean you can always avoid an attack. Like other people who have migraine, I struggle with perfectionism. I often find myself seeking external validation.
As much as I hate to admit it, my self-worth is tied to how successful I am. It started when I was a student and has followed me into my work life.
This perfectionist mindset can fall apart when you live with a chronic condition. Sometimes, you have to tell yourself, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be done.”
Still, letting go of unrealistic standards doesn’t mean I stop striving for excellence. It means I make room for more adaptive beliefs, like “good enough is good enough.”
Having dogs is one aspect of my life where I can fully escape perfectionism. For instance, no one gives me a pat on the back for giving my dogs a bath or a gold star for brushing their teeth. My dogs are the last ones to thank me for grooming them, especially when I bring out the nail trimmer.
The motivation for taking care of my dogs is intrinsic. Any validation and self-worth gained is from doing something without an expectation of praise or rewards.
In psychology, all-or-nothing thinking is a type of cognitive distortion that doesn’t allow you to see any gray area in a situation. This can mean that you see yourself as a success or a failure. There’s nothing in between.
It’s even harder to accept the gray area when you live with a chronic condition. There’s a limit on how much you can push through pain and discomfort. There are times when your condition prevents you from performing at your best.
This is where I draw inspiration from Rusty. I give it my all when I’m well and I give it nothing when I need to rest. The last part is still a work in progress.
When I’m really struggling, Frankie is there rolling onto his back and resting his head on my lap. I can’t help but feel loved and assured that it’s OK for me to prioritize my well-being.
It’s easy to be consumed by the stress and unpredictability of living with chronic migraine.
Somewhere in the steady stream of worries are moments of laughter and peace that bubble up to the surface. Dogs make sure of it by bringing you new perspectives, even when you’re feeling slowed down by your condition.
Much like managing migraine, caring for dogs can seem like you are feeling around in the dark. Both require learning to trust your instincts.
You are the one who knows best when it comes to caring for your dogs *and* for yourself.
Fact checked on June 23, 2022
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