Do you know what the word refractory means? It’s from the latin word refractarius, meaning stubborn. It is typically used to describe things that are resistant–like the way an illness resists treatment, or a painful migraine resists resolution. It has to do with being difficult and unmanageable, making it an apt word for the migraine that won’t quit.
But the best use of the word may come from chemistry which explains a refractory material as one that maintains its strength even at high temperatures. Put another way, a refractory migraine can be thought of as more than simply resistant and difficult. No matter what treatment you throw at it or what medication you douse it with, it remains strong.
Debilitating Means to Make Weak, but Only the Strong Can Endure a Debilitating Migraine
We’re not going to pretend there is any virtue in suffering or value to sugarcoating it. Migraine is pain, and lots of it. And yet. Consider for a moment that you and the refractory migraine actually have something in common. No matter how excruciating the migraine is, how long it lasts, or how often it returns, no matter how exhausted you are physically and emotionally, you endure. It’s awful to withstand, and somehow you do it. Every time.
Often migraineurs themselves feel like they are difficult, resistant, stubborn. Nobody said that; they didn’t have to for you to feel its truth. There’s a terrible guilt one feels when down with a migraine. It’s a mix of hopelessness, helplessness, shame mixed with a bit of should and if only. Surely you must be doing something wrong. You should have done X or avoided Y. If only you could get up off this bed, or if only you could live your life like everyone else does. Why you? It isn’t your fault. There’s a perception of weakness in American society—and many others as well—about those who show pain. Pain is not for displaying. It is to be hidden away in a dark room.
Anyone dealing with chronic pain knows what we’re talking about. You’ve felt that awful darkness, the heaviness, the personal humiliation at having to stop your life and to not only be rendered unable to care for anyone else, but to be entirely dependent on another person, and to miss out on fun, on family events, work, and a normal life.
It’s Not One You’d Ask For, but You Do Have a Superpower
With the refractory migraine, it is easy to see what you lack. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s energy, maybe it’s a sense of confidence in the day ahead. It’s hard to feel good when there may be pain waiting for you just around the corner.
In focusing on the guilt and wishes and shoulds, you fail to see your own incredible power: You aren’t weak for having pain; you are strong for having endured it. You not only survive the crippling, humiliating, torturous pain, but you did it again and again. And every time, you look for a new solution, a new treatment, a new way to beat it. The reality of a life with migraines is unbearable, but here you are fighting, searching, always pressing forward.
Remember that. Next time you’re alone in the dark, paralyzed by the pain, thinking how you can’t bear it a moment longer—remember that you’ve done this before. Remember that this is a refractory migraine, not you. It feels all-consuming, but it can’t consume you. Because as the pain rises, so does your strength.
So do you.
Post title inspired by The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.