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On days when chronic migraine symptoms are especially challenging, reading can offer an escape from daily struggles, an opportunity to practice mindfulness, or new information to manage our illness. Books can inspire us, educate us, comfort us.
I have always loved to read. Yet, I had to place a temporary hold on this hobby a few times during my life, like when I went to law school and when my episodic migraine morphed into chronic migraine. Chronic migraine dramatically changed my life. For quite some time it took over my identity and with it my love for reading. I have come a long way from those dark and painful days. Although migraine is and likely always will be a part of my life, I have been able to reclaim my identity and take control of the migraine disease.
Reclaiming our identity is one of the strategies of how we can thrive with chronic migraine. We must return to hobbies we enjoyed prior to becoming chronically ill. It is only in the last few years that I returned to the comfort of books. I forgot how important reading was to me. Reading again helped me to reclaim my identity.
I have always wanted to be in a book club but an opportunity had never presented itself. We came up with an idea to organize a book club in our Migraine Strong Facebook group to motivate our members to connect with one another in hopes that they realize they are so much more than their migraine. We have successfully been running the book club for a year. The books we mostly read are fiction and there have been quite a few psychological thrillers! In our book club, members can participate in their pajamas wearing the Headache Hat, and we won’t judge.
Here are the five strategies to help you enjoy reading again despite chronic migraine.
1. Using audio books
If you have vestibular migraine symptoms or another chronic illness that prevents you from reading physical books, you can listen to an audio book instead! I personally love audible books. I work part time while my toddlers are in pre-school and I stay at home with them during the rest of the week. At night, I blog for Migraine Strong or catch up on TV shows with my husband. Sitting down with an actual book is not something that currently fits into my recent schedule. I listen to the audio books during my rides to and from work or when I am folding laundry and multi tasking. My husband and I also love listening to audio books together when we take trips to visit family.
Here are a few ways you can listen to audio books:
- You can download audio books from Audible.com. Audible offers 30 days of membership free to get you started. Then you can decide if you wish to cancel, purchase a monthly subscription or pay for individual audio books.
- Similarly You can also get audio books through Kindle Unlimited. There is also a 30 day trial! However, with Kindle Unlimited you can also read e-books which is an extra bonus.
- You can also get free audio books through your local library. Look up which services your library offers and download those apps. Most libraries lend books through Overdrive. Once you download the service that your library offers, you can sign up with your library card number. Then you can check out, put on hold, and browse through books on your phone, tablet or computer. When they are due, the books will be returned to the library automatically, which makes this process easier for us.
2. Use E-books
Reading e-books has also become popular and to some people even a preferable method to reading. Although some people prefer holding an actual book in their hands, I prefer the convenience of being able to open my phone or an e-reader at any location and get in 30 minutes of reading during a break.
For those of you who can relate, there are many e-readers out there, but most emit blue light (which also comes from a phone or a computer) which exacerbates head pain and interferes with melatonin. Many tablets (and now phones) have a ‘night shift’ function which allows you to adjust the level of blue light in the settings.
The light from the Kindle Paperwhite is not blue, so it does not affect migraine and does not interfere with sleep, which makes it one of the better e-readers for us migraine folks.
As mentioned above, Kindle Unlimited is also a great place to get e-books. You can also get e-books through your local library using the same instructions as above. And if you subscribe to Amazon Prime check out their free e-book selection.
3. Use Goodreads
When I learned about Goodreads, everything in life made sense again. Maybe not, but it is an awesome resource for book readers. On Goodreads you can get reliable book reviews (I have never been steered wrong yet), you can see what your friends are reading (only if you want to), and my favorite part is you can keep track of all the books you have read and want to read. You no longer have to keep post-it notes or screen shots of book titles squirreled away all over the place and can instead keep them on your virtual shelf. You can even set reading challenges for yourself as Goodreads tracks the books you read during the year letting you know how far you are from your goal.
In our world where we have to keep track of taking medications, supplements, doctor appointments, and treatments, Goodreads will have you covered when it comes to reading. The best part, it’s free.
4. Read mindfully
Mindfulness is one of the slices of the Migraine Strong “treatment pie.”
Mindfulness has so many health benefits, especially for us unicorns with migraine! There are studies that show that Mindfulness reduces stress and improves sleep at night. Both of these factors greatly help control migraine.
Mindfulness is simply being aware in the present moment. You can be mindful anywhere, anytime and with anyone you like. Meditation is not the only way we can be mindful. We can use reading as an opportunity to practice mindfulness as well.
Marcella Frydman Manoharan, co-founder of Cambridge Coaching, which specializes in academic coaching and mentoring offers the following tips how to read mindfully:
- “Find a window of time when you can focus on your reading, rather than trying to squeeze it into a busy day or get a few pages in before bedtime.”
- When your mind wanders, gently usher yourself back to the text and keep going. If you’ve forgotten the last passage you read, you can always go back and read it again.”
5. Join a book club
Book clubs are a great way to motivate ourselves to pursue reading as a hobby. It is so important for our mental health to focus on something other than our chronic illness.
Book clubs are also a great way to meet new people as they present an opportunity for social interaction. Whether you join a book club online or in person, you can make new friends in both settings. This can help you feel less lonely which is something many of us with chronic illness often battle. Sometimes, it’s nice to talk to people about something other than migraine and book clubs offer us a topic of unlimited possibilities.
Some book clubs focus on different themes and genres. Therefore, you may read books that you normally would not have chosen for yourself.
If you suffer from migraine join our Migraine Strong Facebook group and inquire about a book club. You can also join book clubs through your local mom’s club, or Meet up. Ask your local library, bookstore, or church if they have any leads for a book club. If you do not have migraine, but suffer from a different chronic illness, do a search for online book clubs on Facebook. Or why not start your own!
Migraine often steals our identity and we forget that we were once more than just a person with migraine. We have to find those parts of ourselves that we may have lost to our chronic illness. If reading was part of your life before migraine, try reconnecting with it. Returning to the hobbies we enjoyed before becoming chronically ill will help us reclaim our identity and thrive.
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