What I've Learned From Years of Experiencing Migraines

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"Life is tough, you just gotta be tougher than it is." These are the words my dad once wrote to my twin sister and I the day we graduated from high school. Words, however, seem to fall flat at times when one begins to experience the warning signs of a migraine. I know them all too well. I first experienced a migraine in eighth grade following a holiday play I was in. I felt overwhelmingly nauseated and a constant pound in my head that seemed to ebb with the light that pierced my eyelids. The pain was radiating and unlike anything I had ever felt before. I had no idea that it was anything other than a typical headache until my dad pointed out that my pupils were so dilated he could no longer see my light blue eye color. Thus, my journey with chronic migraines began.

Anxiety.

It was as if once I got a migraine, the flood gates had opened. More and more I found myself debilitated by this pain. I found high school brought a new source of triggers and experiences that would come to factor heavily in the reoccurrence of my headaches. Oh the anxiety (I wish you were an allusive creature) and the plethora of canker sores I have had in my mouth since I was five years old or so, speak for themselves. My anxiety raced alongside the desire to feel successful and achievement-oriented in school, to be able to surpass what certain people had predestined my abilities to be. If my drive and determination in school were the sails keeping me moving forward towards my destiny, then my migraines were the anchor that provided me not with stability, but with stagnation and hurdles.

As my migraines increased, they gradually began to derail plans and achievements, even once requiring me to miss my first ever district varsity volleyball game. The excitement and stressful days leading up to the game had left me hardly able to see and hold any food down. By my junior year any possibility of decent school attendance was tarnished. I was now being sent to specialists, getting CAT scans, and put on ineffective medication that gave me stomach pains. By Christmas, I was gaunt and exhausted. My lack of attendance and reoccurring headaches led to me being homeschooled the remainder of the year. When I would actually leave the house and a friend from school would see me, I would be accosted with questions like, "Do you have an eating disorder?" or "Do you have cancer?" I couldn't believe it, nor did I want to believe that something like a "headache" could have so much control over my life. Although I was the one experiencing this dreadful pain, it was as though all I could do was continue to minimize and punish myself, countlessly repeating, "it's just a headache, it's just a headache."

The College Years. 

College was an unbelievably different experience for me for a couple of reasons. For starters, I never actually thought I would go to college. It's not that I never thought I would get accepted anywhere, more like I never in a million years imagined someone like me would be able to financially swing it. There seemed to be just too many stars that needed to align, and yet they all did. I worked two part-time jobs throughout the school year, a full-time job during the summer, throw in some student loans, and off I went.

I have a quick mind, but let's not confuse things, I am far from being the brightest crayon in the box. I have always known this (I'm very self aware, almost to a fault). The new schedule and tasks that were presented to me in college often times left me scrambling, and that uncertainty left me stressed beyond belief. Stress turned out to be a significant trigger for my migraines, along with a wealth of other weakening of immune system sicknesses. By my sophomore year, I had begun to regress back to the fifteen-year-old girl who found herself constantly in between snide comments (I was miserable at times), irregular study habits, and gulps of Ensure (doctor recommended to keep up my weight). I was slowly losing the one thing at the time I so desperately felt was meant for me. No, my motivation alone did not provide me with some source of magical healing, but developing better habits and calming tools did. I began to gradually learn about what self care meant for me, like taking time off to do something I enjoyed, talking with my best friends, being around family, and asking for help (oh, that dreaded word—insert sarcasm here). 

Pregnancy Hormones.

Of all the not so great symptoms that accompanies the gloriousness of pregnancy, this one was my favorite. It appeared as though the magic of supersonic hormones coursing through my body counteracted my headaches. It was magnificent. I got two, let me say it again, two headaches at the beginning of my pregnancy with my daughter and that was it. Finito! Looking back I have had to take off many days of school and work due to my migraines, but throughout my whole pregnancy never once did I have to take off work. I felt energized and large and in charge (as in a healthy pregnancy large). Now, I am not saying go out and get pregnant or anything (well, unless you really want to), or even if it would have the same affect on others. For me, this was an unexpected and welcomed reprieve of pain.

Time has proved to be a quasi-antidote for my migraines. They have become few and far between as I have aged. I am so thankful for this. Thankfulness is a big component to all of this, focusing on the individual parts that are important instead of the whole that seems to be derailed by your migraines.

Migraines have taught me three things. Learn what it means to take care of yourself and do it. The less stressed you are the better. Secondly, sometimes you'll need help amidst the fury of a headache. Fight your knee jerk reaction to bounce back alone, revel, even briefly, in the security and support of those around you, and rest. Lastly, perspective is everything. Our lives are built surrounded by a mixture of thrills, hardships, successes, and even pain. This isn't tough talk, it's realism. I didn't ask for migraines, but it is a part of my life. Now that I am long past my bouts of self-pity and struggle, I have chosen to educate myself and try new things that may benefit my health. Be tough, vulnerable, and proactive. Having a chronic illness requires it all; it demands it. Build upon the self-awareness that you gain through this journey and you'll be sure to thrive.