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How I Explain the Stages of My Migraines to My 5-Year-Old

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When I was 5 years old the colors red, green and yellow represented a traffic light and the fun game Red Light, Green Light: One, Two, Three. For my 5-year-old the same colors represent the state of her mother’s health. Every morning my husband shares with my daughter what color Mommy is. On green days Mommy is going to take you to school, on yellow days Mommy stays in bed and Daddy takes you and on red days your Grandpa takes you and Daddy takes Mommy to the doctor. When someone besides Mommy picks her up from school my daughter will immediately run up and say, “Is mommy having a red day?” Colors are her way of understanding my health.

When I went to the ER for a particularly bad migraine after already spending the afternoon at the doctor’s office, I mustered up the very last bit of energy I had to kneel down to her level and explain that Mommy was yellow all day and was now red so Daddy was taking her to the hospital to get better. My daughter hugged me so tight I almost fell over and repeated over and over again that she was worried about me. As my heart was breaking in half I asked her what color she was. She paused and said, “Yellow because mommy is sick and that makes me sad.”

What so often gets left out of the picture is how chronic illness impacts the whole family – even the littlest members. My daughter is way too familiar with waiting rooms, medications, medical terminology and my bedroom. She often eats meals in my bedroom just to be close to me and after really hard weeks she likes to be so close she shares my pillow at night. She worries about me and is vocal about it. Some days she doesn’t want to go to school when Mommy is in bed because she wants to stay home and take care of her Mommy. She knows all too well that we need to be quiet around the closed door of my bedroom and how to behave at the doctor’s office.

My health is unpredictable and she knows it. It affects her deeply and as her parent I do my best to help her manage my chronic illness just as much as I have to manage it. Every day starts with a color and ends with a color so she can try to understand the unexplained: the life of someone with chronic migraines.

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Thinkstock photo via foto-ruhrgebiet.

Originally published: February 20, 2017
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