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What Living With Chronic Migraines Has Taught Me

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“In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories. It’s in our biology.” -Brené Brown, “Rising Strong”

I feel this. So deeply. We are natural storytellers. I see it all the time in my work with clients as a mental health therapist. I think healing from suffering is often found in the witnessing — in having someone be fully present to the enormity of our pain without trying to fix it, reframe or point out the silver lining. And so I want to share my story.

June is Migraine Awareness Month. I am writing this after day three of being bed-bound with yet another migraine. I am in the trenches, and I’m struggling. I’ve always had this inner battle between being vulnerable and oversharing because I know my situation could be worse. So much worse. Who do I think I am complaining about something when it could be so much worse? But I’ve also learned (and teach my clients) that comparative suffering corrodes connection and compassion — thanks Brené! We can keep our struggles in perspective but also allow ourselves to feel and express them. When I see others show up and be seen in all their raw and messy glory, I applaud and I am envious of their courage. I want that. And I must practice what I preach.

And so I am sharing, not for pity or for attention, but for healing and showing up in the way that so many of my clients do when they come to session. For honoring and sharing all parts of myself, including the part of me that often feels like a dirty secret, something shameful to hide: my ongoing battle with chronic illness and anxiety.

Chronic migraines are a huge part of my life that I’ve struggled to come to terms with over the last 10+ years. Specifically, since 2016 when they became so chronic and unbearable that I had to leave my full-time job, and I struggled with severe anxiety and panic attacks. The primary pain of the migraine itself is unbearable, but the secondary difficulties of living with an intractable, chronic illness adds another incredibly heavy layer. The anxiety, panic attacks and negative spirals that have worn tracks in my mind are inescapable at times — “What if this never ends? Am I going to spend my life struggling like this? Is it going to keep getting worse?” Followed by the phrase my sweet husband hears on repeat when I am in the trenches: “I can’t keep doing this. I just can’t.”

My family and I have spent thousands of dollars, visited numerous doctors, traveled across the country to the Mayo Clinic, seen naturopaths, functional medicine doctors, acupuncturists, reiki masters, etc. If it’s out there, I’ve probably tried it (if I’m able). I have spent so much time searching and searching for a reason, a “why.” I’ve let it consume my life over the last couple of years, and I still struggle with not having answers.

While I never want to give up hope or the idea that I might find relief, I’ve also been working towards acceptance. Chronic pain is a part of my life, and it might always be. I don’t want to miss out on the beauty and fullness my life has to offer while waiting and searching. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time working on in my own therapy. And I think a part of my journey to acceptance is sharing my story. This is my life. This is me.

I am in pain more days than not, and have several severe migraines a month that put me in bed for days. Even when I’m not in pain, I worry about when the next migraine will come. I haven’t been the friend I want to be over the last five years or so. I often have to cancel plans, I’m afraid of scheduling things for fear of letting others down. I’ve missed out on huge moments and celebrations in my loved one’s lives due to migraines. I mourn the loss of activities I love, like running and traveling. I often feel like a burden to others. I feel like a bad mom at times. I feel isolated.

But, despite this, I have an incredible support system that picks up the pieces when I am in shambles. When I feel like the world is closing in and I’m mourning the life I want and deserve, they are there. I am so lucky. I don’t know what I would do without my inner circle, especially my incredible husband who is just as much a pain warrior as I am. The people who truly know how much migraines take from me, and step in to carry me when I feel like I can’t take another step are there, helping me put one foot in front of the other.

And my sweet, sweet baby boy. Oh, how I fought for you. How I sat and cried for you. I used to imagine what you might feel like in my arms, wondering if I would ever be well enough to carry you. And I did. I carried you, despite the pain, numerous complications and scares. I am no stranger to pain, so for my delivery I wanted the opportunity to experience pain in a way that felt purposeful and empowering. Listening to the wisdom of my body with the support of my husband and my incredible Doula was incredible and life-changing. And my body, although it often feels like it betrays me, is strong.

I am strong. And you, my sweet baby boy, are everything I’ve ever wanted. You are sunshine and rainbows and joy incarnate. And I will never take for granted that my body, albeit difficult and not without enormous struggle, did something incredible. It brought you into this world and I am forever grateful.

Living with chronic pain, although difficult, has taught me so much. It has taught me what it means to be strong in a way that I never imagined. It has taught me patience, bravery and how to lean in when all I want to do is run away. It has taught me to pause. It has taught me gratitude for simple joys and being mindful and present during the pain-free moments — although that’s definitely still a work in progress. It has taught me how to ask for and accept help and experience deep, unconditional love. And for that, I am lucky.

Getty image by Jacob Lund.

Originally published: June 1, 2020
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