Sunday, December 21, 2014

Facing the Facts of My Pain

“It’s frustrating, but it’s just a headache.”

“I’ve already had it for three days, so it will be over soon.”

“It’s not a big deal. There are so many people who have worse problems – like cancer or a serious illness.”

“After dealing with migraines for more than 40 years, I’m used to it.”

That’s how I’d respond when people offered sympathy for my migraines. And I truly meant every single one of those things.

I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I consider myself to be a strong (and successful) person and having this debilitating condition made me feel as though I’d be perceived as weak or a hypochondriac.

The Impact of it All
But the reality is that my migraines significantly affect my life – and even worse, the life of my family.

Nearly every day, my husband and daughter greet me in the morning by asking, “Do you have a headache today?”

My answer usually ranges from “just a small one” to “it’s brutal today.” I rarely answer, “Nope! I feel great!”

In spite of having a headache – of varying severity – nearly every day, I can typically power through the pain, fulfilling the majority of my responsibilities. At least for the first 48 hours.

But eventually the pain, nausea, inability to concentrate and sensitivity to light/sound/smell/movement drive me to my bed where I lie in silent darkness. It hurts too much to sleep and it hurts too much be awake. As strange as it sounds, even my hair hurts.I just have to wait it out.

Because of this, I rarely attend church with my family (because my migraines usually hit on the weekend), I miss out on my kids’ school activities and other events are cancelled. When I'm in the midst of a three- or four-day migraine, the house falls apart (my husband takes over as much as he has time for), I don’t cook meals, I’m not able to help my kids with their homework and many other basic functions cease.

When I finally get better, I work like a crazy person to make up for lost time – and to get the piles of laundry, dishes and paperwork back under control. It’s a vicious circle.

Accepting the Reality
After dealing with this since I was five, I accept it as part of my life. Sure, I’ve sought diagnosis and treatment, but none of the options have provided long-term relief.

Then one day, it hit me. I have a legitimate chronic illness.

That doesn’t mean I’m weak. It’s not “just a headache” that I can ignore. It’s a genuine condition that has a significant impact on my life.

According to, “Practical clinical criteria define Chronic Migraine as headache that occurs 15 or more days a month with headache lasting 4 hours or longer for at least 3 consecutive months… By this definition, people with Chronic Migraine are spending half their month living with debilitating migraines.”*

Since I easily meet that definition, I now have a new paradigm.

I have a chronic condition. And that’s okay.