Monthly Archives: September 2015

Finding Fulfillment Despite Pain

I’m sitting at the base of a Jeffrey pine tree on the north shore of Big Bear Lake watching the light change. Nuthatches, phoebes, northern flickers, and bluebirds flit around the tops of surrounding trees catching as many insects as they can before nightfall. There must be close to a hundred birds in my line of sight – more than I’ve ever seen in such a small space.

After spending more than three weeks in bed with nonstop migraines, the quiet peacefulness of this moment is overwhelming. My brain is still foggy and slow, and I’m still queasy enough to make eating hard. But the sun on my legs and the energy of the birds nourish me more than any amount of rest or medication. For the first time in almost a month, I feel like myself rather than a migraine with the shadow of a person attached. Moments like these are what keep me going.

Chronic illness is a thankless and demanding partner that forces the sufferer to make sacrifice after sacrifice.

It is completely normal for those of us with chronic illness to wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and a diminished self-worth. I have no career or children or social life to offer fulfillment, so I must seek it elsewhere. Every day I put effort into appreciating the small and beautiful moments, but sometimes it just isn’t enough.  Continue reading Finding Fulfillment Despite Pain

Mourning Myself: The Winding Path of Grief and Chronic Pain

I came across Jennifer Martin’s article, The 7 Psychological Stages of Chronic Pain, on a particularly bad day. After a couple promising streaks of good days this summer, I have fallen into a solid three weeks string of bad migraine days. I haven’t seen any of my friends, I canceled a freelance job, I canceled my vacation plans; in short, I’ve become a migraine hermit in my dark cave glued to my ice packs.

Sculpture by Megan Smythe. Photo by Angie Glaser
Sculpture by Meghan Smythe. Photo by Angie Glaser

Anyone with chronic pain knows that pain has cumulative effects on your body and soul. Day after day of pain can wears you down physically and emotionally. The emotional roller coaster that chronic pain patients experience can be just as difficult to manage and just as exhausting as the pain itself.

My personal roller coaster brings me to Stage 4: Depression and Anxiety every time I have a migraine for longer than 72 hours. A point in Jennifer Martin’s article really resonates with me, and I want to shout it from the rooftops for all of my fellow chronic pain sufferers to hear:

“It is important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness.  It is the appropriate response to a loss or a life-altering situation.”

                                                              – Jennifer Martin, PsyD

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with experiencing depression as a mental illness. I have struggled with it as have many others with chronic illness. BUT experiencing depression with chronic pain is a completely normal and healthy part of the grieving process. Chronic pain transforms our lives so completely and takes so much from us – careers, relationships, hobbies, vibrancy – that it is only natural that we grieve what we have lost.

Today, my grief is taking the form of tears. On most days I look to audiobooks or Netflix to distract me from my grief, but not today. Thinking positively is not going to make this migraine go away, so I am giving myself permission to cry and cry and cry. I’ve earned it.

My Chronic Migraine Story

Like most chronic pain patients, I can tell you the exact date and time that divided my life into two segments: Before Pain and After Pain.  There was no dramatic moment, no accident or violent event; I simply woke up three days after my 24th birthday with a migraine aura. The aura turned into an intractable migraine that I would spend the next two years (and counting) trying to defeat.

Before Pain

My first day in uniform. This photo was taken one week before my migraines became chronic
One week before my migraines became chronic. Photo by Eric Smith

My boyfriend Eric and I had recently moved into a tent cabin in Yosemite National Park where we would spend the summer as park rangers.

Our new home had a splintery wooden floor and canvas roof that billowed and breathed with the wind.  We had no internet, no TV, and no attached bathroom. (During extra cold nights we implemented a “pee bucket” to spare ourselves the chilly walk to the bathroom). Our bed was two paper thin mattresses that we pushed together and piled high with memory foam. It was rustic to the point of shabbiness, and I loved every inch of it.

Continue reading My Chronic Migraine Story