Long must you suffer, not knowing what,
Until suddenly, from a piece of fruit hatefully bitten,
The taste of the suffering enters you.
And then you already almost love what you savor. No one
Will talk it out of you again.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Even after a brief stay at elevation the air on the coast feels impossibly thick. The city streets seem too wide, the sky not blue enough, the horizon too far away. It doesn’t take long for the mountains to get under your skin. After only a few hours at elevation your blood thickens and your body produces more red blood cells. You become more efficient at using oxygen so that even this thin air feels more nourishing than her coastal cousin.
I was away less than two weeks this time, but it was long enough for me to reconnect to places and people that I love and miss and also meet and discover new ones. It was long enough for me to feel the freshly melted snow carry my hair downstream. It was long enough to sweat, climb, and bleed in the early summer sun. It was long enough to reawaken muscles and corners of my body and soul that have too long been ignored. It was long enough for me to remember what it feels like to be healthy again.
During the 12 days I spent in the Eastern Sierra I had four migraines. Each of those migraines lasted less than twenty four hours, not including the postdrome stage (also known as the migraine hangover.) To some this may seem like a lot, but compared to the baseline of daily, constant migraine that was my reality for way too many months, it is remarkable. Even just a day – an afternoon – of respite from pain is celebrated. You cannot truly appreciate the feeling of the sun on your skin until you have experienced true darkness.
I am not cured from chronic migraine or even from migraine. This disease has no cure and the pain or threat of pain lurks every second of every day. I am, however, strong enough physically and emotionally to enjoy life – sometimes even in the same ways that I did when I was healthy. This strength is no accident. I have been working very hard on my own and with my health care providers to guide my body back to a place of health. I have tried every supplement I can get my hands on and have stuck with the few that shown improvement. (If you have yet to add ginger to your migraine prevention toolbox please talk to your doctor immediately – 1 tablespoon of powdered ginger a day. It helps!)
I am committed to the sleep, diet, and exercise recommendations that my doctors and I swear by. But, mostly, I am willing to take risks. I am willing to hike four miles into the wilderness, knowing that any moment a migraine may strike. I am willing to drive hours from my bed, my migraine rescue kit in my backpack, in order to experience something new and beautiful. I am willing to dance up against the stage at my boyfriend’s show, ear plugs in pocket just in case. I am willing to sacrifice a small amount of comfort and certainty to sleep under the stars and hear the river roaring in my ears. I am ready again to suck the marrow from life – migraine disease be damned.
In the four years that I have been experiencing chronic migraine, I have learned a lot about pain and myself. I expect that I will learn much more as the years and my migraine journey progress. The most important lesson, though, is that of my own strength and resiliency. I know that there are good days ahead as well as days filled with pain and despair. I know that I will laugh and that I will cry and that I will scream, inwardly if not outwardly. But I am ready, because I am a migraine sufferer. I am strong. I am resilient. I am not to blame. I am not alone. And I will never, ever, give up on my life or my health.
Who’s with me?