Like most of us with a chronic migraine story, 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.
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.
I had worked hard in college and beyond to get a much coveted job in the Yosemite high country, and I was intent on making every day full and beautiful. My days were filled with hiking, swimming, learning, working, and my nights were spent around a campfire with booze with friends. I was happy.
On July 3, 2013, I woke up feeling really out of it. My vision was warped and I felt like every interaction I had with the world around me was delayed. I rubbed my eyes and drank glass after glass of water, hoping that the blurriness I was experiencing was caused by dehydration or a rogue contact lens.
By the time I put on my uniform and walked the half mile to work, my migraine was in full force. I borrowed a friend’s car and drove home in a mess of pain and tears, hoping that the toddlers I was supposed to lead on a nature walk would recover from the trauma of being stood up.
I curled up in bed with all of the shame, guilt, and powerlessness that migraines bring, and I waited for it to pass. After a decade of experience with episodic migraines I was certain that I would get my healthy life back after a few days of rest.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
I spent most of the next 6 weeks in bed with a migraine watching ants crawl on the canvas roof. Eric drove me the 1.5 hours to the nearest hospital for visits with a neurologist who somehow managed to make the whole experience even more horrifying. I rarely spent longer that 10 minutes with him, and when I asked him for a note for work he chuckled and said cheerily, “I hope you don’t get fired!” I left every single visit with him in tears.
When my parents finally convinced me to go to my childhood home in the suburbs to seek the help of a headache specialist, I couldn’t imagine leaving the mountains permanently. I packed a small bag but left most of my stuff in my tent cabin with Eric, telling him I would be back in two weeks.
Oh boy, was I wrong. Again.
I never went back.
Every day for the past two years of chronic pain has been hard. Most likely, the next two years will be the same. I feel older, wearier, and more rundown than I thought was possible. I have achieved next level positive thinking and silver lining hunting. I try not to dwell or feel sorry for myself – for the most part. I have a fantastic support system and parents who keep food in my belly and a roof over my head.
I read, I run, I love, I cry, I hurt. My life is smaller than it used to be, and I have yet to fully make peace with it. Migraines rule my life on so many days, but I’m still here –a little stronger, wiser, and gentler than I was before.
For reasons beyond my control I am forced to live the chronic migraine life, but it is still my life and the only one I have. I’m going to make it a damn good one.