I was wearing high heels on the last day I collapsed at work. It was not the first day, but I remember it as a turning point. I was hosting a party for about 50 staff and community members. There was cake, punch, and a co-worker was at the front of the room talking. I realized that I was looking at her, but I could not understand a word she was saying. In a moment of panic, I remember that I am sliding down the migraine hole. There’s no stopping it now. Somehow I find my phone, and sit down outside on the parking median. It takes all my concentration to find my husband’s work number. I call him to tell him that he needs to pick me up. He has no idea where I am, but somehow, he turns up. I don’t remember much else until I’m home in bed. It is now late evening, almost dark, and I faintly hear the television on. The following day at work I apologize to one of my co-workers for being so “off” and for leaving early. She looked at me blankly and said, “I didn’t notice you being that off. I figured you got called back to the office.” I clearly understood that I had an invisible illness. And I was good at keeping it invisible.
As a child I didn’t have such intense headache pain, but I did have migraines. I have had auras from my earliest memories. I could not describe their details to my parents. I would say that it was having something like a nightmare, but because it had no plot to make a description understandable, it never made sense. During my auras, I am a super smeller, I see rainbow-style flashes and I get tunnel vision, and textures are so brutal on my skin. And I get nausea. During my 20s my head pain became intense. I would have headaches where I literally thought I would die from the pain. I would suffer through three or five days of a migraine a few times a month, and eventually the head pain just became part of my daily life. It never really went away. Over the years I ate Advil and Alleve like it was candy, was addicted to pain killers, sleeping pills, and tried any other supplement that someone said would work. I desperately searched for a fix. I did hormones, coffee, iced my head, wrapped it as tight as I could. I did acupuncture, reiki, cranial sacral, herbs, had a nutritional therapist who restricted my diet to basically turkey and spinach. I exercised. I stopped exercising.
Then I found a doctor. She was not my first, or my fifth, but however many others I have tried, I finally found her. When I sat in her waiting room, she had a book of artwork that people created of their auras. I opened the book to glance at how it might be possible to draw your aura. I had not considered the notion, but on one page I saw one that looked like mine. Someone else had drawn mine, and my auras were not unique to me. It was evidence that I was not crazy. They truly existed. I was not alone, and that made me break down. My doctor let me cry. She did not suggest that I had too much stress. She did not suggest that I drink a coke and take an Excedrin. She helped me realize that I was addicted to pain killers in order to survive. She confirmed that my quality of life sucked. She helped me get on a plan to reduce pain killer use, and find a real and reasonable ways to manage my migraine disease. She validated me.
In the last few years I have been more deliberate in my management of migraine, and I still see my doctor every three months. I practice yoga specifically to manage and heal the effects of head pain and the associated symptoms of migraine, like anxiety, depression, sensory sensitivities. Yoga is a practice of self compassion, which I have not had much of for many years. That is the beginning of courage and healing. Or at least one beginning.