Losing My Hamster

I want to believe I can get better. That healing is possible.

I want to believe I can break free from the inescapable hands that close in on me and squeeze the life from my body. Am I strong enough to withstand another attack?

Yes.

I hope so.

I think so.

The tears suggest otherwise.

I am constantly seeking my own strength. It’s like playing hide and go seek with a hamster. I know it’s around somewhere – I can hear it running about from room to room… maybe it’s under the dryer? And when I finally find it, it’s not a simple matter of reaching out to grab hold. I try to stay calm and find my sweetest voice to coax it out from its hiding place. “It’s safe out here, I promise,” but somehow both the hamster and my strength know I am lying.

So I sit and I wait.

Leaving little seeds to help it find its way back to me.

Eventually, I am successful and how incredibly accomplished I feel! I’ve got the upper hand now, I am back in control. Things are looking up. You’re not getting away this time!

And then somehow, in the dead of night, the bloody thing escapes and we start this dance all over again.

It’s hard to feel strong, to feel brave, when there’s an illness crushing you from the inside. The fear is crippling. Some days I can’t bare to face the real world, as I am sure they can see just how weak and insecure I have become.

I don’t want to admit to my loved ones that I’ve straight up lost the hamster.

Again.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I actually DID have a hamster and he DID escape and hide under the dryer. It was a long night.

But through all this fear and searching, I cling to one thing:

Trust.

To me, trust is more than hope. Hope is a wish and a dream. Hope is often not enough to get me through the dark days. It feels fleeting and light, as if it could blow away on the wind when I’m not looking.

Trust is belief and certainty. Believing I will get better is the cure to the paralyzing fear. Knowing for certain that my story will change and I will rise above the pain and suffering stronger than ever, is the tonic I desperately need to withstand these constant trials. I can’t rely on hope to get me through. I have to truly trust that the hamster will come out from under the dryer and everything will return to the way it was.

Absolute certainty. That’s my cure.

I WILL reclaim my life. The full width and breadth of it. It will be better than it’s ever been and the most wonderful days of my life are yet to come. I will wake each day with a smile and a sigh of gratitude. I will confidently take on new projects and pursue new goals. I will be there for the people who are always there for me. I will navigate these waters to find my sandy shores where I will live out my days in peace, health, and joy.

How you might ask?

By being absolutely certain.

My Life with Migraine

Allow me to introduce you to my life with migraine.

I had my first attack in art class in the seventh grade. I was waiting in line at the teacher’s desk when I suddenly got tunnel vision and lost my hearing. I sat down with my head in my hands until I somehow ended up in the Principal’s office. The next thing I remember is being at home, throwing up, while my mom held my hair off my tear-stained face. And the pain. I remember the pain.

Although I wasn’t explicitly told what was happening to me, migraines lurked in the shadows of my life after that. They would show up when I got the flu or a bad cold. They were inconsistent in their arrival but always came with a solid dose of mind-numbing pain.

In University, I always wondered why my hangovers seemed worse than others. Why couldn’t I stand up to the stress of full-time studies and a part-time job? I didn’t put the pieces together at the time that it was migraine. I often ended up throwing up in a bowl on my way to the clinic and hiding in my car from embarrassment.

I thought it was normal. Maybe everyone goes through this?

After graduation at 24, I moved overseas to land my first teaching job in London, England. I distinctly remember calling in sick and spending days in bed, writhing in pain. By this point, I understood that I was suffering from migraine, but I had no idea what that meant. It was the last thing I wanted to research. I took as much extra strength advil as seemed appropriate and got on with it. As the British say, keep calm and carry on.

Everything changed in the late summer of 2012 when I moved back home to Vancouver Island.

Seemingly overnight, the migraines I had been dealing with for 12 years became chronic. The International Headache Society states that chronic migraine is “living” with 15 days or more per month with migraine for at least a 3 month period. I put living in quotations because when you have migraine that often, it’s questionable how much “living” you are actually doing.

You don’t realize how precious your health is until you spend half of your life in debilitating pain.

It’s been over 6 years at time of writing this post. I would say I’ve lived about 3.5 of those years. The rest of the time has been spent in bed, on the couch, in the hospital, crying, puking, avoiding my favourite places, my favourite people, sleeping during the day, heavily medicated, and basically being a shadow of myself.

This disorder takes everything from you.

My first thought every morning is, ‘How is my head today?’ I can’t commit to any plans or even a consistent work schedule. I am constantly canceling appointments, get togethers, date nights, meetings. Migraines have rendered me unreliable. I let people down. The people who mean the world to me. I have very little control over the attacks that dominate my life. I am at the mercy of my body.

And it’s all invisible.

No one can see the throbbing, stabbing, pounding pain. No one can see how heavy I feel on the inside. The burden I know I am to those I rely on. Invisible hammers smash against the bones of my face and something is stabbing into my neck and shoulders. I wear my sunglasses in the grocery store and you’ll have to speak up, because I probably have ear plugs in.

You know that moment when Spiderman first gets his “spidey senses”? When everything is coming at him with such vivid intensity? That’s migraine for me.

But there’s another side of this story…

Migraines have shown me just how strong I can be. They have gifted me increased empathy for others. I have learned that health is a top priority and that we can control more factors than we think. Migraines have taught me about honesty and moderation, about forgiveness and acceptance. But most important of all, migraines have taught me to never give up hope.

I am a migraine warrior.

I now know more than I have ever known about migraine and I’ve begun helping others in their migraine journeys. I am opening up about my illness to increase awareness and decrease stigma. Migraines are a seriously debilitating neurological condition that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and they are made worse when you suffer alone.

If you struggle with migraine, please reach out. Support, questions, ideas – I welcome it all and will help in any way I can.

If you know someone who is suffering with migraine, please consider sharing this blog with them so they know they are not alone.

And maybe one day, we will find a cure for migraine.