When I hear about successful women I am filled with envy: A business contact of my husband’s who recently sold the company she started. The friend who already has a PhD and is working on a second master’s degree. Another friend who is writing for a nationally renowned website. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not threatened by any of these women, nor do I begrudge them their success. I’m genuinely happy for them. I just believe I should be among their ranks.
At 21, I was sure my career trajectory would be stellar. I was intelligent and ambitious, and knew how to play the game. Then the chronic daily headache I’d lived with for 10 years refused to be ignored any longer. The pain, dizziness, and nausea skyrocketed. Six months into graduate school, I was having colleagues teach my classes because I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d leave classes in which I was a student to lie on the floor of my office, too dizzy to remain upright. One memorable day, my husband and a friend carried me up the stairs to my apartment because I couldn’t walk.
Still, I finished my coursework, got a job, and wrote my thesis on the side, graduating 18 months later than planned. All the while, I believed the “headaches” (the migraine diagnosis came later) would go away and I could resume an upward trajectory. Debility from migraine is the only upward trajectory that followed. This August will be the 10 year anniversary of me leaving my last traditional job because I was too sick to work.
Although I’m loathe to thank chronic migraine for anything, this debilitating, infuriating illness has given me a career I love. When I think about the thousands of people who are comforted by my stories about the emotional turmoil of migraine or are better equipped to manage their treatment because of information I’ve shared, I know I’m highly successful. When I consider that my husband doesn’t sleep at night because he’s so stressed about money and how to pursue his own dreams while keeping us in health insurance, I feel like a colossal failure.
At 36, I should be taking on the world, climbing the ladder, supporting myself financially, pursuing my dreams. Instead, I make some money writing, but cannot pursue enough freelance work to keep my household afloat. Success is not just about money or graduate degrees, but without them, I can’t help but feel like I occupy a less important place in the world than I should at this stage in my life.
I’m not sharing these thoughts so you’ll tell me how important my writing is or reassure me that I matter. I recognize I’m successful despite migraine, the point is that I don’t want to be anything ”despite” migraine. I want to be successful period.