Serious athletes train their entire lives to make it in the big leagues. They spend years working on their craft, always striving to be better, stronger and faster. But their own bodies can sometimes fail them, requiring surgery, time in rehab and months on the disabled list. Even if an injury doesn’t sideline an athlete, after 35 or 40 years old most are unable to perform like they did in their 20’s. So what do they do once they get passed their prime or an injury forces them out of the game early? They retire. In comparison to the rest of us, retiring at 30 years old seems too good to be true. But what exactly are they going to do with the rest of their lives? It’s got to be difficult to transition to a life without their sport 24/7.
I may not be a famous athlete, but I find myself in the same boat. I’ve only known one career. I started in banking at age 17 as a teller. I went to college part-time while continuing to grow in my profession. I climbed the ladder and eventually became the youngest vice president in my company. I loved my job, which isn’t something a lot of people can say.
At age 30, I was a veteran in the business, with 13 years of experience. I never imagined doing anything else. Then the record stopped. Like a linebacker who suffers a serious injury, I was forced on the bench. My episodic Migraines became Chronic almost overnight, with no warning. I wasn’t quite ready to give up my dream job so I suffered for two years trying to do my job just as well as before. It became quite clear that I was not the same person. As I searched for an answer to fix my headaches, my work product became sloppy and I was unreliable. The brain fog and exhaustion were too much. My company generously worked with me to adjust my schedule and lighten my work load, but my health continued to deteriorate.
So a year ago, I decided to put myself on the DL list, hoping that my health would improve. I planned to be out for 3 months, however new health issues arose and I extended into long-term disability. But I had always planned to go back to the profession that I loved so much. I worked hard in my time away. I went to the Jefferson Headache Clinic, I tried new meds, I changed my diet, I exercised, I did yoga and meditation. After two long hospital stays I was better equipped to deal with the pain, but sadly my condition did not change dramatically.
My company graciously kept my job open for me during this time. After a year away I knew I needed to give them an answer on whether I would return. I consulted with my doctor who said I needed to show more progress before jumping back into work. I had a frank conversation with my boss about my limitations. Board meetings, networking and paperwork seemed daunting. Concentrating for longer than an hour or two without needing to rest was not conducive to this work environment. Although my boss wished I could return, he understood.
So at the ripe old age of 33, I formally “retired” from the only profession I ever knew. I grieved for a week or so. It felt weird not to have that safety blanket anymore. Even though I had been at home for over a year, it suddenly became real that my life was changing. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I chose to get excited about the possibilities the future had in store. Early retirement from my career in banking didn’t have to mean that I was forever banned to a world of living in a dark room and succumbing to the pain. This is my chance to reinvent myself within the limitations of my illness.
Plenty of athletes go on to have successful lives off the field after they are forced to retire. Howie Long played 13 seasons in the NFL before he turned to acting and now he’s an analyst for Fox Sports. Jesse Ventura, professional wrestler, went on to become Governor of Minnesota. Bernie Williams, an MLB outfielder, earned a Latin Grammy nomination for his album. And who would have thought that Michael Strahan would have replaced Regis Philbin?
I probably won’t become a sportscaster or a politician, but like these athletes my life isn’t over. After a few months of being out on disability, I was searching for purpose. I had always enjoyed writing and thought it was something that I could possibly do on the good days on my own schedule. Migraine.com had been so helpful to me in my health journey and I thought that maybe I could help others going through the same thing. I was blessed to be offered a writing position and find it extremely fulfilling work. And it’s so much more than blogging. I’m slowly getting in the world of Migraine Advocacy. Who knows where writing and advocacy can take me?
I may not ever be able to return to a 60-hour a week corporate job, but that doesn’t define me anymore. I can still live a fulfilled and happy life within the confines of my illness. I’m not suggesting that everyone should try to write, but I encourage everyone to find a passion that they can enjoy on the good days. It could be crocheting blankets for the local homeless shelter, designing the programs for church, taking up photography, learning a new language or making jewelry. Migraines can be so lonely and depressing, but having a hobby that gives you purpose will only help your daily quality of life. What have you found that helps you? Or what have you always wanted to try?