For those of you who don't already know me...
My name is Janet, and I've been living with migraine disease for nearly seventeen years. I can’t clearly recall my very first migraine attack, but I can remember my sudden hesitation when it came to playing sports and running around like a fool with my friends. Up until my fourteenth year, I was quick to run and play and sweat and stink without much thought. But something changed in as I hit puberty; playing basketball with my friends for fifteen minutes could lead to this awful, dizzy headache. Running around the neighborhood in the summer suddenly exhausted me beyond all measure; my temples would throb as I ran inside to put my face in front of the icy-cold air conditioning register. What was happening? For quite a long time, I was pretty hard on myself, convinced I was overreacting and finding cheap excuses to let go of my former, sporty self. Years of misdiagnoses (or no diagnoses) by doctors confirmed my belief that my headaches were not a big deal; this made me feel even weaker for not being able to stick with it and be as active as my old self.
Born and raised in metro Atlanta, I spent years in other places (New York City, Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, Pittsburgh, West Palm Beach) before I returned to my home state in 2004 and decided to stay. To my surprise, I’m instilled with a deeper sense of home than I’d ever expected, and moving back to the familiar landscape and seasons of Georgia has been most comforting to me. That sense of home is accentuated by the fact that my parents visit several times a year and that my sister is relocating to Athens this month. I have a lovely purple house, a struggling but peaceful garden, my own bookstore business, and an amazing partner of 4+ years who is the least annoying roommate I’ve ever had.
It wasn’t until age 21 that I was formally diagnosed with migraine. My parents had just moved to Florida and I was staying with them for a few weeks. Going to my old doctor in Georgia (the one who recommended I take Excedrin when I got my disabling headaches and not worry too much more about it) was impossible, so I visited my parents’ new doctor down the street. He diagnosed me with migraine within five minutes of meeting me and prescribed a triptan. The very next day, my migraine attack came to visit in the afternoon. I crossed my fingers, popped a pill (the first migraine-specific drug I’d ever had), and waited. Within thirty minutes I felt great. For the first time in my life as a chronic migraineur, I had hope that I could keep these episodes under control.
Now, at age 30, I control most of my migraine episodes with preventive vitamins and supplements, regular exercise, yoga, diet, and mindfulness practice. I’m not always disciplined, but I do try to take care of myself to prevent painful attacks. When I get a migraine, I take my prescriptions and trust that they’ll work. (They usually do.) I feel so much more in control than I used to; to my surprise, telling loved ones about my severe illness has been more comforting than I’d ever expected, and I’ve developed relationships with other chronically ill people via the Internet. Most days I feel great and I concentrate my efforts on my paying jobs (editing, writing, and nannying), volunteering, and the bookstore I’m opening this winter. But when I feel ill, I now know to take a breath and to put myself first. Even if I don’t always take my own advice, I’m getting better at paying attention to my body’s signals and not pushing myself.
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