Although more than a week has passed since I was been overwhelmed by the isolation of chronic migraine, the memory of that intense emotional disconnection echoes. The lingering thoughts are less about what I felt recently and more a nagging remembrance of my very worst days. When the migraine pain regularly reached levels 8 and 9, and chronic migraine wrapped me in its armor, a sharp barrier between me and the rest of the world.
Not only did I feel like my friends and family could not possibly understand what I was experiencing, I would not, could not tell them what it was like. I was so ashamed of how sick I was. I felt like a failure for letting migraine dictate my life. Like if only I had tried harder or been more motivated, I wouldn’t be so disabled.
Letting other people see me in the throes of a severe migraine is how I began to pry shame’s death grip off my emotions. I’d like to say I chose to let people see me at my worst, but the truth is I had nowhere to hide. My husband and I were staying with friends at Thanksgiving. They hosted a party so our local friends could visit with us. Everyone knew I wasn’t doing well and they wanted to see me. My husband knew I was at the end of my rope and was no longer willing to push people away for me.
I had days of level 9 and 10 pain (and I do not use that number lightly), gut-churning nausea, dizziness, and the whole host of phobias (photo-, phono-, osmo-), I was too weak to stand on my own and had abdominal cramping so severe that my body spasmed up off the bed in a V. But my friends refused to leave me alone. People came in one by one to express their concern and love. They held my hand and talked softly for a few minutes, then let me rest.
No one thought any worse of me, nor did they pity me. No one cast me aside as weak or a failure, but were amazed by my strength and courage. All anyone wanted was for me to feel better, to get beyond the hell that I was so obviously in.
That was nearly five years ago and has proved pivotal in releasing my shame, guilt, and self-judgement. Yet I continue to struggle to let people in. I still pretend I feel better than I do. It is partly about not letting others see my vulnerability, partly to convince myself that I’m not as sick as I am. I guess it gives me a little sense of control.