Dear Brandi Carlile: On losing a migraineur friend to suicide
Dear Brandi Carlile,
I’m writing to you today to tell you about someone I loved very much, someone you would’ve loved, too, had you gotten the chance to know her.
B. and I met when I was thirteen and she was twelve; both our families had moved to the same small street in suburban Atlanta in the summer of 1993. We were fast friends despite our different interests, different schools, and different ages: back then, the difference between a rising eighth grader and a rising seventh grader seemed, at times, insurmountable.
Through our teens and early adulthood, our friendship waxed and waned, but we were always in each others’ lives in at least some small way. One thing that brought us back together again in the last several years was your music.
When I first heard you perform to a relatively small audience at the Paste Rock ’n’ Reel Festival in 2005, I felt like I was being let in on an amazing secret: I was the first among my friends to listen to your music, but soon there was a large audience among my friends and family. B. was definitely the champion among them, playing your CDs on repeat and falling in love with every song from the moment each album dropped.
You may wonder why I’m writing to you about B. via a website about migraine. Here’s the thing: B. had awful, debilitating migraines, among many other ailments and demons. She was strong, sweet, sassy, and sensitive. She dealt every single day with a troubled past and a health-challenged present, but she remained kind-hearted, gentle, and so incredibly loving. As we became adults, we bonded over our various ailments, and our ongoing struggle with migraines was one thing we discussed a great deal. For a variety of reasons, she was unable to find treatment that worked for her without disrupting her other illnesses, and she often had to endure horribly painful migraine attacks, attacks that interrupted her daily routine and prevented her from experiencing otherwise good days. It’s not my place or my business to talk about her other history here, but suffice it to say that her migraine disease was just one of the factors that impeded her ability to live a happy, fulfilled life. She was resilient and powerful, always one to stick up for the underdog and live her best life even when her history and health tried to beat her down.
Her loved ones knew she had her battles, but those close to her had good reason to believe she was moving on into a healthier and happier life. They were wrong.
It’s heart-wrenching to admit that she wasn’t getting better after all. B. took her own life in mid-December 2014, and she left hundreds of friends, loved ones, coworkers, and students heartbroken in the wake of her suicide.
In the many months since B.’s death, I’ve tried to come to terms with the fact that she is gone, that she weighed her options and decided that killing herself was the only way out. I have spent a lot of time talking with readers here on migraine.com about unremitting pain and disability that comes along with severe migraine. For many, it seems easier to simply not go on living than to live a half-life with extreme illness that all but erases one’s quality of life. When other factors are thrown into the mix, the challenge can often seem too cumbersome to bear.
I suppose I’ve been wanting to write this letter to you to say how much your band’s songs and words mean to me, especially now that B. is gone. At her memorial service, “The Story” played, and this section resonated with me yet again as I thought about how much B. identified with this song:
You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of my friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what I've been through like you do
At the time of her death, B. and I weren’t as close as we used to be, but we still shared a deep affection and tremendous love for each other. I may not have ever been able to truly understand the demons that haunted her, but I do know she and I were comrades in our plight with migraine and its seemingly ceaseless impact on our lives. I’m thankful we could be there for each other in at least that way.
In the last few years, B. and I were in sporadic touch. The last two times we hung out were at your concerts, and I thank you for those chances I had to spend time with her before this world became too much for her.
So, Brandi Carlile, I want to thank you. Thank you for being the voice of comfort and caring to someone who needed you. Thank you for bringing richness and joy and music and emotion to my dear B.’s life. Thank you for being with me and B. as we sang along to your words, occasionally stealing glances at each other and smiling in our shared happiness. Thank you for being a bright spot in B.’s life, and thank you for being there when we said goodbye.
a forever fan,
“The Migraine Girl”
If you have thoughts of suicide, please seek help. If your thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm are immediate and you are at risk to yourself, call the 24-hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
You can also ask a loved one to help you seek medical care at an urgent care center or ER right away.
If you are curious about suicide and its relation to migraine, please take the time to read a few articles here on migraine.com and rest assured you are not alone.
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?