Singing Through the Pain

The last time I sung in public, I had to step up to home plate. At the cameraman’s signal, I sang for 90 seconds to a crowd of 30,000. It’s cringe-worthy when someone screws up and you never want to be THAT person who shows up on the internet butchering the National Anthem. I also had about 80 people in the stands that would never let me live it down.

This was my 4th time singing The Star Spangled Banner at a professional sports event (Orioles, Nationals and Capitals twice). You know how some people want to visit all of the baseball stadiums? I’d love to sing at all the stadiums. But when my health turned five years ago, this seems like an improbable goal.

I was that girl who sang in church growing up and in every choir in school. I loved community theatre as well. To me singing and acting went hand in hand. I had amazing training for being in a small town. I got a scholarship for musical theatre when I went to college. Unfortunately, non-migraine related life events forced me to go to college part-time and there went my scholarship.

Just like my Chronic Migraines, I accepted that my hopes of Broadway would probably not happen. I became content doing local theatre and singing in a community choir. Singing the National Anthem had always been a dream of mine, especially for the Orioles, the team I watched every night with my parents growing up.

Every time I sang, I brought an entourage of family, friends and co-workers (sometimes even by a rented bus). Once I was done with paying homage to my country, it was time to party in the stands and enjoy some DC sports. These events, the celebration with loved ones, this filled the void of not being a professional entertainer.

The next season, I received an email from the Nationals asking me to sing again. It broke my heart, but I had to say no. In between the baseball seasons, I developed Chronic Migraines. I couldn’t predict if I could go into the office the next day, let alone commit to a game weeks away. At the time, I was still hoping this was a phase. We’d eventually figure out why I constantly had Migraines and then I could go back to my singing hobby.

That was five years ago. I haven’t sung publicly since then. When I think about it, I slowly stopped singing at all. Typically I would sing around the house, in a store, on a stroll down the street and with my friends playing their guitars. I even got pulled on stage to sing with one of my favorite Indie Rock bands. All of this slowly became lost.

I still devoured music. I’ve always stayed on top of the latest music and I loved live music. After wasting concert tickets because I didn’t feel well enough, my concert days were few and far between.

Recently, I’ve noticed that I sing way more often. Roommates will walk in the front door and say they could hear me down the hall. I jokingly blamed my tone deaf boyfriend for my slowdown in singing. He sings loud and proud even though he is so off that I can’t manage to sing the correct notes with him. I can’t give a reason why my life became less musical for so long. My therapist would have a field day with that question.

So why all of the sudden am I now singing all the time, wherever I am or whatever I’m doing? The Chronic Migraines are still there. I don’t think I could commit to singing at a game yet. However, I do feel that within the last year, I’ve been able to manage the pain more. I know what works to help me and what doesn’t. I know when I need to go to inpatient treatment just like I know that my daily routine is very important.

I’ve also become more vocal within the Migraine community. I’ve met some amazing doctors, researchers, clinicians and innovators by going to headache and pain centered conferences. I was on a patient panel that gave feedback to pharmaceutical and medical device companies as well as tech companies trying to focus their efforts on making their work more patient-centered. I’ve gone to Headache On The Hill twice now and even sponsored an evening event before talking to members of Congress.

I was starting to find my voice again. Although I wasn’t singing, I was networking and advocating and becoming a member of this large Migraine community. I became comfortable talking about my illness to a room full of strangers, just like I used to be comfortable on the stage.

My daily pain and limitations haven’t changed dramatically, but my voice has come back even while I’m in pain. Many Migraineurs have phonophobia, but that has never bothered me. I always have music on. Now I just find myself singing along more. That makes me happy. I never noticed the slow decline in my former passion, but now that I’ve recognized I’m singing more I can see how my condition had an impact on my need to belt it out.

I’m still not ready to commit to singing at a baseball game yet or buying lots of concert tickets. Singing through the pain has given me back such joy, even if my audience is just the maintenance man in the hall or in the car with friends.

What hobby have you lost to your Migraines? How can you incorporate it back into your life? If we have to suffer, we should at least have something that brings us joy.

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