Woman holds spyglass while looking through misty clouds

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

As I get older, I find myself constantly thinking about my past and how I would have done things a lot differently had I known back then what I know now. This is especially true when it comes to navigating migraine - from working full time with chronic pain, to navigating K-12 and higher education, from romantic relationships to communicating with my family, there are so many lessons I’ve learned along the way and as unpredictable as migraine can be, I’ve learned so much about myself and my relationship with...well, my life, over the years in large part due to the impact migraine has had on my self-esteem, the way I see myself, and the way I interact with others.

If I could talk to my younger self, I would have so much to say. I am sure we all would! I thought it would be a great experience to reflect holistically on my journey with migraine at different stages of my life.

Elementary school me

To my elementary-school-aged self, I would say:

You are not weird, and no, spiders are not living in your head. The pain you feel is felt by so many other people, and you are not alone. One day you will find out that mom and grandma can understand what you are going through, and they will support you every step of the way. You are not an underachiever, and schoolwork does not define you, and it is okay to like quiet activities. Being in pain every day like you are is odd. Isn't it? But it is normal for so many. You are not alone. You can speak up.

Middle school me

To my middle-school-aged self, I would say:

There are folks who can help! Don’t be afraid to ask - it is okay to communicate with teachers and family about the struggles you are having - heck, other kids are going through similar things! Not everyone will understand, but you do not have to suffer alone. One day you will meet a big community of folks who will have shared experiences, as well as know about all of those weird triggers that make you feel odd. Stay strong! Start to draw boundaries and listen to your body, things are getting weird, but you are perfectly valid.

High school me

To my high-school-aged self, I would say:

Failure is an opportunity to grow. You are talented, and your pain does not define you. You are not a flake, you are not weird for learning late, and you are not weak because you feel pain. You are not an underachiever, and you deserve accommodation and understanding. That pain you are feeling, it’s real. Tell your friends you do want to hang out and let them know your limitations. They love you and are genuinely concerned for your wellbeing. Talk to your mom! She has been through this before and can help. Talk to your younger brothers; some of them will experience this and will benefit from your guidance. You got this! Also, communicate with your doctor - I know it’s scary, but there are folks out there who can help, and not only that but there are so many treatments out there you can try. It is especially important to talk to your doctor, as you may not be aware of the impact of taking daily over-the-counter medications. Try to open up and have courage. I know you will grow up to be a great communicator and find your voice.

College me

To my college-aged self, I would say:

Don’t feel pressured to drink, knowing it gives you so much pain every time. You are fun! Leaving the party early is totally cool if it means taking care of yourself. Working three part-time jobs while navigating migraine? It’s going to be very tough. Try to go easy on yourself. Ask for what you need in the classroom and at work, and stand strong. Migraine and depression can be a terrible feedback loop, but you are not alone. Your friends are there for you and are there to support you the same way you support them. You aren’t a flake, and it’s okay to take care of yourself. Playing in a band is fun and a great time, but keep your earplugs handy and again, trade the beer in for water, and have fun! Start to keep track of your triggers, and talk to G; he is here for the long haul. Don’t take misunderstandings too seriously. Many people aren’t educated in your sphere about what is going on with you. It’s okay that college is taking longer than society says it should, you, and every other student, are unique. When everything feels like it is falling apart, remember that you are valid. Be consistent with your care; your health is important. Some professors will not be accommodating, but there are resources for you and other students on campus - you can be an advocate! No, you are not crazy for thinking that there are major disparities in the healthcare system.  

Mid-twenties me

To my mid-twenties self, I would say:

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to build a career, and there *are* jobs out there that will see your value. You are not a cog in the machine, and your worth isn’t determined by your productivity or rate of performance in an ableist society. Your brothers really appreciate your openness and example, and they also deal with migraines, so thank you for speaking up. Don’t worry too much about being flaky, I know it has been a lifelong anxiety, but truly, in a few years, everyone you know will be just as much of a homebody as you are! Ha. Don’t be afraid to challenge what people think or say you ‘ought’ to do, and don’t be too annoyed when people ask if “you’ve tried x,y, and z,” yet, most of the time, they mean well. I am proud of you for finding your voice and advocating for yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak up at the doctor; you know your body best.

Where I am now

Whew! How much more confident and less alone I’d have felt if I knew then what I know now. Sitting and writing these reflections, I realize how much of my schooling, particularly friendships, and even the tone of my voice has reflected my journey with migraine, and it has truly been a long and interesting one. Today, I feel as though so much of the internal struggle of self-worth, depression, anxiety, and challenging the stigma of migraine has shaped the person I am today, and I have overcome so much. With head pain and other comorbidities being a part of my life for as long as I can remember, I feel truly thankful to have grown to a place where I do not feel as many pressures to ‘fit’ the mold, to a place where I do not feel I must take the status quo expectations of being a student or a worker as a rule, to a place where I know there are options for treatment, as well as for community with migraine.

What would you say to your younger self if you could in regards to living with migraine? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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