The First Thing I Gave Up Due to Migraine

Even before my sister became one of the tallest girls in her class, she was a big basketball fan. We had a hoop set up in our driveway as kids, and she and I both were on teams over the years (though she was met with much more success than I). As an adoring sibling, it was my duty to idolize my sister—and her basketball skills were but one thing I copied.

First symptoms of migraine at summer sports camp

In 1993, the year I turned 13, I went to summer sports camp in Colorado. I went each year for swimming, but in ’93 I spent double the time there: half of the time training as competitive swimmer, half the time in the basketball camp. This was the only year I went to basketball camp, and it was the year I went from being at the top of my game to ending up pretty close to the bottom of it.

You see, something started happening with more urgency while I was at camp, something that had happened only a few times before: I got overheated faster than usual, and sometimes feeling overheated would prompt this dizzying, sudden headache.

Being forced to not give 100% effort

This was 25 years ago now, yet I can vividly recall the moment when I hit a proverbial wall during a scrimmage. I was booking it down the court, my head pounding and sweat dripping from my face, when I just stopped. I put my hands on my knees and stood still, breathing. For the first time I can recall, I let go of putting forth 100% effort because I felt like I simply couldn’t go on.

After I told my coach I was feeling sick, he awarded me with the attitude pin, an honor reserved for one of the two most positive people on the team. He said, “Even when you were feeling sick, you still tried to give it your all. I was very impressed.”

Knowing I was hard on myself

I, on the other hand, felt like I had cheated the system. I doubted myself. Was the head pain that bad? Wouldn’t a stronger competitor have pushed herself through the dizziness and continued to play? I didn’t feel like I deserved the pin; now, I look back on my teenage self with more compassion and am thankful for an adult who, even back then, saw that I was struggling and still putting forth effort.

After camp was over, we moved to a new town and I decided to drop basketball once and for all. We no longer had neighbors we liked to play ball with, so games in the driveway were rare. I stayed on the swim team for a while longer, not just because I was better at it but because it allowed me to meet some new friends in my new neighborhood—plus there was zero chance of my getting overheated while swimming laps.

What could have been?

When basketball tryouts at my new middle school came around, I didn’t even bat an eye. It wasn’t on my radar at all, and I think much of the reason for that was my fear that I would continue the pattern of getting overheated and headachey and needing to just quit on the spot.

Sometimes I’m bummed that I didn’t pursue basketball more seriously. While there was a lot of room for improvement, I was (and am) very tall, and I had an impressive jump shot back in those days. Would I have been able to work through the trigger? Would I have loved basketball enough that the heat-induced head pain would cause me to go to a doctor sooner to report my symptoms?

Have you ever chosen to (or been forced to) give up a sport due to its effect on your migraine patterns? What was that like for you, and how did you come to the decision? Do you have any regrets? 

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