Migraine Is Not Who I am
It’s week three. I can tell what kind of day it’s going to be by the the ringing in my ears. The louder the ringing, the worse I’ll feel. Right now it’s loud…like the feedback through a sound system that makes you wince. Except it doesn’t stop. Like Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, I want to scream: “Would somebody answer that damn phone.”
I have a low-grade headache, too. Along with some vertigo, some nausea, and the aforementioned tinnitus, I have migraine brain, the muddy thinking that seems to keep me wondering what I missed. An appointment? To chart a patient? Where I parked my car? I’m missing something, and it’s starting to really annoy me.
I’m having a hard time separating myself from my symptoms. I know I am missing something, and it’s taken all this time, but I have figured out what that is.
I am missing me.
Somewhere I crossed a line between having a migraine and being a victim of it. I am beginning to believe that this is who I am rather than how I feel. I became my symptoms. Now I cannot separate the me from the migraine.
I’m perplexed and pissed. Not as much by the symptoms—they will pass—but by my identification with them. If there were a 12-step recovery group for migraineurs, I’d qualify: My name is Bill and I am a migraineur. That thought quickly turns the feedback in my ears turns to sounds of screeching tires. I really want to hit the brakes on that.
How I relate to my symptoms is tricky. Part of me believes that you gotta name it to tame it. Staying with the 12-step program example, recovery from all manner of chemical and behavioral addictions begins with self identification and disease identification. My name is _____ and I am a _____. In those terms, the line between who I am and what I have becomes blurred. That tightrope between self-identity and disease-identity is necessary to negotiate the first steps toward recovery. But I shudder to think it applies to my migraine.
My self-identity and my migraine-identity are a pernicious pair. I don’t want to identify with my migraine. I want to detach from it. I want to stand aside let the symptoms blow by me. I want to sip coffee and casually observe my symptoms as if they are not really mine…or at least as if they are not me. I want to stare down my migraine and not see my face on it.
The bad news? It’s week three, and I’m a little loopy and snippy. (And remember, my brain is behind the curve; I was probably snippy mid-way through week one.)
The good news? This is temporary. I have been through this before. It passes. As I have reflected on this episode, using my muddy migraine brain to sort through the data, I hold tight to that knowledge—this will pass.
There’s more good news. In telling this story, a few things bubble up through the experience. First, migraines are messy. I feel more than sick. I feel angry, tired, discouraged, ashamed, guilty… I hear more than ringing. I hear self-doubt, hopelessness, inadequacy…
Second, I feel better now. Not because the ringing is gone. Or the vertigo or nausea. Or the anger and self-doubt. But because I can read over this story and observe my migraine. That’s what I really want. I want to detach. And there it is in black and white. My symptoms, my feelings, my mental machinations. Having written them out I can now read them more objectively. Having shared them with you, they make less mess.
That’s what community can create. It works in 12-step recovery. My name is _____ and I am a _____. That isn’t said in a vacuum. It is shared in meetings. If it works there, it can work here. Migraine.com is a community.
There is more to the migraine than the mess. This community makes that clear. There is the idea that somebody, somewhere can relate to this experience. That together, we can put this migraine thing into proper perspective. That we might make a miserable migraine into a meaningful moment.
My meaningful moment? Knowing this is not who I am and sharing that with you. Talking about my migraines, and all the craziness that accompanies them, has taken some of the messy-ness out of this episode. That rings loudly enough to squelch the feedback.