Figuring It Out

I’m a 21 year-old female who’s been suffering from chronic migraines for just under two years. However, I wasn’t diagnosed until a year and a half ago which means that I went a good 6 months wondering what was wrong with me while the migraines just got worse. I’d always been a healthy, strong girl — I swam competitively since I was five and fell in love with the physically taxing sport of rowing in high-school. I even believe I have a high pain-tolerance — how else could I have rowed until my hands bled or swam races 20 minutes long? But none of what I’d done could compare to how much my head was hurting. In hindsight, I should’ve interrogated my relatives more thoroughly about my family’s medical history; it turns out great aunts on both sides of the family and my great-grandfather passed them along to me, but we didn’t know that at the time so we never suspected migraines. I was treated for tension headaches, given allergy medications, I visited the ears nose and throat specialist, and finally at long last, I met a neurologist who told me “You have migraines.” An answer! Things could improve! Only they didn’t; they got far worse before they got better.

I understand that doctors are human and that they make mistakes. It’s just a shame that my neurologist didn’t talk to me (or even suggest a book — I love books!) and explain that migraines will most likely be with me forever, what their stages are, that migraineurs are more susceptible to side effects of medications because our nervous systems are more sensitive and to be on the look-out for them, or help me find my triggers. He only increased the dosage of medication that my family doctor had prescribed me after asking “Have you noticed any side effects?” As I hadn’t noticed anything different, I replied no, and he said that more should help, visit over. Unfortunately, because it was summer at the time, I’d failed to notice the confusion setting in. What’s ironic is that I’m really thorough at checking the side effects of medications. I’d checked and while I was experiencing a little of the loss of appetite and tingling in the hands and feet, nothing adverse was bothering me. There was a little snippet snuck in there that mentioned “some confusion” as an uncommon side-effect, but to me that meant “Oops, I thought I put my keys there” and I could find my keys so everything was fine. But when school started up and I couldn’t understand the simplest of calculations and concepts that my classmates were grasping easily, I thought I wasn’t college material anymore. I have a tough major, Biochemistry (with a double major in French Studies,) and after getting every quantative analysis lab report back from my professor without a score because I’d done the calculations incorrectly yet again and test scores so low I had to hold back tears in lecture in front of my peers, I was sure that I needed to forget science and stick with French. I hate crying, yet it was all I could do.

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And as I’m sure most of you readers know, crying only triggers more migraines — not fun. Since I was still getting migraines daily, I went back to my neurologist. He decided that I just didn’t have enough medicine and upped the medicine yet again, and ordered a MRI. The medicine still wasn’t working, finals were in a week and I was a mess. A career in science seemed out of my abilities, I didn’t want to do anything but lay down, and all I wanted was for my head to stop hurting. My friends didn’t know what to do with me — they wanted to be there for me and help me de-stress but my head hurt constantly so even when I was supposed to be having fun, I was in pain, cranky, and often near tears. In a strange series of events including my neurologist being out of town, my caring family doctor and a broken MRI instrument, I found myself in the neurology department of a prominent hospital and it was there that the doctors suggested the medicine was not only not helping prevent my migraines, but it was also interfering with my cognitive processes. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the ground — I wasn’t stupid after all! My professors were wonderful (even the one I’d ashamedly cried in front of when he’d had the misfortune of being caring enough to inquire whether I was all right after I asked him a question about a quiz) and let me post-pone the finals until I was weaned off the “stupid-pills” as they’re now nicknamed.

A year and a half later, I’m on a preventative medication that works with few side effects. I still get one or two migraines per week, but they’re not always pain level 10s like they used to be and I’m more likely to chase them off with my acute medication than I was before. I’m about to graduate with my double major of Biochemistry and French, I’ve studied abroad in Paris, I got into a well-paying internship for this summer, I’m training to run a half-marathon, and I have plans to volunteer for a year in the AmeriCorps before I head off to my graduate studies. Granted, my dreams of being a doctor and a serious master’s rower have been toned down to a less-stressful future in Public Health studies and exercising for fun, but I’m doing alright. There are those blasted days when a migraine ruins something, such as when I went to see the opera for the first time and half of my brain hated the noise-makers despite the rational half knowing that it was exquisite. And college has become more challenging with the added difficulty of not always being able to concentrate to study during a migraine. My grades aren’t what they could be — when a grade depends on four tests and I have a migraine while trying to prepare for two of them (or during one) there’s no recovery. I absolutely hate that I’m not as dependable as I used to be — migraines force me to bow out too often. I used to think I could do anything, and now I’m limited to regulating my sleep schedule, what I eat, what movies I watch (documentary style movies are great migraine triggers,) even my exercise. I used to put 110% into every workout but that just causes migraines now, so I make sure to keep it at 80% for most of the time and only up it to 100% if I’m feeling really good or if it’s a race. I’m always on people about talking too loud, and I’m blind outside without sunglasses because the sun’s too bright for me to see without them. Migraines are awful. But it could always be worse. Granted my life is a balancing act and I’m always learning of new things that trigger the migraines (such as atmospheric pressure!) and almost never of remedies for them, but life could be worse. My eyes are sensitive, but I’m not blind. I can’t run at 110% effort, but I have legs. School’s more challenging, but I’m lucky to be able to pay for a college education. Things are sweeter in life when you have to work for them, and while migraines may be lemons, drink lemonade! Hang in there everyone, there’s always hope that the future will bring migraine relief!

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