Migraine: My Co-Morbid Dance Partner

In writing an email to my BFF I described some of her students as "overly young". She asked me if I thought people felt the same thing of us. I gave a resounding yes. My life as a young woman was filled with rebelling against expectations. It made me a big, heaping, handful of a human instead of a human being.

We've all come in contact with those kids that are very strong willed. If you want them to do something, you tell them to do the exact opposite and stand back to watch the reaction. I was that kid. I ran headlong into situations that weren't always good and gave myself with all the fervor of a bullet train. In many ways all this energy was just a cover so I wouldn't have to think about how afraid I was of things going horribly wrong. I really didn't do anything by halves.

My migraine diagnosis story

Thirty-two years ago I graduated from College and married my United States Marine. He was NOT Prince Charming (thank heaven, how boring) then and he is not now. I think he worked out that I didn't really need rescuing. My husband went into active duty service in 1989. We moved from Syracuse, New York to Havelock, North Carolina. It was a HUGE adjustment. Life on a Marine base felt secure but it was not the pretty panacea you see in movies. Reality is harsh. Nearly 9 months to the day after our wedding I became pregnant with my first child. All the hormone changes and lifestyle changes gave birth to another kind of child... the migraine. I'll never forget that first migraine.

Migraine management during pregnancy

The Marines were headed out to the Gulf for the first time. My husband had one of those jobs in the Corps that did not always deploy. He worked long hours at break-neck pace without many breaks. The attitude was, if you were supposed to have a family, you'd have been issued one. I learned the hard way that I was on my own. I had one friend in our housing unit who looked after me and my unborn child while our husbands dealt with the prospect of war. The migraines became more constant as the time of my daughter's delivery came closer.

Pregnant women were reassigned to civilian doctors because all doctors were needed in the Gulf. Their caseload doubled overnight. It was an open secret that the military patients were going to take a back seat to the civilian patients. The fact that I was having blinding migraines was sort of a secondary issue. So Tylenol and whatever comfort measures I had to take were my lot in life. I was looking forward to meeting my baby. It was a small price to pay for a healthy little one. In March of 1991 my daughter was born at 9 pounds 13 ounces and 22 1/4 inches long. I almost died in the process but I made it and so did she... yet, all the newborn clothes went back to the store in favor of size 3 months LOL. My daughter was a big bundle of curiosity. Migraines aside, I loved my little girl. She was worth every moment of the pregnancy, birth, and recovery and more. She is now 31 and we are still very close.

Overcoming grief and welcoming a miracle

A few short months after my daughter was born my husband was to be deployed aboard ship. The Marines provide security for Navy ships. As if it were an inevitability, I got pregnant. I wasn't aware until very early on when I miscarried. I really thought that was the end of it. I went to the doctor due to exhaustion. They ran a routine pregnancy test. By some miracle one baby survived the miscarriage.

Ultrasounds to figure out gender weren't "a thing" then but I came to learn that the male hormones seemed to be the cure to the migraines (though the morning sickness was fierce). My husband missed most of that pregnancy. He found out we were to have our second child while aboard ship. My beautiful baby girl missed her daddy. It was probably the most exhausting period of my life. Caring for a baby who did everything ahead of the usual benchmarks and being pregnant with a very gymnastic baby (I thought he'd come out pole vaulting). The birth of my son was perfect. I gave birth in the military hospital on base. They were amazing. My son was born a handsome little man... instant love. Shortly after leaving the hospital my migraines were back.

Managing migraine and other conditions

Fast forward 2 decades. I was desperately unwell and no one could tell me why. It turns out I had Celiac disease, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome... and migraine. The doctors in the tiny town where we live presently had no idea what to do with me. I was learning all over again how to deal with migraine caused by POTS syndrome (I was going through menopause too). I was very obviously malnourished which kicked off a whole series of problems like neuropathy. My head was spinning literally and figuratively. I wasn't about to give up. I was going to claw my way back to health. There is that bullet train again.

Migraine does not define me

Setbacks are inevitable, I know this but the key to gaining back my confidence was accepting that these health conditions were part of my existence. No one need approve, no one need have an opinion. The migraine is here to stay. We shadow dance across the terrain of rare health conditions. I can't say I welcome this dance partner but I don't hate or blame it any more. Gene Kelly said, "You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams". So while I dance with a rather odd partner, migraine doesn't lead. I do. I Tango, Charleston, Foxtrot to my own music... Migraine is just along for the ride. I know I don't have all the answers, far from it. I do know that if you struggle long enough you settle into an uneasy peace.

You are more than your migraine

If you are reading this and the migraine has become too much, I want you to remember: this life is your dance where you choose the music and the partner. The pain is overwhelming, I know. But just as dancers know you learn one movement at a time. There is a graceful strength within you. Migraine cannot rob you of that hope. Take care of that place in your heart from which the music comes. Dance even if no one sees. You are amazing.

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