Migraine Wonderland: Our Search for Meaning

"Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll may have suffered from migraines with aura, and the surreal characters and imagery in his book may have been inspired by distorted visions he had during migraines. In the midst of my migraines, I often feel like Alice. Having fallen down the rabbit hole, I have shrunk too small and the pain looms too large. Every sight and sound around me is too bright and too loud – too something for the tiny figure I have become. I pray my meds wills ease the pain and restore my Cheshire grin. I’m late, I’m late, for all of my important dates, as time ticks by and I am trapped by own body. I wait, wait, wait for time to pass, hoping my unfamiliar surroundings will soon return to normal.

I still remember the first time I fell down the rabbit hole. It was in the middle of my last final, the last semester of my freshman year of college. I was nauseated before the exam and started seeing stars while taking the test. I could not read the words on the page in front of me. Because my mom had migraines sporadically throughout her life, I knew about migraines but did not know what was happening to me. I tried to finish the exam and sprinted from the building, only to throw up before making it back to my dorm. It wasn’t until then that the headache pain kicked in - the worst pain I had ever experienced. There was nothing to do but wait out the monster in my head.

In those early days, my migraines with aura lasted about a day and came a handful of times a year. I was 18 when I had that first attack, and that was 18 years ago. Then about four years ago, I crossed over into dreaded daily chronic migraines. My life has not been the same since. In the early migraine days, I never would have imagined what my life would be like now. That I am almost never able to sit through a movie and have to wear ear plugs when I do; that there are times when the sound of the dishwasher is unbearable; that walking outside to get the mail takes effort some days; that I live in virtual darkness for days on end; that I have had to stop working.

We may find ourselves down the rabbit hole, dwarfed by pain, but we are not defeated by it. I am thankful for each pain free day and appreciate moments when I am able to go to the gym, cook my husband dinner or spend time with friends. Migraines mean pain and loss and disability, but they have also taught me to appreciate life, to be thankful for my husband and to savor every good moment. As a trial attorney, I used to define myself by my work and my accomplishments. In this migraine wonderland, I am learning that I am more than the job I do (or don’t do), more than the illness I have, more than what I can accomplish in a day. We have meaning and value because of who we are.

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