It’s my party and I’ll barf if I want to.
I was 5 years old when I started having migraines. Of course, no one knew that’s what it was until several years later. Not for lack of trying on my parent’s part.
There are so many memories of normal childhood activities (birthday parties, sleepovers, recess, bus rides home from school) interrupted by a sudden need to vomit. I would be at the skating rink, boogeying along on my roller skates, having a blast when all of a sudden…BAM! I’d be in the bathroom, barfing my brains out while one of my little friends ran to find the adult in charge of me.
It seems that I never saw it coming. I mean, I was only 5, so ‘identifying triggers‘ wasn’t exactly in my vocabulary. I do remember that the heat seemed to be the biggest culprit for me. Anytime that I was playing outside, I was more prone to the sudden barfing.
Summer on the school bus was always my nemesis. I recall several times when Ms. Helen, the driver of our often broken down bus 80, would be on the side of the road, holding back my hair and gently rubbing my back. She would pull up to the house and greet my worried mother who wondered why we were so late. As the migraines became more frequent, she began to understand and would greet the bus with keys and purse in hand, ready to rush me to the emergency room.
Looking back, I know I was lucky to have such an amazingly patient and understanding Ms. Helen to look after me.
Every time I would exit the bus, pale as a ghost with clammy skin and tear stained eyes, my Mom would scoop me up and rush me to the nearest ER. It took many of these trips for one doctor to say the magic word. Migraine.
That doctor is now deceased. He took his own life several years ago. I’ll never forget him.
That single word became my identity. It defined me. It consumed me. It controlled me. I couldn’t do anything without being aware that I might get a migraine. Being afraid that I might get a migraine.
I was young, chubby and shy. I already had very little going for me, in my eyes anyway. It was a struggle for me to feel comfortable in my own skin and adding Migraines to the mix certainly didn’t help.
I was terrified to jump in and have fun because I just knew that I’d end up barfing in the bathroom. There was no more four square at recess. No more climbing on the jungle gym. No more running in the waves with my big brother. No more chasing the dog around the yard.
I pulled away from my childhood. I felt like I couldn’t do anything. My Mom didn’t help. She was always urging me to be careful. Not to push myself.
Looking back, I think Migraine sometimes became an excuse not to push myself. It’s too bad I didn’t realize that until my 30’s, long after low self esteem had taken it’s toll.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my migraines. To learn what I could and couldn’t do. To learn how to tell when one was going to hit. To learn how to tell someone when one was going to hit and how to get them to listen.
I already felt like the odd man out because of my migraines. I certainly didn’t want to be labeled as sickly. This resulted in a lot of unnecessary barfing. The embarrassment of saying that I needed to stop because I was getting a headache was just too stigmatizing for my young little ego.
People rolled their eyes or made fun of me. No one knew what a migraine was back then. They just thought I was making excuses so I could get out of gym class or math tests. It was humiliating.
I’d tend to ignore the pain and the dizziness and just try to push through it so no one would tease me. I figured I could suffer through gym class and then barf in private later. That way, no one would have to see it and I could just go about my pathetic little barf filled life.
Kids can be cruel. What can I say?
I’ve reached a point in my life where I have my migraines pretty much under control. I know what to avoid and when to avoid it. I know when to retreat to a darkened room with my ice pack and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I know my symptoms and my triggers and how to respond to them.
Of course, it took a good 34 years for me to be able to say that.
I still have my share of embarrassing moments too. Just last year, I got hit with one at work. It hit hard and fast and I knew I was in trouble. I took my meds with the hope that they would work but with the realization that they probably wouldn’t. I called my husband to come get me, because I knew I couldn’t drive home.
My supervisor let me lay down in one of the patient rooms (a perk of working in an ER) until he arrived. When he finally came, it was full blown. I didn’t make it out of the parking lot. The hospital security cameras have lovely footage of me barfing into a plastic bag.
I’m no longer as embarrassed by these moments. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not pretty. However, I have learned to laugh about it and have been blessed with a husband who can do the same.
Migraines are the devil. I don’t have any better way to describe them. They are simply awful and I hate them with a passion. I can either succomb to them and live in fear and misery or I accept them and just live my life.
Some days I do both. But, I always talk about it. I always share my migraine stories so I won’t feel so alone. Some days, that has made all the difference.