Tough Cookie

I got my first migraine when I was 11 years old.

I was playing with friends and suddenly, there was a tiny spot in my vision that was missing. It was just...missing! Over the next hour, that spot grew larger and spread across both eyes. After a while, my vision was completely fuzzy and I couldn't see anything. I was scared. Really scared.

My mother took me home immediately, which is when the excruciating pain started to set in. By the end of the afternoon, I had lost my vision, vomited, and experienced pain unlike anything I had ever experienced.

That was the first migraine.

The second came shortly after, then the third, then the fourth. They started off as episodes every few weeks. Then, they started to come more and more often.

By the time I got to high school, the headaches were weekly. They started affecting my grades, they started affecting my social life, they started affecting my mental health.

Having migraines is interesting, because it's not only the worst pain that only people who have also experienced it can understand, but it also makes you feel lonely, sad, and hopeless. The emotions that stem from migraine are difficult to understand and, like the pain itself, there likely aren't words that exist in the English language that could properly describe them.

One day during my junior year of high school, I got a migraine. It was routine, it was just like all the rest--or so I thought. The next morning, I woke up and the migraine wasn't gone. This wasn't unusual; I would sometimes get migraines that would last for two or three days, so I didn't think anything of it.

I woke up the next day and the headache still wasn't gone. Then again, the next day the headache was still there. After several days of this, I started to get concerned. I started having to miss more school than usual and I was weaker, both physically and emotionally, than I had been in a long time.

I went through three neurologists that year, an MRI, countless blood tests, an EKG, an Echocardiogram with bubble study, and a bunch of other poking and prodding.

Eventually, I got a diagnosis from a really fantastic neurologist who worked hard to put together the puzzle that was my pain for 6 years: new daily persistent headache (NDPH).

This means that I woke up one day when I was 17 with a headache, and that headache never went away. I wake up every day with that same headache. It's a new type of headache. It's not migrainous in nature anymore. I don't get an aura, I don't always have sensitivity to light and sound, my pain is not localized, I no longer vomit, and I no longer faint. That day, something changed. And it hasn't left me alone since.

I tried everything for this headache from epilepsy medications to blood pressure medications to anti-depressants to dietary changes to acupuncture to essential oils and so many more. Some things help temporarily, but nothing has been able to knock this headache down.

I'm 22 years old now and I have had the same headache for 5 years. Because I was a child when I started getting headaches, I don't remember what it's like to not have a headache. Daily pain is my normal.

Call it a strange bout of something similar to Stockholm syndrome, but I affectionately refer to my headache as a tiny man inside my skull who walks around periodically smacking my brain with a jackhammer. I imagine he looks sort of like Mario, with overalls and a red hat.

I do that because what else can I do? Having a headache every single day sucks. Plain and simple, it just really sucks. If I looked at my pain as just that, I would miserable.

Point being, the little man--let's call him 'Jack'-- though the bane of my existence, is also a part of me. As much as I hate little Jack, I wouldn't be the person I am today with him.

NDPH and migraine have taught me true compassion, empathy, understanding, and love. They have taught me to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way, to smile when I'm feeling sad, and to express my emotions openly.

Some days are really hard, and it's never easy to explain to my loved ones what is going on inside my head (granted, I can't always explain to myself what's going on in my head either, but don't tell them that). I miss out on a lot with friends and family, and I'm often afraid to do things that I like because I don't want Jack to start going ham on the inside of my skull.

There is no way to always be positive in life at all, much less with a pain in the neck (lol 'pain in the neck') headache disorder, but I do all I can to stay positive and above all else, to be myself.

Whenever my pain is elevated, I tell myself over and over again that I am a TOUGH COOKIE! And so are all of you. That is what we are here for: to support each other when we are feeling beaten down by each of our own little Jacks, but also to remind each other of our strength.

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