“I am not my migraines”

Project Description:

My first migraine happened when I was 6 years old in the middle of Señora Loyola’s show-and-tell circle. I attended Cesar Chavez elementary where we were encouraged to strictly speak Spanish, unless we absolutely could not find the translating word. When my vision blurred and I collapsed on the floor in inexplicable pain, there truly was no word in any language to express what I was feeling. Maybe ‘embarrassment’ to have my entire class watch me act like a toddler as I staggered across the room, or maybe ‘fear’ that my vision would never return, but mostly I just felt scared. Looking back now, almost 15 years later, I wish I could tell my 6-year-old self that everything would have been okay, but I never would have guessed that those migraines would visit me almost every day, sometimes taking my ability to see for hours at a time, my ability to hear, and my ability to think. I still keep my faith that one day I will be able to tell my now 21- year-old self that everything will be okay, but everyday poses a new challenge.

I have always been a functional person. Regardless of how much pain I am in, both physically and emotionally, I get the job done, and I do it well. When I was 9 years old I started my own jewelry line, Ayla Inc. and sold to various local boutiques, one of which was even featured in Lucky Magazine. In high school I was awarded the honor of first junior editor-in-chief of our yearbook, and worked hard to win a national award. In college, I maintained a 4.0 GPA, while working two jobs and participating in campus and social clubs. However, during my first two years of college, I was experiencing migraines nearly every other day, sometimes to the point that I was losing vision and sensation in half of my face. I rescheduled labs, I made-up midterms and I found ways to study during the few hours of the week when the pain was manageable. But, part of managing my pain is my medication, and unfortunately that includes Vicodin.

During my sophomore year of college, I was under the impression that my friends were beginning to understand the struggles I underwent in order to manage my condition. Unfortunately, one night I was heartbroken to hear that nearly every one of them had collectively been discussing my ‘drug problem’ for the past few months. I felt guilt and abandonment. I felt guilty that my lifestyle could make my own friends feel so uncomfortable, but even more I felt abandoned that I didn’t have the option of telling them I didn’t need the medication or that I would stop taking it if it made them feel better.

During my first few years of severe migraines, I didn’t use any pain medication aside from Excedrin and Ibuprofen. The migraines crippled me. I would sit in my room, rocking back and forth, muttering nonsense and humming to myself as if I was having a psychotic break. There was no telling how long this could last, but sometimes the entire day.
I know the medication I take isn’t normal by any means, but the pain I experience from my migraines isn’t either. The pain is powerful and isolating. You forget about the things you love, the people you love, and want only to see and feel darkness. Without my medication, I can’t function, I can’t think, I can’t even comprehend who I am.

My migraines officially won my junior year when I was forced to withdrawal mid- quarter at Cal Poly and move home to pursue more aggressive treatment. I felt defeated. I received Botox and began Biofeedback, which has helped a little. I hope one day I will look back on all of this and be able to tell myself it was all okay, but at what age I will be is something I wonder constantly. Until then, I will continue to live my life, with or without the help of my medication.