Miss Migraine: Understanding limitations

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on June 2, 2015. I wanted to share this again now because I’ve been in a bad migraine cycle on top of having a full-to-bursting schedule. This go-round, though, I’m making sure to fit dog walks in no matter what, because they really DO make me feel better.

“You jump into things without thinking about how much work they’ll be.”

That’s what my partner said to me one morning. “Give me an example,” I said.

“I do most of the dog walking.”

Okay, stop. What? I’ve had dogs my entire life. I have been walking them for almost as long.

My partner’s statement made me feel like he thinks I’m not willing to do the work required to take care of our dogs. Like bringing these animals into our lives was some whim, because I saw a cute puppy in the pet store window and thought it would make me more attractive or something.

(Just to be clear, our dogs are not from pet stores. Pet store dogs often come from puppy mills, where the mothers are bred over and over again until they die. The people who run puppy mills don’t pay attention to things like the suitability of the dog for breeding, they just want to make money. My corgi is from a responsible breeder and our German shepherd is a sort-of rescue.)

My corgi Lexi sniffing the air.

Lexi is sniffing the air at the dog park (Dec. 5, 2012).

I adore my dogs. Every day I look forward to coming home to their excited greeting and unwinding from the day by taking them for a good long walk. With one rather large caveat.

Enter chronic migraine land.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), I have a horrible migraine, and walking becomes incredibly painful. Each step is like a hammer blow to my head. So yes, my partner does a lot of solo dog walking.

To be fair, ninety-nine percent of the time he understands my limitations and gladly takes on extra work so I can rest. But when he gets tired or has a headache himself, he sometimes lashes out at me–because my migraines are just as frustrating to him as they are to me.

When he says things like that, even if he doesn’t really mean it, it plays directly into my guilt and self-doubt over the fact that I can’t do any kind of physical anything without getting a migraine (thankfully, this has changed in recent years, thanks to a change in medications and a lot of hard work on my part).

I often feel like I don’t deserve to have dogs. Or own a home. Or be a writer. I feel like I’m not good enough, because there’s a brick wall (migraines) between me and the thing that prevents me from engaging fully.

Intellectually, I know it’s silly to think about things in terms of deserving them or not. I can only do what I can do. My partner knows that. And a majority of the time, he respects that.

But it’s hard and frustrating for both of us when we feel that I’m not able to pull my own weight.

How do you react when family members accuse you of not doing enough?

Miss Migraine: Learning to be kind to myself

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 17, 2012. While I’m maybe a little better at being kind to myself, let’s just say there’s still room for improvement…

“It’s not your fault,” my partner, D.J., said.

The night air chilled my fingers. I reached out for D.J.’s hand, but it was as cold as mine.

“I said I’d get the work done by tomorrow, and I didn’t,” I said.

We stopped at an intersection and waited for the light to turn. Our dogs strained at the end of their leashes.

“Were you in pain all weekend?” he asked.

I said nothing. The walk light flicked on, and we started across the street. It wasn’t just the pain. It was the fatigue, the vertigo, the nausea, the confusion and inability to think straight. It was the way the glare from the computer screen cut through my eyes, through my skull. It was the crushing depression, the despair that rose up from somewhere deep inside of me and engulfed me in darkness.

“You can’t blame yourself,” he said.

“I know.” But I do. I should have sucked it up and done the work anyway, I thought. Was the pain really that bad? Were the other symptoms really that bad? Aren’t I just overreacting? Just procrastinating?

Even as I asked these questions, I knew the answer: Yes. Yes, it is really that bad. Yes, I really did need to turn the computer off and lie down. No, I was not procrastinating.

Being kind to myself is not something I excel at. I always want to push myself, to fulfill my potential, to challenge my skills. I’m happiest when I’m working, when I’m accomplishing something. Too much idle time makes me feel useless and lazy.

But being kind to myself is something I desperately need to learn. I need to forgive myself for the things I miss so that I can move on and enjoy the things I don’t miss. Otherwise, I stress myself out thinking about everything I have to catch up on, my cluttered, dirty house, words unwritten, and finished pieces  not yet submitted to literary journals. I live in the past, and can’t move forward into the future.

Change rarely comes easy. It’s always a process, a journey made of failures and successes. Today, I’m taking the first step into that journey.

Miss Migraine: The trouble with migraines in college part 3: A solution

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 1, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines! Read part one and part two.

The trouble with migraines in college: A solution

After failing to get recognition or respect for the serious health condition that was affecting my school work, I felt angry, drained, and frustrated. I mentioned my frustrations to my neurologist, and she said to me, quite simply, “Go through your school’s disability services.”

Out loud, I believe I said something like, “Oh, that makes sense, I hadn’t thought of that.”

But internally, my reaction was more along the lines of, “I CAN DO THAT?! I QUALIFY FOR SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS?!”

The next day, I approached disability services to get the process started. I happened to know the disability services coordinator well. She was aware of my condition, and when I told her I wanted to apply, she said, “You should have done this much sooner!”

If only I had known I could! The thought never once crossed my mind before my doctor suggested it. None of my other doctors had mentioned the possibility, even when I’d told them about my problems. (In my opinion, that’s another reason to see an actual headache and migraine specialist, because he or she will know and understand how serious the condition actually is, and be able to help you get services and accommodations you may need outside of the doctor’s office.)

The moment my disability paperwork was processed and approved, and letters were delivered to my professors, I felt a relief so powerful I almost cried at work. Now, finally, someone had recognized how much pain I exist in every day. Someone had recognized that what I do is not easy for me to do, because I have to do it through this cloud of pulsing, aching, and often confusion. Someone had recognized that I wasn’t making any of this up, that I wasn’t trying to get out of homework or class, that I simply wanted to get through my classes, learn as much as possible, and not ruin my health in the process.

My particular accommodations call for flexibility with deadlines. That doesn’t mean I can hand work in whenever I feel like. I have to communicate with my professors. I have to tell them what I need, and when I’m not feeling well. I have to be open and honest with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish within a given time period. That’s the most difficult part for me.

I do not like admitting weakness. I do not like asking for help. Nor do I like handing in sloppy work. I’m paying a lot for this degree in writing, and I want to get my money’s worth out of it. That means that when I hand a piece of my writing to one of these talented and skilled people whom I am indirectly paying a large sum of money, I want it to be as good as I can make it, so that they can help me make it better. I get nothing out of handing them a slip-shod story with many problems that I could fix myself given more time.

So I’m learning that asking for help isn’t a weakness, but a sign of self-awareness and strength. I’m not weak at all. I’ve accomplished incredible things with migraine hanging over my life, and I will continue to do so. But there’s simply no reason for me to struggle against disbelief, misunderstanding, and the bad or lazy intentions of students who’ve come before me. So I don’t, and I’m grateful that there’s an easier way.

How do you handle your migraines in college, graduate school, work, or another stressful environment?