What I want you to know about suffering from migraines

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Denny Finnerin.

With the aura comes the guilt. As soon as I feel what will undoubtedly become yet another migraine headache, the guilt kicks in. Guilt that I will miss more work. Guilt that I have to go to bed in a dark, quiet room and cannot spend time with my family. Guilt that I am yet again leaving my husband to wrangle our five-year old and all the neighborhood hoodlums that stream through our house cackling with joy on a near-constant basis. My husband is a saint. He does not question, just tells me to go to bed because he knows that is the only thing I can do. But still I feel the guilt. I know they do not believe me at work. I know they think I am a slacker, or a hypochondriac, or weak. I know that my bosses and fellow employees think “Why doesn’t she just tough it out like the rest of us when we are sick? It’s just a headache.” I know that my headaches have held me back because I am considered less dedicated than people who work through their illnesses. We do not take sick days in my company, at least not in my department, not if we want to show what diligent, exceptional engineers we are. I am not exceptional. But I am not weak. It is nearly impossible to describe the symptoms of a migraine headache in a way that conveys its severity to those who have never experienced one. The searing, debilitating pain that renders me pale and sweaty, unable to turn my head due to the dizziness and agony shooting from the back of my eyeballs, over the top of my skull, and down the back of my neck. The light and sound sensitivity that makes fluorescent lights the scourge of my very existence. The nausea and gagging that comes on as waves of fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. I do not puke, I refuse to puke; I have a near-Seinfeldian streak going in my aversion to throwing up. The feeling that all I can do is go to bed. In the quiet. In the dark. And hope when I wake up it will be over. Until the next time. The triggers of a migraine headache or varied for those who suffer. For me atmospheric pressure changes, allergies, where I am in my menstrual cycle, a full moon - any combination of those factors can almost guarantee the onset of a multi-day series of headaches. I take three prescription medicines every morning in an attempt to keep the headaches away. I have a constant supply of prescription migraine medicine, Advil, Excedrin Migraine, and Advil Congestion Relief at my side at all times. But they are not always or completely effective. I have experimented with various medication cocktails, changes in diet, eliminating caffeine or alcohol, increasing caffeine intake, herbal remedies. You name it, I have tried it. After sustaining a concussion this past winter, my migraines have increased in severity and frequency to the point I am experiencing more days with a headache than without. I am panicked fearing that this is my new normal. I don’t know how I can function like this much longer. As such, I am meeting with a doctor next week to tackle this headache thing head on. In the meantime, I sit in my aggressively fluorescent-lit office, staring at my blindingly bright computer screen wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses because I have used nearly all my leave time for the year with this illness. Because I cannot handle the guilt much longer.

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