Did you catch part 1 and part 2 of this migraine life series? June is the month designated to bring awareness to migraine, a condition affecting 39 million people, based on the American Migraine Association’s figure. That’s a whole bunch of people with a whole bunch of stories. Stories primarily kept quiet because, if they were anything like me, they are suffering in a dark room, praying for relief.
When asked about how I’m doing with my migraine journey, my latest response is “really well. I manage my symptoms primarily with diet and the more I heal from depression, the more I heal from migraine.” Which came first — the depression or the migraine?
The statistics on depression and chronic pain are staggering. 85% of people suffering chronic pain were identified as having severe depression. One fifth of the country is suffering from chronic pain and depression is the third largest contributor to the worldwide disease (aka money, money, money), burden. Reading the data, my brain can’t even take it all in. People are hurting. A LOT of people are hurting. And the connection between chronic pain and depression is so interwoven it’s hard to identify. At least it was in my own life.
The more I learn, the more I heal, the more I recognize how interconnected these two ailments were. So which came first — chronic pain through migraine or depression? Honestly, it’s unclear.
I’ve let the cursor flash on my screen for over thirty minutes. I’ve searched for photos on my phone, I’ve had ideas for other posts I’ve started, I’ve stood up from my stool a couple times when my back started hurting, I’ve popped my knuckles and talked to Tabby and Lukas, and almost wanted James to cry so I could go rock him back to sleep instead of sitting here writing more about this.
It’s not that I can’t write about it or that it hurts to write about it… it’s just I don’t know what to write. I don’t know how I can put into words what it was like to live with chronic pain and depression. The lines are all blurry. When it started, how it started, how I survived it all. I look back at pictures and I feel sad, and then strong and bad ass that I still lived a life with memories I cherish. To attempt to chronologically lay out how it happened and what it was like in the middle feels dauntingly impossible.
Then there’s this pressure I feel to give you warning signs, to help you recognize you’re not okay if you’re suffering, to help you see yellow flags before they become red flags, to give steps for prevention so you don’t have to suffer the way I suffered.
I feel like I have so little to offer. No tips, no advice, no counsel. As I put myself emotionally back into those days, those hours, when I was suffering, I had so little to give then, which makes me have so little to give, now. My brain will switch back to the logical side eventually, hopefully soon, so I can give you “something something” (as Tabby calls it when she’s strategically and diplomatically asking me for some kind of sugary sweet) but for now I sit in the trenches.
Everything seemed hard.
My therapist and I talk a lot about “doing the dishes”.
Now, I’ll unload the dishwasher in less than 10 minutes. Sometimes I play music, sometimes I just knock it out in silence, either way I do exactly that… knock it out. As long as little hands and feet don’t get in the way.
Doing the dishes was my Mount Everest.
It was impossible. I couldn’t get it done. Day in and day out, if the dishes did, in fact, get done, it was the big event for the day. I needed a nap afterwards. I don’t say that in jest. I say that in total seriousness. Doing the dishes would wipe me out, if I even was able to get there to do them at all.
And let’s talk about naps.
I would nap, and nap, and nap, and nap and never get rested.
I’d sleep eight, nine, ten hour nights and wake up more tired than before I went to bed.
That wasn’t every day or all the time. Just sometimes. Sometimes that came on without warning and lasted any length of time it wanted. I never knew when I’d be trapped in darkness. I’d get reprieves, where things would look light, life would look hopeful, and then back to the darkness.
The waves of darkness were unpredictable and therefore made planning anything, impossible. Lukas wanted to go and hang out with people, meet new people, go on fun adventures and experiences, and I was scared. Terrified of when the next migraine would hit, fearful of how I’d act around others if the pain came on, embarrassed about how needy I’d become.
I couldn’t leave home without a myriad of support resources. Glare glasses, medicine just in case, essential oils, water (so much water), snacks. And heaven forbid I had to eat at a restaurant. That was hell.
Trying to find a menu item that followed the diet restrictions, or even worse, trying to explain my diet requirements to well intentioned servers. Or, still worse, when the server and chef would work really hard to meet all of my needs but the dish would come out with the one ingredient we had forgotten to tell them I couldn’t have. I’d pick at the dish, mortified to send it back but even more terrified to eat something that might trigger pain.
One of my favorite quotes is from a Good Wife episode. A client, who suffered a great loss, asked her lawyer, who’d suffered the same, “does it get any easier?” The lawyer replied “no, but you get better at it.”
“Getting better at it” hasn’t been a solo endeavor. Lukas never gave up on me and the life we wanted to live, free from the chains of chronic pain. My mom has logged hours upon hours of tearful phone calls and texts as she’s suffered, carrying the pain along with me. My mother-in-law has been in the trenches in our lives on a weekly basis, witnessing pain and depression first hand and supporting me through it. There has been a church community who has been a safe place for me to “not be okay” and allowed me to show up however I am on Sunday mornings. There are a handful of key friends who have been encouragement, cheerleading and prayer warriors. There are also some friends who couldn’t handle the constant suffering and decided they’d rather spend their attention elsewhere. I GET IT, I don’t hold grudges. Chronic pain, depression, this stuff is intense and the burdens are heavy.
There have also been two AMAZING therapists (one who diagnosed depression and was the crisis treatment navigator and the second has been my longterm treatment facilitator). I start to cry thinking about these two women because, well, Meagan saved my life and JaNeen has helped me get my life back. Is it weird to link them in this post? It feels a little socially inappropriate to call them by name and even point you to their websites. Which is DUMB because if I had an amazing physical body doctor, it wouldn’t be taboo to shout their name from the rooftops. Y’all see me starting to climb up on my soap box? I’ll stop myself from getting to the top and get back to the point…
Getting better at managing migraine and depression hasn’t been a solo affair. Actually, if it had been up to me, I might not be here. I hesitate, hovering my fingers over the keys, desperate to delete those words. “Is it too dramatic?” “Am I just writing that for attention?” “Stop being the victim.” And yet, if you’re reading these words, and you’re suffering either mentally or physically and you are just not okay, I need you to know, am pleading with you to know, you can’t do this alone. You can’t survive chronic pain alone. You can’t survive depression alone. If you’re anything like me, alone is exactly how you feel, and yet, you can’t stay there. Send a text to anyone you halfway trust. “I’m not okay”. You don’t have to give anymore details. Keep it simple. Hell, why don’t you just send them the link to this post and say “help.”
My advice for those who might receive “help” texts? Be available. Be safe. Don’t fix. Don’t try to solve the problems. Just be there when they text or call. Drop off ice cream (in a cooler with ice because the person might not get out of bed for awhile) Don’t make them get out of bed if they can’t, just be there when they want to. Send snail mail, silly ridiculous snail mail that has no purpose other than a smile. If you’re tempted to ask “how can I help?” Try something like “I really want to help but I know it can be stressful for you to try to figure out what you need. Just know I’m here and I’m willing to navigate it all with you.” You could even throw something in like “If it’s dark, know I will sit in the dark with you and I won’t bring my flashlight.” Flashlights hurt your eyes when you’ve been sitting in the dark a long time. I wanted to find the light, oh desperately I wanted it, but the light was also scary. It’s a whole lot easier to walk towards the light when you’re holding someone’s hand.
I did start seeing the light, thanks to all the hands who were holding mine.
Next week, I close out this series talking about what it looks like now that I’m a little better at it.
PS If you don’t have a hand to hold. If you don’t have a number to send a text or anyone you trust will answer if you call. Call this number. 800-273-8255 Now, don’t wait. You’re worth another breath, another hour, another day, and they will help you find a hand to navigate the darkness with you. Here it is again, seriously, call. 800-273-8255