Living With Chronic Headaches

I was startlingly young the first time I got a migraine. I remember my parents telling me it was inevitable, they suffered from them all the time, and that essentially, I had better get used to such an awful feeling. Though I learned how to handle them as best I could, they continue to plague me on a regular basis. I can’t avoid the headache I get every time it rains, and I can’t even treat it–I just have to wait for the rain. Sometimes they’re spurred on by too much dairy, too little water, grinding my teeth in my sleep, etc. I know all the different types of headaches I get, and even how different they feel. If it can cause a headache, it’s probably given me one. I have tried and failed to pinpoint the problem with various neurologists and chiropractors. I’ve prepared myself mentally for headaches I can feel approaching, I’ve avoided cheese and chocolate even when I want it most, and I’ve tried to stop stressing as much as I can. But I’ve discovered that sometimes the only cure is just turning all the lights off, slapping an ice pack over my eyes, popping an Advil, and going right to sleep.

For years, I’ve struggled with how to properly discuss my headaches with those who don’t suffer from them frequently. Saying “Oh, I just have a headache” isn’t deemed strong enough, but “I have a migraine” comes off as too strong, too dramatic. Most of the time, my headaches live in a space somewhere between the two, always on the cusp of resolving but at risk of becoming excruciating. It’s a pain I’ve never been able to truly describe, and one that is seldom understood. It’s distracting, disorienting, and generally throws off my entire system. Sitting in class becomes unmanageable, and someone turning on a light sends me reeling. Sometimes a headache will last for days and days, other times just for an hour. But a majority of the time, I can always feel one lurking in the back of my head, waiting to pop up at the most inopportune times.

For my fellow chronic headache and/or migraine sufferers, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But for those of you who get the occasional bad headache, living this way seems entirely foreign. There’s a prevalent lack of understanding about how debilitating headaches can be among those who don’t have to deal with them. Too often I’ve seen my own and others’ pain brushed aside. We’re told to “just take care of it” and “recover” as if there’s a switch you can flip which erases all the pain. But for many of us, headaches are a lifelong condition. We’ve battled and coped with them for years, and it can be extremely frustrating when someone tells you what to do despite having no experience with the problem. We’re not looking for others to provide us with a solution; we’re looking for understanding.

I know that I’ll continue to battle my headaches well into adulthood, and I’m sure that will come with changes in my pain, my triggers, and my coping mechanisms. Already in college, I’ve found that it’s impossible to get a completely dark and silent environment. My habits at home simply cannot be replicated in a dorm room. And though my headaches do negatively impact my life at times, they’re a part of myself that I’ve learned how to accept without shame.  


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