A few years ago I had surgery to correct my left foot. The surgery required breaking my foot in half, cutting some tendons and then sewing it all back together again. Kind of a big deal for a foot. Shortly after my surgery, I went to the grocery store, put my crutches in the cart and tried to tough it out with a kind of hop-hop-push dance. After 20 minutes, I was exhausted. So the next time I went to the grocery store, I went with a friend and I used the little electric riding cart that they so graciously provide. I thought it was kind of funny, so I laughed a lot. And people stared. Like...HARD stares. As though maybe I didn't deserve to use the electric riding cart. After all, it wasn't really obvious that my foot was broken. And besides, if my foot was broken so badly that I couldn't use it, what was I so happy about? It got so bad that I just started responding to the hard stares with, "my foot is broken. I know you can't tell, but my foot is actually broken. ha. hee. hee." awkward silence. ride away. feel shame. repeat.
This week, I have had 3 migraines. Unlike a broken foot, I cannot show you an x-ray of my migraines. Or a lump where they put in some screws and a plate. You can't touch a lumpy spot on my head to feel where the migraine is. The only way that you might be able to tell that I have a migraine is by me not being where I'm supposed to be because I can't move, or, if I can move and you see me, I'm kind of squinting and swaying and maybe I look really pale.
Or green. I might look green.
My doctors had me keep a food/weather/exercise/everything under the sun diary for about 30 days so we could try to pinpoint the triggers for my migraines. We couldn't really figure it out. I mean, we figured out that I have 3 partial triggers, which means I have 3 things that will trigger a migraine but only if some other factor is in play and nobody is quite sure what those other factors are. So... some mystery factor paired with weather, hormones or alcohol will trigger a migraine. But if the mystery factor is absent, then those three things probably won't trigger anything. Maybe. We're not completely sure.
So here's where depression and anxiety come in. First, if I get a migraine and I had plans, I feel guilty. I feel like I should suck it up. Just hop-hop-push through my day. But I can't really stand-up and move around with a migraine, so that's not super realistic. Luckily, I have a prescription for something that kills the migraine. And it does. In about 3-4 hours. Then I just feel beat up for a couple more hours and then I'm good to go. So 6 hours lost. Which is actually better than the 24-48 hours lost before I was prescribed medication, but still - plans for the day are pretty much toast. So I feel guilty. Which leads to depression. Which leads to me really just wanting to give up on the day. And then anxiety kicks in. Probably no one believes me. I probably just come across as flaky or irresponsible or not dependable or a liar. Who gets sick this much, anyway? You're always sick. Everybody gets headaches. You don't see everyone else staying in bed all day. LAZY. WEAK. WORTHLESS.
With a migraine that has alcohol as one of the triggers, it's even worse. My family has a super hardcore history of addiction so I'm really careful about alcohol and drugs (even my migraine prescription is non-narcotic) but I'm also really weird and sensitive about anyone's perception of my relationship with alcohol and drugs.
For instance, I worked a really long shift yesterday and afterwards, I was craving a cheap, domestic beer. So I went home and I drank two.
Because I'm hyper aware of my relationship with drugs and alcohol AND because alcohol can potentially trigger a migraine, I know that those 2 beers added up to a grand total of 3 alcoholic beverages in two months. And unfortunately, those two beers also worked with whatever mystery factor there was to trigger a massive migraine this morning. But migraines feel a lot like hangovers. And alcohol was a trigger for this migraine. Three times in one week. Plans canceled three times this week. Maybe I should suck it up. Maybe I'm weak. I shouldn't have had the alcohol. I'm irresponsible. Ow. People are going to think I have a problem. Do I have a problem? Wait. Am I sure I just had 2 beers last night? Yes. Of course. That's stupid. But definitely don't tell anyone about the beer. They might think you're an alcoholic. This really hurts. They might think you're lying. Migraines sound like hangovers. People might think you're making excuses. This hurts so bad. Alcoholics lie. You sound like an alcoholic. Also, why did you even drink those beers? It feels like a bomb keeps going off in my head. You know you get migraines. This is your fault. Also, completely irresponsible. I think I might puke. You might actually be an alcoholic. Wait. No. Maybe. No. Maybe?
And so on and so on. Migraine, anxiety, shame, confusion, depression. And it's all hidden away in my brain where no one can see it, which means, for a lot of people, I'm not sick. Especially if they see me on a migraine free day. And I'm happy. Sick people can't be happy. It's some weird rule that someone made up somewhere along the way (ask me how often people tell me that I don't look like I have depression - it's the smiling that throws them off. People with depression can't smile ever. Against the rules).
My point is...I'm on the tail end of my 2-beer-triggered migraine and I've just run this gamut of emotions for the umpteenth time and I'm cranky and I'm exhausted and I'm so over it. And I have a lot of friends who each suffer with their own "invisible illness" nightmare. And we are a judgmental society and we the people decide if you actually look or act sick enough to deserve our compassion. If your foot isn't in a cast AND you're laughing, your foot isn't broken. Those are the rules.
Except those rules suck and they're grossly unfair to the millions of people around the world who struggle with illnesses and disabilities and injuries that you can't see. Illness and disability and injuries that are very real and very painful and very debilitating even if you can't see them.
You know this picture/meme that randomly comes across your facebook timeline or instagram feed?
Truth. So much truth. Sometimes I forget. And then life hands me a migraine to remind me that every person I've ever met is struggling with something I can't see. And I'm reminded to practice compassion and empathy and to just be kind.