I spent the morning in the Emergency Room yesterday. I never thought that would be me. But migraines are so much more than a bad headache. After five years, you’d think I’d have this figured out, but it still surprises me. This time, the head pain wasn’t bad at all, largely due to a new preventative medicine I started two weeks ago. But without the head pain, I didn’t know what to do with the nausea and extreme fatigue that greeted me yesterday morning. And when I say extreme fatigue…I mean, I made it to the couch and that was it. I didn’t even feed the kids breakfast. I asked their aunt to pick them up and take them to grandma’s for the day…and after walking them to the door, I took ten minutes on the couch to recover before attempting a shower. And by shower, I mean a rinse. And that was so exhausting, I went in, asking God for strength simply to get there.
September 2020 will mark five years since The Accident. The seemingly insignificant bump while parked at a gas station – actually, a life altering event. Turns out you don’t have to hit your head to get a concussion. And you don’t always recover from a concussion quickly –there’s this thing called post-concussion syndrome. And when that seemingly never ends, the neurologist explains that the concussion triggered CHRONIC migraines (chronic = over 15/month). And now we know that a chronic migraine can become INTRACTABLE – where it NEVER goes away…and that’s where I’m at now.
It’s a shocking change from life as it used to be. In January of 2015, I was submitting my resignation to Microsoft. I still remember it so clearly: it was really hard to explain why I was leaving such a successful career after almost ten years. It had become the dream job I didn’t know I’d dreamt of. Who would have thought a farm girl from Idaho would be working with Microsoft executives to develop and execute strategies that integrated our new offering throughout Microsoft North America. It was incredible. Nailing multi-million dollar sales goals, strategizing with brilliant minds, empowered to do big things with an impact, building relationships with people of influence and power. It was hard work, but it was really fun.
If you've ever taken a Strengths-Finder test, you'll understand this: my top strength is "Achiever" and it was reflected in just about everything I did (and to a degree, still is). I was compelled to be action-oriented and to get results. I also got really excited about time management and productivity. I think strategically and had a tenacious work ethic and positive attitude.
But I began to sense that somehow, what I was doing didn’t really matter. I sought God’s direction and felt it was time to leave the dream career path behind and start helping local small business owners with marketing, communications, and business development strategies. I was six months into it when The Accident happened. And it changed everything. We went from financial prosperity to food stamps. From running half-marathons to spending days in bed. From an enviable marriage to thoughts of…what if?
To understand how this happened, and then see the incredible good that God has brought out of it, you’ve first got to understand the migraines. Migraines are *not* just bad headaches!
“Migraines are a neurological disorder that affects how the brain processes pain, light, sound and smell.”
It’s somewhat different for everyone, but for me, in addition to head pain my migraines include nausea, light, sound and smell sensitivity, fatigue, and at times cognitive impairment (word & memory recall, confusion, inability to concentrate). Because my migraines are now constant, each day my goal is to live the day to the best of my ability without exacerbating the migraine to the point where I have to take abortive pain medication, or worse, go to bed.
Millions of people get migraines – hundreds of millions worldwide - and doctors do not know why –or how to fix them. Many people can clearly identify triggers and manage accordingly. Many of us cannot. For me, although heat, nutrition and hydration play a role, it's mostly tied to too much cognitive activity. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Thinking too hard, working on a computer too long, interacting with people in too much casual conversation, or engaging with intense in-depth conversation, getting groceries, or going any place that is visually stimulating, has bright (or florescent) lights, and/or any noise. All these things exacerbate the migraine attacks.
If you ask me how I’m doing, when I say good, it’s not because I’m without pain. The pain is always there- but there’s SO much more to living than your pain level! For me, the best I can describe “good” is – “it is well with my soul.” If you want to know where my pain is at, you can ask me what my pain level is (but you don’t have to ask! It gets old, I know).
About those pain levels…in almost every doctor’s office there’s a scale that ranges from a smiling 1 to a sobbing 10. I use a migraine app that gives definitions for each range:
3 to 4 - pain is present but I can do most activities (although not without consequence). I usually start each day here, and try to prevent it from increasing throughout the day by avoiding or strategically planning around mentally stimulating tasks or activities.
5 to 6 - at this point, you’ll start to notice that I'm unable to do some activities. I hit this most days because….well, I haven’t figured out how to make life just…stop.
7 to 8 - here, I’m unable to do most things. At this point I’ll take abortive pain medication…because if not, I’ll end up at a 9 to 10 and in bed. Lately this is, at best, a few times a week.
A 9 to 10 is excruciating pain and in bed with the lights off. And more medication.
The trick to effectively managing chronic pain is best described with the SPOON THEORY. In short: spoons are a figurative measurement of energy, and chronic illness limits the amount of spoons you get to work with. Pre-accident, I could do whatever I wanted with my day. Except for the limits of time, I didn’t think about how I’d be able to do something – I had an unlimited amount of spoons. Now, I start the day with a very limited number of spoons. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Sometimes I can rest up to earn more; sometimes I can borrow from the next day’s spoons –although that usually has negative consequences for the next day. And sometimes I can use pain meds to get a few more spoons, although that’s not without effect later, either. It's not that I stop "living" or don't ever get to have fun/be social /etc. I just have to strategically manage my limited spoons.
We don’t know what “getting better” looks like although we’re not giving up. I have a great medical team – my neurologist is recognized as a migraine specialist and has been trained by the Mayo Clinic. My sports med doctor is fabulous. I have a great NUCCA chiropractor and massage therapist. Some preventative meds have worked, most haven’t. I just started a new medication that is fairly new to the market but has been designed specifically for migraine prevention. The verdict’s still out on it for me, but we have and will continue exploring all options.
I’ve lost so much because of the migraine disease. But what I have gained in the eternal perspective far outweighs the loss. God has definitely worked it for good as he promises in Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 4:15. He has healed our family. We are discovering the abundant life that Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). That's not a materialistic thing...it's the state of your soul. I’ve learned that I can be content in any circumstance (Philippians 4:13). Even when lying alone in the ER because nobody can come in with you (#covid). Even though financially, we’re still way far behind because of the accident. Even not knowing what the future holds in so many aspects.
Through all of this, God has given me a whole new look at life and what I’ve discovered is that the abundant life IS available now. Although our earthly circumstances are largely unchanged, stress, worry, and fear simply cease to exist. Instead I get to live filled with goodness, peace and joy.
In short, it’s all because truly, God is with me. The life of Christ is in me. And that makes all the difference. To better understand it though, because this is getting quite long, I’d encourage you to jump over and read a little more about the Good News I’ve discovered. It really changes everything.
Romans 15:13 Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!