Migraines & the Ableist
On Denying the Pain, Reality, and Illness of Neurological Suffering: A Personal Account
"The first time I was hospitalized for migraines, I was only six years old. It is genetic, and so this did not come as a surprise for my mother—but it was the first time I realized that something could exist so intensely without you being able to see, touch or feel it."
I would go on to live the next twenty years learning about my migraines, understanding how they work, their onset, their triggers, the symptoms, the abnormal symptoms, how to go to work with an aura, how to manage my pain, and when it was time to give up and go to the ER. If you ask anyone about their migraines they could recite to you the same.
Migraines are unique to everyone, how they feel, how they act, when they occur—but it remains to be the same that for folks diagnosed with them, they are and ought be classified as a neurological disability.
It was recently that my migraines changed, something that can happen in a lifespan. But with this, came a change in everything: triggers, pain, location, sight—I was reminded of my six-year-old self trying to manage and explain a phenomenon that was not quite familiar to me yet in any other form, other than extreme pain.
I was denied my pain, as I have been my whole life. I was met with medical professionals unaware of the disorder who classified it away as a bad headache. I was met with drugs that did not work, and scans and procedures I did not want. But most importantly, I was left feeling as hopeless as I did when I was a child—knowing that the only person who was capable and equipped to judge that disability itself, was me.
I am reminded again at how extraordinarily impossible migraines are. I am reminded of the strength, energy, and determination it takes to last each day with immeasurable pain, and still function in a society that scales our value as individuals to the production of our labor, and what it feels like to not be able to produce. I am reminded that, while so many others can take an Advil and go about their day, the rest of us are bedridden, nauseated, and hoping that this one won’t last as long as the others.
But most importantly, I am reminded again that neurological pain is, and may never be, equated to the tangible, physically evident pain of any other illness.
For many of us, it comes with a great uncertainty to doctors whether it is in fact the case that we have migraines. A migraine is a symptom of what could be hundreds of other problems; too much Spinal Fluid or too little, tension in the muscles supporting the base of our skull, tension in the muscles of our shoulders, trauma or concussions, stress or anxiety, herniated discs, back injuries, jaw injuries, bad dentistry or bad genetics. We spend hours in waiting rooms, hours in scans, and hours on labs, waiting to find out the next theory—and every doctor has a new one.
But for many of us, the cause is not the most important battle—it's the prevention. A fight that we stand up against with the medical community, with our family, and even with fellow sufferers.
We have tried everything from herbal teas to opiates, and pain relief is far-and-in-between.
So the next time you walk into work and say: "Oh I totally get what you mean, I have headaches too," remember: what we deal with every day is the difference between having a stroke at any moment and never finding steady work again."