At 16 years old I had no idea that I would be battling chronic pain for more than 10 years. At that point, my migraine headaches were just annoying and bothered me when I wanted to have fun. Little did I know I was in for a battle of a lifetime with my pain and mental health. I spent years fighting the idea of the disease rather than treating it. The stereotype of a sick person was stuck in my head and ruled my life for so long.
I vividly remember my doctor explaining to me what chronic migraine is. At this appointment, she showed me pictures and explained neural pathways and symptoms. All those things did not matter to me because when she looked in my eyes and said, “Chronic migraine is a disease, and it affects your entire body.” I was taken back, I never considered it a disease and I did not think others did either. The word “disease” stuck with me for years, it played in my head like a broken record. Constantly reminded myself that I had a disease, and something was wrong with me.
I longed for pain-free days where I could spend time with friends and not have to explain my absence from work. I was embarrassed by my body’s inability to manage pain so I kept my diagnosis to myself. Letting it fester in my mind hurt me more than the actual pain. I spent years trying medications and treatments, desperately searching for a cure. I wanted the pain to subside, but I was more concerned with leaving the label of disease behind me. What I did not realize was I put the label on myself and let it affect how I saw the world. No medication could fix the way I viewed myself or my chronic migraine. When I found myself having to visit the emergency room for anxiety, I knew something had to change but I did not know what.
I was confused about how I got to this point in my life. I was afraid to be alone and constantly worried about my pain. Every minute of the day I thought, what if it is more than just migraine. I was no longer myself, and I did not know how to get me back. I missed the person who wrote poetry and enjoyed a night out. At a 6-month checkup, I decided to share all the worries I was having about my pain. I was crying my eyes out, terrified that all my worst fears were coming true. After what seemed like the longest doctor appointment of my life, I left with an MRI referral and a therapy referral.
The MRI came back normal, so I decided to add therapy, meditation, and exercise into my treatment plan. In addition to my medications, these things have aided me in relieving the anxiety and depression that came with my chronic pain. I started to learn that my body is not against me, nor is it as fragile as I once believed. The exercise shows me that my body is strong and can accomplish many things. Meditation allows me to put my mind at ease and my therapy allows me to express my fears without judgment. Having chronic migraine no longer lays heavy on my mind, because I learned to trust my body.
I never wanted to say the words, “I have chronic migraine disease,” out loud. Partially because it made it too real and partially out of embarrassment. Today, I pick my kids up from school with a red Botox face and talk about my treatment. Now that I see having chronic pain does not control who I am as a person. I am able to accept my diagnosis. This new acceptance has freed me from the mental anguish I put myself through trying to hide my pain and fears. I allow myself to take time when I need it, but I also push myself to be more than migraine.
Brandy Garcia has lived with chronic migraine for over 10 years, but she doesn’t let that stop her. While raising three children, Brandy is pursuing a degree in psychology and writing poetry. She became a U.S. Pain ambassador to help others who have lived in pain, like her. She believes that people in pain can live a fulfilled and joyful life.