Every little girl has a dream of what she wants to be when she grows up. For many, it’s a lifelong goal and they actually get to do what they want, or at least come very close. For others, our dreams change as we get older and for still others, the dreams never culminate in anything more than that- dreams.
I’ve always been different, never really went with the norm. If you asked me in the 8th grade what I wanted to do, I would tell you in all my 13 year old wisdom that I wanted to be a journalist. I wrote for the school newsletter and fully intended on working on my high school paper, as well. Recalling the fervor with which I believed I could change the world with a scathing article over why we didn’t get lunches when our parents paid tuition embarrasses me now. Then I realized I didn’t want such a passive job, I wanted in on the action, not just to observe and report. I could feel my ideals shifting but it wasn’t clear where I was heading. I would figure it out in time, but my dreams never came to fruition due to one reason. Not my bipolar or depression, not my heart murmur or my thick glasses or my skinny ankles but my migraines.
I got my first migraine when I was 9 years old. I was in school and I asked the teacher if I could use the restroom. The bell dismissing us for the day was about to ring, so she told me I could hold it till then. I was miserably nauseated and I honestly thought my head was going to explode. After the teacher told me to go sit down, I did. And promptly emptied the contents of my stomach onto my desk, the floor, everywhere. Ironically, the teacher who refused to let me go to the bathroom had to clean it up. I stayed home the next day, mortified and sure people would pick on me for the rest of my life and that “puked on desk” would go on My Permanent Record, you know, the record the teachers warned you was on file and would follow you for all eternity. From that point on, I would get migraines every Monday or every first day back at school after a holiday. We only had one bathroom in my house and I recall having to throw up in the basement wash basin because someone else was using the restroom, and always after Monday night dinner. Fortunately, with time, the nausea went away, but I would still get frequent migraines. Once I got to high school, they were a lot better and I attributed the bad spate of headaches with the stress I felt in junior high from being bullied.
I started working full time right after high school and went to community college part time, not really having a major or any specific goal in mind. Not long after I started working more hours, my migraines increased again. Taking 4 classes at college while working dropped down to just 2 classes and I was getting frustrated. Somewhere in the course of going to school at night after work, I finally figured out what I wanted to do and it surprised me. I wanted to be a firefighter. The college I was at had a fire sciences program, and I was looking at all the requirements, started working out to be up for the physical challenges of the job as well. My parents were surprised but supportive and I decided in fall I would apply for the fire sciences program. Then my migraines launched the worst attack I had ever had in my entire life (until now that is). I would wake up, go to work, sleep immediately when I got home, shower and go back to bed. I barely ate, I dropped to one class at college. It was so bad I used to sneak into a quiet room at my job and sleep for 20 minutes in the hope of reducing the intensity of the migraine. I went to the doctor and the first battery of tests began. I got my wisdom teeth pulled to see if that was contributing. I had allergy testing done, I had a CT scan. I was put on a new medication every 4 weeks and the neurologist simply said he could find no cause. Finally, I had to drop out of college. The next several years of my life involved new medicines, doctor’s visits, counseling and tears.
Years down the road, I found a medicine that worked and it helped me for nearly five years before I had to stop using it due to damage it caused my kidneys. Subsequent medicines proved less effective, but I am here at that desperate place again, hoping my new medicine will be “the one”. I have accepted that my employer will never give me a perfect attendance award. I have accepted that I will miss out on family get togethers and fun nights out with friends due to my migraines. I have accepted that having a romantic relationship is very difficult both due to my migraines and being bipolar- it’s no fun to be with someone who is always napping, hurting or just miserable. I have never accepted the betrayal of my own body costing me my dream, however. When a fire engine goes speeding past me, I feel just like Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, that sadness of your dream passing you by and you’ll never catch it. Last year, I did get to pretend, though. One of the fire squads that works with my hospital offered to let me ride along for a shift. It was exciting and fun. But it helped cement the finality of it, as well. Migraines have cost me more than I ever thought they could. I won’t stop fighting them, though. I owe my dream that much, at least- to fight the migraines as bravely as I would have fought a fire.