A quick scroll down my Facebook wall and you’ll see an array of photos of my kids, smiling, playing, posing. You’ll see me and my family at the pool, at the park, on long summer night walks.
What you don’t see is this face. You don’t see what I look like the other 40% of the time. The me laying in bed, or on the floor curled up in the fetal position during an active migraine episode.
You don’t see me holding onto the walls so that I can run to the bathroom to vomit up bile, since there is nothing left in my stomach.
You don’t see me hiding under the covers trying to shield out all light and block out the sound of my own children’s laughter because the noise reverberating inside of my already shattered head will surely send me right over the edge.
You don’t see me crying to my husband that I just need the pain to stop, even if only for a moment, so that I can recalibrate and find solid ground. You don’t see him rubbing my shoulders, even though it was he who just put in a 10-12 hour workday, trying his best to ease away some of the pain.
You don’t see me thanking my 10-year-old daughter for making dinner for her siblings that night. Or me apologizing to my friend that we had to miss yet another celebration. Or sitting in the bath after feeling like I have let everyone down and crying over the guilt of my pain affecting all those around me who I love and care for most.
You don’t see the days after these, the ones I have coined “migraine hangovers,” when I am a fogged out, delirious, moody shell of myself. Or the days after these when instead of being down, I am up — all the way up. When I go into a cleaning, cheerful, energetic manic state that I come crashing down from just hours later, and once again have to recover from.
You don’t see the years I have spent trying to figure out all of my triggers. The hours sitting in waiting rooms for MRI’s, and blood draws. The daily journaling and the diet changes. You don’t see the endless trips to my primary care physician to discuss yet another drug I have failed out of or suffered side effects from. You don’t see the extensive list of specialists I am referred to; neurologists, massage therapists, orthopedics etc., who time and again prove to be a temporary Band-Aid to a lifetime ailment from which I can never find lasting relief.
You don’t see me looking at our family calendar, gripped by anxiety when I see an upcoming event, worried if I will end up having to miss it, or not be able to fully enjoy it because of a migraine attack. The days leading up to any important occasion, I pray to have a migraine so that I can get it out of the way and have less chance of having another one so soon after.
You don’t see any of these days, because they are kept well hidden. Unless you are close enough to be affected by them, you would never truly be able to understand. Because we don’t let you.
We hide. We make excuses. We try to put on a smile and our peppy voice.
But it’s exhausting.
So this is the truth.
This is what it’s like to live with chronic pain: in my case, migraines.
This is the face you don’t see, but that you must in order to understand what we face daily. Because even when a chronic illness like this is dormant, it still wreaks havoc on the sufferer in the form of its two most loyal companions — anxiety and depression.
So please be kind.
When we have to cancel, or cannot commit — know that we hate having no control over a flare up, an episode, an attack.
We all have our own battles to face, so why not be gentle to one another to lessen the blows? Because I guarantee most people out there have a face, just like this, that nobody ever sees.