Putting Together The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of My Migraine Identity

6:34 PM chronicmigraineellie 5 Comments


It's been a while since I've sat down and written a blog.  2017 was a monumental year for me in so many ways. To start off, I am a lot healthier and more active than I have been in the last 6 years. I participated in Headache on the Hill 2017, which was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences that I could have attended.  I'll be back this February for HOH 2018! This summer, I lived in Washington D.C. working full-time at a start-up healthcare company named Aledade Inc. at which I learned a lot about the business side of healthcare and accountable care organizations. I've started collaborating with other bloggers and migraine websites, which has been such a rewarding and amazing experience as well. 2017 felt almost like a dream, I was so surprised that I could actually have a job, live my life, and function with my migraines.

In some ways, I felt overwhelmed by this. Blogging about migraines and invisible illnesses has allowed me to be able to put into words the wide range of emotions that I've felt over the last 6 years. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels when someone tells me that they relate to what I write about, or that it's a bit easier to share their experiences with friends and family because of my articles. When I started this blog two years ago, I had no idea how much of an impact my words would have on other people. I am so grateful to all of you who have continued to read my blog and support me during some of the hardest times of my life. Over the past year, I've truly learned how to advocate for myself. At this point, I have learned what works for me and what doesn't. I know what I can and can't eat, what activities will drain my energy, and what is and is not too much for me to handle. I've taken this mindset into 2018, and it has already started with so many new opportunities that I never could have imagined would be available to me.

Part of the reason why I needed a break from blogging in 2017 was that I needed some time to figure out my own emotions about who I am and what I do. I've talked a lot about identity on this blog, about what it means to me to be a young person living with a chronic illness. But as much as I have talked about it, I feel like I made a breakthrough this year about who I am and my life, migraines and all. For years, I felt that my pre-migraine identity and my post-diagnosis migraine identity are like a twisted version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They were separate, two different and distinct parts and eras of my life. With my pre-migraine identity, I used to have dreams of working in politics, wanting to make a difference in people's lives. I was headstrong and idealistic, thinking that I could accomplish whatever I wanted to as long as I worked hard to achieve it.

After I was diagnosed, I felt like I lost my voice. I didn't feel like I was able to achieve any of the goals and dreams that my pre-migraine identity was so set on achieving. My post-diagnosis identity was focused on proving that what I was experiencing was real, which took a lot of the limited energy that I had. I had to prove to others that I was truly sick, truly in pain, and truly still a version of myself. I lost my identity because I felt like I had to prove to my friends, my family, and my teachers that I was sick and to do so I had to fit into the conceptions of illness that they had. I pushed myself, sometimes too far, to do what I needed to do to fit these conceptions, and as a result, I was left with a mindset that chided me to get to the finish line no matter the cost. Finish the essay, take the test, just push and get it done, even though you'll crash and have to deal with the after-effects. You'll deal with it when it comes, but right now, you need to prove to everyone else that you can do this, it said. My academic performance became the only way that I could prove that I was able to function, a way to prove to others that I was still "good enough" despite my illness. Being able to hold a job and living a "normal" life seemed like an unattainable goal and all of the dreams that I had seemed to disappear in front of my eyes. This was my Mr. Hyde identity, the one that was riddled with fear, guilt, anxiety and shame, the identity that I preferred to hide from those around me. When I migraine, I get sucked into this vortex of "migraine brain," full of anxiety that no matter what I do, I won't be able to succeed in any career, have productive and supportive relationships, or live a fulfilling life.

Despite how I feel when I have migraine brain, I know that this is completely wrong. Over the past 2 years, and especially over the past 6 months, I've come to realize that my identities aren't as dichotomous as I had thought. I've come a very long way since I was at my sickest, which was only 3 1/2 years ago. My identity is a mix of both my pre-migraine and post-diagnosis identities. I would not be the person that I am today without them, but I also have learned that I am a much stronger person than I ever thought that I was. In the latter part of 2017, I had to take a step back and evaluate who I actually am. I felt that in order to keep blogging, I had to come to terms with my own turbulent ideas about my identity. There was still a part of me that didn't fully accept this part of me, even though I have been writing for years about my experiences. I feel that the stigma of chronic illness is still quite tangible in my life, and I'm still reminded of the little actions that I take to protect this part of my identity from those in my life. It's taken me a while to try and be more open, but I still find myself putting up protective barriers because of the fear that people will not understand. It's kinda like a reflex, but it's one that I am trying to unlearn.  I'm trying to no longer think of myself as weak when I'm experiencing a migraine. Instead, I try to think about how my body and my mind are actually quite strong and resilient, even more so because of my migraines. It just took me a while to actually see that and apply what I preached to my life.

My experiences have brought me to where I am today, with my career goals marrying together the Jekyll and Hyde of my identities. I still want to change the world, but now I'm focusing on public health and healthcare. I am using my platform of migraine advocacy to find a way to impact national legislation in the future. Why should I be ashamed of something that is my life? I shouldn't, and I should not be scared to reach for the stars. All of my experiences have led me to this point in my life, including the good, the bad, and the sickness. It's a long process, learning to put my two identities together, but one that has ultimately made me a happier person, even when I'm dealing with DHE shots, essays, tests, and all of the other things that go on in my life. I've started 2018 with a better outlook on my life, and even though it's difficult, you all know that I wouldn't be writing about it if it wasn't an important part of my life. How do you feel that migraines have affected your identity?


5 comments:

  1. i have had migraines for a long long time. i have become much more flexible and have altered my life in so many ways to accommodate them and try to avoid them. i am proud that i am still positive and am much more than my migraine disease (@infiniteknot)

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