I was 12 the first time I experienced a migraine. We initially thought it was a recurrent sinus infection as it would come and go in the span of weeks. During a friend's birthday party, something happened that no one thought possible. I came home with a pounding headache that has never gone away.
That was nearly two decades ago.
Since then I have visited neurologists, headache specialists, cardiologists, pain management specialists, and countless other doctors all with the same four words: "We can't cure you." I eventually got the diagnosis of Chronic Daily Headache -- Migraine Status and met others with the same diagnosis and the same story.
But I was young, with that inherent resiliency that the young are known for, and my parents were determined and creative in that determination. I learned to live with my pain, learned the triggers that made the pain worse, and learned how to make the most of my life.
I made it through college by taking a mix of on-campus classes and online classes. Most majors are chosen by interest or skill set, but I needed several other criteria filled: schedule flexibility, self-employment options, soft lighting, and a quiet setting. Counseling hit the mark on all of them.
Graduate school was even tougher than undergraduate. But by that time, a neighbor had sent me information regarding an new technology called a neurostimulator. Similar to the more common spinal stimulator, only placed just under the skin in my forehead and back of my neck, the neurostimulator creates delicate electrical pulses that disrupt the pain signals before they reach the brain. I had a 30% pain reduction, and although that doesn't sound like much, nothing had ever touched my headache before.
The neurostimulator proved invaluable in graduate school, where online classes weren't available, internships were required, and graduate assistantships helped pay for tuition. Unfortunately, as my migraine became more manageable, something else was making it's presence known.
One would think that having one chronic condition would excuse you from picking up another. But that's not how the world works.
[To my male readers, continue on if you like, but be warned: lady's topic ahead.]
As a teenager, my periods had never been painful. By college, that had changed. I initially didn't think anything of it. Some women have cramps, everyone knows that! When the pain kept getting worse, I started researching and asking other women about their experiences. Everything I read and everyone I spoke to all assured me that my experiences were normal, not to worry about it, and to take some Ibuprofen. By graduate school the pain surpassed my migraines, and I routinely chose to spend sick days, not on my terrible migraines like I had in the past, but on what was steadily becoming a monthly nightmare.
Shortly after obtaining my Master of Arts degree in Counseling, the pain skyrocketed even further. My primary care physician suspected a common, but little understood, disease called endometriosis. It is a disease in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus appears outside of it, adhering to other organs, nerves, and the abdominal wall, causing chronic inflammation, internal scar tissue, severe pain, and decreased fertility. Unfortunately treatment options are limited to pain medications, hormone therapy, and surgery. Obviously I opted for the former two, but they were only marginally effective.
A year later I ended up in the ER with confused doctors wondering why I had appendicitis-like pain on the left side of my abdomen. Although 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age will develop endometriosis, most doctors don't know how to treat it. Thus started another journey of gynecologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, and surgeons.
Obtaining the diagnosis was half the battle, but the truth was that there is no cure for endometriosis. It is a cyclic disease in which surgery provides the greatest relief of symptoms, yet only for a year or two at a time. Then it's back under the knife.
As I recovered from my most recent surgery, I decided to design Chronic Pain Conundrums. I had always planned to create an online counseling platform for chronic pain sufferers, I just never expected to need the convenience of it as much as my clients. I enjoyed working with clients in an office setting, but with the advancement of my endometriosis, that is no longer possible. My hope is that this website helps you to not feel so alone in your pain.