When I began the process of realizing I suffer from a migraine condition (still not pinpointed), I was telling a few of my friends my worst nightmare- getting a third concussion, therefore exacerbating the symptoms I would feel every time my head ached and my eyes started to give up on me.
Those conversations with friends were in June. I suffered my third concussion in July.
Over Fourth of July weekend, I was still running off of the athlete's high of finishing my first triathlon, and doing a pretty good job in it considering I'd battled depression, anxiety, asthma, and head problems between the date of sign-up and the moment I jumped into the lake to begin my swim (I was in the top 3rd of participants in the swim, even though I was fighting my brain and lungs the entire time!). I was so proud of that accomplishment and so overjoyed in the race itself that I'd signed up for my second triathlon for July 7th. That dream was ended as I headed out of town on July 6 to help my parents with some errands, and we were rear-ended by a distracted driver en route.
I didn't see the car coming, but my dad did. For me, I felt myself lurch forward and suddenly slam backward into the seat- yes, I was wearing a seat-belt, no I wasn't the driver- and pain shot from my head all the way down my spine. As my dad rushed out of the car to figure out insurance, I said to my mom, "I don't feel so good". I was terrified, angry, and heartbroken- I knew I wasn't going to be racing the next day, and deeper down I knew this was going to be a longer-term problem. I was placed into a neck collar and rushed to the nearest hospital, where I was given pain medication, tested for more serious injuries, and sent home with a concussion and whiplash diagnosis.
That was July; this is October. I'm still fighting. I'm still fighting pain that shoots up and down my body; I'm still fighting as I determine the difference between the excruciating pain of the concussion symptoms versus the excruciating pain of my migraines; I'm still fighting through treatments; I'm still fighting as I am unable to work and struggling through my graduate studies, which I had been accepted to and earned scholarship just months before; I'm fighting the panic attacks that I'm enveloped in every time I'm driving and am followed by a distracted driver; I'm fighting the stigma that I look normal, even healthy and in shape, but am capable of so much less than my full potential due to my injuries and untreated asthma (I have inhalers but need more than that) and migraines.
With all of that, I've had to harness every bit of optimism and every bit of resilience that I've gained through a decade of managing mental illness and the two prior concussions to push myself towards recovery, but also to treat myself with kindness and respect. It's been equally important to advocate for treatments and work hard at therapy and to not blame myself for setbacks and for being unable to do certain things or say no to friends and family with invitations and events. Some days are better than others, and some days I spend the majority in bed. And all of that is okay.
I want to share my story and talk about chronic pain and illness to raise a voice for those who are usually silenced, not believed, and pushed aside. For the people who may look fine, but are in pain. I am a person with chronic illness and mental illness, but I'm also a graduate student, an activist, an athlete, a friend, and an Aquarius, if you were wondering. I'm working through my worst health nightmare and I WILL make it to the other side.