Alexandra’s guest post is the 5th post in the segment on my blog, called “The Reality Of…” which gives others the ability to share their story and raise awareness of the disabilities, illnesses, impairments and invisible illnesses that they have.
My name is Alexandra Tomlinson and I’m from South Carolina, USA and I’m 21 years old.
I’ve had chronic migraines for roughly 5 years, before that it was episodic in nature. Over the last year I’ve been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Scoliosis. Although these new conditions are a part of my life, my journey truly revolves around migraines.
When I was in high school, my migraines began interfering with my day to day life, and they progressively got worse. Shortly after graduation, my migraine attacks became daily. I was forced to leave my waitressing job when I ended up in the ER two weeks in a row. I left home to study Architecture at Clemson University and found that migraines were interfering with more and more of my life.
After two years of study and moving to another part of the country to pursue an Interior Design degree, I had to make the decision to put my health first. I withdrew from my university and left my job as an interior designer and moved back home. This was an incredibly hard decision to simply give up everything I’d been working towards and choose to solely focus on my health. This was in August of 2018, and now I am considered medically disabled and spend much of my time writing and focusing on creating a lifestyle that will allow me to take back my life.
Chronic migraines are a difficult condition to live with, as it truly is an invisible illness. This presents unique challenges and I have had to spend a lot of time educating friends, coworkers, teachers, and family about migraine and how it is much more than “just a headache” like many assume. This need for education is where my personal blog My Life My Migraine was born.
Migraines are absolutely a headache, but headaches are only a small part of a migraine. Migraines come with many other symptoms including nausea, light and sound sensitivities, mental confusion, vertigo, jaw pain, tension in the neck and shoulder muscles, and dizziness. These are only a small portion of symptoms, all of which I experience on a daily basis. Often times, the symptoms other than head pain are much more debilitating.
Personally, my migraines begin long before any pain shows up. I find myself suddenly slurring my words or not being able to pick out the right one to say. Then my sense of depth perception goes away and although I can see, it’s not quite right and I’m forced to use my hands to guide myself when I walk. I tend to let my hand run along the wall, doorframes and pieces of furniture to know that I’m walking in the right spot and won’t end up walking straight into a wall. Drowsiness tends to set in the afternoon or evening before the pain.
Once the pain sets in, it is typically behind my eyes, temples, and at the base of my skull and feels as if it is pulsing. The pain makes my senses heightened and bright lights, noises, scents, and commotion begin to be difficult to handle.
Learning To Adapt
This has caused me to adjust my personal spaces to be more adaptable. I have dark blinds and curtains, dimmable lights, and the only scents are essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon, or frankincense. Often times I can push through some of the pain, but I’ve found that it’s best to listen to my body, so the pain doesn’t reach an unbearable level. Typically, my head pain lasts a few days, and once it eases I’m left in a bit of a fog and I’m incredibly fatigued.
There are many ways to treat migraines, and I have daily medicine and medicine I take once the pain sets in, but none of them are effective enough for me. I have a holistic approach where I balance my medicine with essential oils, heat, ice packs, meditation, and focusing on eating anti-inflammatory foods.
Migraine is a neurological disorder with no cure and very little research done in the field, so as a migraine patient a lot of my success with treatment comes from trial and error and doing a lot of my own research, while also drawing my own conclusions. Migraines are different in every individual, therefore every treatment will be different and yield different success rates.
Personally, my migraines are primarily influenced by the environment and weather which are fairly out of my control. For others, stress, foods, and hormonal changes can also impact their migraines.
Changing As A Person
Migraines have taken a lot away from me, and I’m homebound as I often cannot drive due to my symptoms or medication side effects. However, I’m thankful for migraines’ as they have given me a voice and shown me what is actually important in this life. I have been able to strengthen many relationships and connect with a vast community of others with chronic illnesses warriors.
Having stopped my education and stopped working, I have realized that as I slowly get healthier I can really create the life that I want and find what I’m truly passionate about.
Over time, I’ve come to look at migraines’ and life a lot differently. I used to constantly question what was causing my migraine and blame myself for taking a good day and over-exerting myself. I also used to try and force people to understand this condition and how it impacted me, but in the last 8 months of truly dedicating my time to understanding my body better, along with this condition, I’ve truly had a shift in my mindset. I know now that people who care and support me show that in a variety of ways and they will listen when I express the ways I need support.
They won’t constantly throw “cures” at me and respect my space and my needs. I’ve recognized that migraines’ truly will run its own course and although I can agitate attacks, often times they would come on regardless if I went out with friends or stayed home and watched Netflix all day.
As I’ve continued to grow with my migraines, I’ve come to understand that everyone has a story. Everyone has something that is limiting them in their life, whether it be a chronic condition, traumas, mental struggles, or financial/personal struggles at home. Recognizing this has allowed me to communicate with people much differently. I take the approach that people can understand, information may just need to be presented differently.
I’ve also come to recognize my own faults. My pain makes me angry and I become irritable. I have a lot of accommodations and needs that are mandatory because of my condition. However, my ability to communicate my needs and to acknowledge where I may be taking my anger out on people when I’m truly just angry with my pain has made a huge difference.
Being able to share what I go through and how things are either beneficial or detrimental to my health has made a difference in my life and the lives of those who care for.
Most importantly, I don’t view my story and my experience as something worthy of pity. I am a fighter. My strength, perseverance, and fortitude are present in every aspect of my life and although I have migraines, migraines’ do not have me. I am so much more than my pain, and I think a lot of people tend to forget that.
I’m a lover of literature, arts, buildings, American football, rock n roll, and a good debate. I love adventures and am spontaneous. I am building a life that is perfect for me and will allow me to be the best version of myself possible, and I’m thankful for migraines’ for giving me the opportunity to approach life with more compassion.
My Favourite Superhero
My favorite superhero is Elektra. She is a warrior just like me who has fine tuned her skills to be incredibly successful in her career. She’s the reason I was a gymnast when I was little.
Thanks Alexandra for sharing your story with my readers and me!