- I talk about medical marijuana, mental illness, and migraines because they matter, and we do ourselves a disservice by not talking about it and keeping it taboo. Excuses, laziness, and plenty of other stigmas are abundantly associated with all three. Mental illness is largely misunderstood both by our culture and in the church, and it also keeps those of us struggling feeling alone. All three are a very real part of my life, and I’m not the only one. We should get comfortable with talking about these things because awareness and education is key. It isn’t pretty or popular, but I want to normalize talking about the hard things. Someone’s gotta talk about them, right?
- According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness. That makes a lot of us.
- Migraines are not uncommon, and they’re extremely misunderstood. The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that there are 25-50 million people with migraine and 4 million with chronic migraine.
- I saw a migraine specialist a couple weeks ago. I was feeling pretty down that all of my efforts were seemingly not doing anything except having slightly less painful flare-ups from managing triggers better, so I decided to take the route of conventional medicine again with a new hope. The appointment went well; I started 2 new medications and have some more treatment options on the horizon like occipital nerve blocks and botox injections. It was good to hear that I am on the right track with my healing journey doing what is within my control, but also painfully difficult to hear that my efforts can only do so much. She helped me understand the progressive nature of migraine and what’s going on with my body, and she gave me a packet of information to read through with some helpful stuff in it. I don’t know what the rest of my healing journey looks like but I can trust God because He does.
- Things I have tried in the past include MigraClear, feverfew, multiple herbal teas and tinctures for headaches and migraine, OTC medications, emergency room migraine treatments, most of the prescription medication merry go round on the migraine market (I’m working with my doctor now to try a couple more before I can be approved for botox), acupuncture, multiple elimination diets, massage, meditation, CBD oil, oxygen therapy, and both regular and prayer counseling. I’ve seen an ear/nose/throat doctor who removed my adenoids, an allergist, 2 neurologists, and 4 regular doctors over the course of my lifetime trying to find the cause and cure. My current method of migraine management is a healthy lifestyle and an evolving toolkit consisting of a nourishing whole foods plant-based diet free of meat/dairy/gluten/refined sugars, staying hydrated, yoga, Jesus time, walks and fresh air when possible, essential oils, vitamins D and B12, a calcium/magnesium blend, my homemade anti-inflammatory pantry powder pills (turmeric/ginger/pepper/garlic/cinnamon) , cannabis, a pain relief salve, trying my best to get enough sleep, occasional chiropractor visits, a foam roller and massager, making most of my own homemade products and reducing chemicals, trigger coping and living in community with others.
- Poor sleep, diet, and stress exacerbate migraines, mental illness, and other health issues. Do what’s within your power to help yourself out.
- Mental illness isn’t directly addressed in the bible but there are a lot of verses that talk about the soul being in less-than-well conditions that we can look to for comfort like many of the psalms.
- Chronic migraine is a genetic neurological disease, yet it makes you feel like a detective trying to find the missing piece: either the magical thing to add in or something to take out. Pain is the body’s signal letting us know that something is wrong, but chronic migraine is like the body’s central nervous system is permanently hyper-reacting. Even though I’ve been dealing with it for so long I still struggle every single day to not be overwhelmed by it. It literally hasn’t gone away since I went to the ER for it in 2009 when it started. Keeping my head up isn’t easy; sometimes it’s hard to power through and just deal with it. I believe God has a purpose and is using this but I still pray that He takes it away from me or continues to help me through it if He doesn’t. Migraine changes everything about how I experience the world, and affects every single aspect of my life and is difficult to not overwhelm and become my identity. Other than the insane head pain I have energy-draining fatigue, trouble focusing and concentrating, neck and back pain, nausea, and neurological symptoms (like weakness and sometimes I have poor muscle coordination). I feel 22 going on 90. Every day is a struggle for me to function like a “normal” human, and I’ve spent a lot of my life wasting time thinking I was crazy and that there was something wrong with me. Things like going to work and school, church, grocery shopping and running errands, taking care of myself, sustaining relationships and being connected instead of withdrawn is all a conscious daily battle. I work at Starbucks because it’s the best job I can have right now with my condition, and I can only take a couple classes at a time because I screwed my grades over and had a mental breakdown trying to do more. I have to rearrange shifts with someone about once every few months because its so debilitating that I physically can’t drive or work, but usually it’s only that bad when I get sick and since making healthier changes that has fortunately become less often. Realizing my limitations and working with them has been such a challenge, and I live with guilt about feeling needy and selfish for taking care of myself sometimes. I do my best to make events but feel bad when I have to cancel on friends, and tell myself over and over that it’s okay even when I feel like I’m an unreliable disappointment. It’s not an excuse to get out of responsibilities. Sometimes I do have to lie down with an ice pack for a while and take a break but I try really hard to not do this because that’s no way to live. Sometimes I lay awake for hours at night trying to fall asleep because painsomnia is a real thing. I’m sensitive to light and sound, and physical activity makes it worse. I constantly worry I’m not measuring up to standards, so I have to remind myself that my worth is not based on my performance. I struggle to do things ahead of time and be consistent and have routines, I don’t meet deadlines very easily and I struggle to commit to things. My to-do list and planner have so many scribbled notes because sometimes things get done days or weeks later than I planned. I have to break up tasks and do as much as I can each day because I take a little longer than the average person, and for a long time I literally thought I had a mental retardation because of how much I struggle with things sometimes. I have to push myself everyday and make the most of good moments and days. It’s not an excuse, it’s my health and it’s my life. Migraine is teaching me to reframe limitations and embrace certain restrictions because they are the best chance for freedom with less pain, and to be flexible to face whatever challenges are ahead. Dropping expectations and keeping them realistic while maintaining hope is a hard balance to find. I have a friend who says, “don’t pray for my pain, pray for the joy of my salvation” and I am trying to pray that more often because I need it.
- I’m quite aware that some people think I’m faking it or exaggerating about a headache, am a hypochondriac who just wants attention, a crazy person with victim mentality, someone who just likes a really good excuse, or am just a weak person in general. A lot of people think I just get a lot of bad headaches and sometimes they get bad enough to interfere with my life. I would give anything to go back to the days of childhood headache pain instead of severe migraine pain that interferes with my daily life. I’ve had countless conversations with well-meaning people who have this simplified idea about what chronic migraine is, and proceed to give me the same ol’, “have you tried…?” My whole life I just wanted to be normal, and I still struggle with accepting my challenges. I had a chaotic childhood that probably didn’t help, but you can only do so much to fix the past. I’ve done a lot of personal work with past trauma and relationships, but all that can’t fix a neurological disease. For the longest time I told myself to just get it together, and I’ve felt guilty most of my life as if chronic migraine is somehow my fault.
- Invisible illness means I usually look fine, except I am always self-conscious about my resting pain face, and I get anxious when people ask me if I’m okay because my face looks down. Few people see the side of invisible illness that most don’t, the part where I’m struggling and fighting everyday. Most people only see my shell, but a few like my husband and a couple friends and family members do. I usually feel self-conscious, I used to try my best to act normal but now I just live my life and do what I need to do and try not to worry about what people think.
- I have a lot of fears about the future that I am learning to challenge instead of feed because what we feed is what will grow. I have thoughts like will this unrelenting pain ever go away? Can I manage well with it if it doesn’t? Will I reach my goals and dreams? Life with chronic migraine feels like a lot of ceilings and limitations. I’ve been grieving about what the rest of my life and my family’s life will look like, and a huge part of that is my husband and I deciding that it might be best to not start a family of our own. That’s really hard to accept because I’ve always wanted to be a mother and have a family, but I know God has other plans and I’m choosing to trust Him even if it looks different than what I thought.
- Catching negative thoughts and overcoming lies by replacing them with truth doesn’t happen overnight; I still struggle with seeing and believing it for what it is. We can break cycles by being aware and choosing to respond differently by dwelling on truth and focusing on the good. It isn’t blissful ignorance of everything else, but it’s consciously thinking about them in perspective and choosing not to park your mind there.
- I want to normalize marijuana as medicine– I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but it’s an option for many and there shouldn’t be shame around it. There shouldn’t be any shame around taking a medication if it improves your quality of life, but it’s good to check in with yourself to make sure you’re using your medication appropriately. It helps me with the pain, and it helps a lot of others too. It is still legally considered a schedule I drug meaning it has no medicinal value and is high risk for addiction, yet the FDA is working on 2 new medications made with synthesized THC and cannabis will be a federally approved medication available to the public as soon as it starts making the government money.
- Some people come to the Lord and are instantly healed of their problems, and that’s great! Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for many of us. There’s this idea that if you have a certain struggle then it must be a reflection of a lack of faith on your part, or there’s something wrong with you. Yes, you can be a genuine Christian and still have problems because you’re human just like the rest of us. God wants us to heal, not be ashamed.
- Spiritual warfare plays a huge role in mental illness, but I would be hesitant to simplify it down to just that. However, realizing how the devil uses it to mess with us in our weakness is the first step to fighting back with truth.
- I’m thankful for my struggles because I have empathy for others who are marginalized and walking similar paths. I’m seeing my brokenness as an opportunity to grow and learn to walk in faith. I wouldn’t be an advocate for mental and invisible illnesses if it wasn’t for my own personal experience, and I hope that somehow I can help others through it. I want to embrace and support those struggling instead of making them feel like outcasts. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle, so always be kind. I try to view negative reactions from others as opportunities to educate instead of taking it personally and help reduce myths and fears around stigmas. My voice is one that needs to be heard, but it took me a while to believe that.
- Having mental health struggles makes me feel weak when so many others seem like they’re fine, and sometimes I forget that other people are good at hiding their problems, too. The more I open up and connect with others the more I realize that a lot of us have issues, and recognizing them and seeking help is empowering. Walking through the mess of life with people is so vulnerable, challenging and weird sometimes but oh so worth it and beautiful. Depression thrives in isolation so we have to get connected and be real with others. There is power in being fully known and loved, and sometimes hiding in shame (a common tendency with mental illness) prevents this because you don’t want people to think you’re broken. Praying for each other, checking in, taking walks, being real and acknowledging the messy grit of life has been one of the greatest things I’ve experienced.
- One of the biggest hurdles can be holding onto hope when we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. My soul feels like a dry desert more days than a stream. Jesus is our living hope and I’m just now beginning to learn what that really means, but I hope I can encourage anyone else who is struggling that it is truth and not just feel-good christianese. Hang in there, and know that you are so wildly loved.
With love, Katie
* photo credit to Villiados photography (: