On Life With A Broken Brain (That Isn't Really Broken)Cecily Kellogg
Sometime in 2004, my brain broke.
Well, we could argue that it was before that. After all, I’m an alcoholic that was drinking every day before I was 15. So in some ways, my brain was born ‘broken.’ But it was back in 2004 that two things happened that changed my brain forever: I began getting frequent and debilitating migraines, and I began to realize that my mood swings were more than the normal ups and downs most folks experience.
For the last eight years I’ve suffered anywhere from 10 to 20 migraines a month. Not every single one ruins my day; some respond quickly to the medications (of which I have three different combinations I cycle through to prevent rebound headaches), some respond by just becoming less excruciating so that I can somewhat function, and some don’t go away for days at a time.
The thing about chronic migraines is that they come with a side bonus of guilt, accusations of hypochondria, and self-hatred (because obviously they are my fault). Maybe this is true of all chronic pain conditions; I don’t know.
But I’ve learned tricks and tips to manage my work and my migraines; I dim the computer screen when my head hurts the most, I type with only one eye open, or I work at all times of the day to work around the migraines (thank GOD for working for myself; it allows me to take time off in the middle of the day if I need to). I have no choice; if I walk away from my computer too frequently I will lose my income, and there’s nothing about being broke that doesn’t suck). So I manage, even as my symptoms grow and change (for the last year, I smell smoke as an aural hallucination connected to my migraines).
Sadly, I didn’t admit that I also suffered from depression and, apparently, “mild” bipolar disorder until much later (I feel a sense of guilt claiming bipolar disorder; I know so many that truly suffer with it I feel like what I have going on doesn’t really qualify). I finally started taking medication in 2009. I resisted for many reasons; alcoholics are often misdiagnosed as bipolar and I resisted taking “mind altering” medications (even though I totally thought it was fine that others did). But I also was able to manage my moods with meditation and exercise for many years while I was sober right up until I went through infertility treatments (which limited my ability to exercise) and pregnancy loss (which somehow eliminated my ability to meditate). Then I was forced to admit that I needed help.
Unfortunately, finding the right drugs wasn’t easy. I was giving antidepressants right away, which by themselves caused a “mixed affected” disorder (meaning I was manic AND depressed, and in a weird side effect agoraphobic). After fighting with my doctor for a while (I wanted to go off the meds), I eventually tried a mood stabilizer with an antidepressant together and found, at last, peace from my mood swings.
It was a huge relief.
Still, sometimes I have to fight to take care of myself. I don’t get enough sleep, which causes my migraines to get much worse (both in frequency and strength). Or I do what I did this last weekend; forget to refill my meds properly and wind up feeling, well, crazy and agoraphobic again.
There’s not a logical explanation for why this happened to me, but I feel somewhat comforted by others who tell me that they’ve been known to do this too (my situation was also complicated by a change in staff at my therapist’s office and a long delay in getting her a message about needing refills), although the folks I know that are more experienced with being medicated for mood and depression are much better about not running out of meds (I’m going to work very hard to not let it happen to me again either).
It can be hard to accept, this ‘broken’ brain. Sometimes, when I’m lying in my bed in the middle of the afternoon clutching my skull and moaning, or when I found myself unable to leave the house on Tuesday thanks to my med mishap, I hate my brain so thoroughly and intensely that I can’t catch my breath. I hate being “disabled” in this way, of having this permanent dysfunction that makes it impossible to live my life without medication.
But then I force myself to remember that this brain produces the words I write on a daily basis, fills me with love for my daughter and husband, helps me find the ability to be empathetic and generous, as well as be bitter and funny and able to do three things at once.
In other words, my brain is perfect, just as it is. And I’m going to work hard to take better care of it.
I’m going to proactively ask, politely, for you to skip the medical advice in the comments. I see specialists, I’ve done acupuncture, I’ve done the migraine diet, I have had MRIs and don’t have a brain tumor… I’m really okay, generally speaking, I promise. If you really feel you need to tell me something or give me a suggestion, email me? Cecilyk at gmail.com. Thank you.