Chronic Migraine, Coping, Mental Health

Identity Loss, a Chronic Migraine Symptom

“Because of my illness, my faults are in plain view. It’s simply too hard to hide that I’m selfish with my time, can be terribly insecure about the most bizarre things, and have great intentions with little follow-through.”

This excerpt from Friends, Family & Illness, a January 2007 post, hit me hard when I re-read it. I stand by the assertion that my faults are in plain view because chronic illness takes all the energy that might otherwise go toward hiding them. What I take issue with is the list of my “faults.” These are not faults, nor are they inherent to being me. They are all the factors of having debilitating chronic migraine.

Six-and-a-half years ago, migraine had completely obscured my sense of self. What I called selfish was me desperately trying to take care of myself and reduce the ravage of migraine on my life. Insecurity about bizarre things? That was keeping the pretense of health when I was terribly ill. Not following through? Following through on promises to others is hard to do when you’re so sick that getting to the bathroom and feeding yourself are your main priorities in a day.

My health had been in steady decline for, oh, 20 years before I wrote that original post and in free fall for at least five. I was a few months from adding constant, severe nausea to my list of symptoms. I hadn’t yet reached my worst, most debilitating years of migraine, but they weren’t far away.

At the time, I was aware that I was floundering in search of my identity, which I thought was buried under migraine. Now I see that I was trying so hard to retain a semblance of self that didn’t include migraine that I perceived myself as someone I wasn’t, nor had ever been. I was trying so hard to pretend I was normal despite the constant seismic activity in my body that I completely lost sight of who I was.

Identity loss. Now that’s an aspect of chronic migraine that doesn’t even make the other migraine symptoms lists, but it caused as much upheaval as the pain and nausea ever did.

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