“I turn 40 next month. Migraine has devoured my 30s and most of my 20s. I’m so sick of it. And I’m so tired,” I said to my headache specialist through tears at my appointment last week. My words are unsurprising given the grief I’ve written about this summer. Oddly, though, my tears were not fueled by grief. I was crying out of gratitude for my headache specialist.
I began to write a blog post about my gratitude, but it didn’t feel right. My doctor is the one who really needs to know all the reasons I’m grateful for him. So I sent him a gratitude letter. I spent several hours crafting what I wanted to say, then put my rusty handwriting skills to use and wrote him a card. What I said is for him only, but I want to share one part of it with you:
“I needed you to know that even though I’m still struggling so much, your care continues to improve my life. I will eventually find relief and having you on my team is one reason I believe that is possible.”
When I was moderating for Migraine.com, a community member asked if I was a partner in my healthcare. I said no, that I am the leader of my healthcare. I don’t mean that in a belligerent way. I know my own health and body better than anyone else. I do not blindly listen (can one listen blindly?) to what health care providers say is best for me, nor do I expect anyone else to fix me. I take the input of trusted health care providers, weigh it against my own experience and needs, and make informed decisions. I do not flout authority (at least not in this instance), but I am the captain of this ship. Any good captain respects that every person in the crew is necessary to keep the ship afloat.
I can only be so confident in my own ability to run the ship because my crew includes people like my headache specialist. His compassion and knowledge have been a comfort and a help to me for many years—I first saw him in 2002, saw other specialists when I lived in Seattle and Boston, and have been back with him since 2011. I have no idea how many treatments we’ve tried together, but he always has new ideas for me. He even told me last week that he will never stop coming up with ideas I can try.
My headache specialist and I both know I’m a complicated case. We also both know that I want nothing more than to feel better. I know he’s knowledgeable, skilled, optimistic, and up on the latest research. He knows I’m determined, do my homework, and am willing to take calculated risks. We work well together. I feel so fortunate to have him on my crew.
Sending the gratitude letter felt like a bit of a risk. Being so heartfelt left me feeling vulnerable. (Although I’ve felt far more vulnerable while crying in his office.) But writing the letter also felt necessary. We have a formal relationship within defined boundaries. We are warm toward one another within those confines, but our roles are strict. Yet he has such an influence on my day-to-day life. I needed him to know how important he is in my struggle with migraine, which has thus far been the biggest stressor of my life.
It is true that having the specter of migraine looming over my 40s terrifies me. I cannot deny the presence of grief. But having that grief overwhelmed by gratitude felt almost like a gift. A reminder that this life is hard, but I’m not in it alone. I am so fortunate to have a headache specialist who truly understands what I am going through and sincerely wants to help. I needed him to know just how much that means to me.