Your Invisible Illness Is Valid
Sam Escobar
29960

I can see it in your eyes

It’s 5:30am. I hear my dog’s rhythmic deep breathing, her body curled up next to mine. The familiar pounding is back. I can feel my blood vessels against my skin trying to escape. I don’t blame them — I want to get out, too. I contemplate laying there, knowing the longer I wait the more trouble I will be in. I don’t want to move, I don’t want to wake her up, I don’t want to medicate.

I get up.

I start creating my cocktail of hope. I go through the list of possible triggers in my mind. It’s everything. It’s nothing. Half a muscle relaxer. Sudafed. An old school epilepsy medication. 3 of them, actually. Aleve and an icy hot patch on my neck. I crawl back into bed and wrap myself around my dog.

#

I got my first migraine when I was 9. My sister and I were spending the weekend with our Nana. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, starting slow and then gradually hitting me like a brick wall. The whole day was chaos, as though no one could pivot their plans to accommodate my not feeling well. This would become a recurrent theme in my life.

One small errand was keeping me from potential relief. My Nana insisted we stop at the grocery store so she could return a package of muffins. I vividly remember everything about those agonizing minutes — my sister’s outrage, the smell of the car, how I had no idea you could return food to a grocery store. Later that night while I violently vomited, the blood vessels in my head threatening to burst each time, all I could think about were those fucking muffins.

#

My days blur together. There are moments, chunks of time, that I know I’ll never get back. They’re gone forever to a mindless reprieve with the sole goal of stopping the pounding long enough to get through the day. The mantra is simple — it is survival.

I can’t stop. I can’t take a sick day. I can’t disappoint my friends. My family. The look on my dad’s face every time he asks how I’ve been feeling. The way my Nana squeezes my hand when I lie and tell her the Botox and the preventatives are helping, they are helping so much. How my uncle grabs my shoulders and looks me square in the eyes and says, “As long as you’re healthy. As long as you’re feeling good, that’s all that matters.”

The whispers from coworkers when I say I’m working from home again. The blurred vision as I stare at my computer screen, pushing through hours on migraine meds when I should be in bed. The doubt I have in my work, in myself, wondering how many backwards sentences and typos I just wrote in an email.

How he didn’t judge me on our first date, when I had a migraine and chose not to drink. The way he used to say, “Are you getting a headache? I can see it in your eyes.” When he would lay with me in the dark, bringing me cold towels to numb the pain. How hard he tried to reassure me that I wouldn’t get a migraine on our wedding day.

The disappointment in his eyes when I couldn’t join him on the dance floor. The pain in his voice, when he told me what it was like to have a partner who wasn’t present in their relationship 60% of the time. The way my heart shattered when it was no longer enough for him.

#

It’s 10:30am. I open my eyes and for a minute, I forget where I am. I forget about the cocktail of drugs I took a few hours ago. I forget about the anxiety I have each morning, knowing at any moment the pain will start. I forget about 22 years of migraines, of telling everyone, “I’m fine,” when I’m not. I forget that my dog and I are in a smaller bed and that he’s not here.

For that one perfect minute, I exist in an alternate reality where I have control over my day, my body, my life.