Allison "Chapter Two: Don’t Struggle In Silence"

Portrait by    Randy Bacon

Portrait by Randy Bacon

This past year has been a year of wild growth. I was completely consumed by my grief for a while; to the point where I was in a constant state of fear that I would fall back into my depression and somehow end up worse than I was before. That fear quickly grew to become the worst anxiety I have ever experienced. I had a weight on my chest that only seemed to get heavier, and never seemed to fade away. I knew I was struggling but every time I wanted to speak up, to say something, I couldn’t seem to open my mouth. I couldn’t ask for help no matter how much I knew I needed it. It took awhile, but I finally managed to cough up the words “I’m struggling.” It was when I was finally able to talk about my anxiety that it slowly began to fade.

I had been wrestling with hope ever since I got sick and never could find a balance. I’ve had too much hope and have been left completely discouraged and I have lost all hope and found myself in absolute darkness. I have tried to accept that my future will most likely be tainted by being in chronic pain, even though people tell me things like you’ll grow out of it and you never know, maybe one day you’ll wake up and it’ll just be gone. I’ve tried not to listen much to people who say things like that because my pain free days have been scattered and scarce, until this summer.

The beginning of the summer came like so many others, high hopes I forced down low and a bout of emotions I couldn’t seem to sort out. And no matter how much I prefer to not talk about it, I was struggling with my faith. I went to church camp for a couple weeks, just like I have almost every summer since I was a little kid. It was there, sitting in a crappy camp chair, swatting bugs away from my pale legs in the middle of worship that I heard God speak to me. I finally heard Him. After years of being told that I am being prayed for, after all the tears of desperation I’ve cried over not being able to feel those prayers, I finally heard Him.

God’s timing is bizarre. I wish I could eloquently word how monumental that moment was for me. I was fanning myself with a worship booklet, fighting the July heat, as if it would’ve made a difference, when I gained more clarity than I could have ever hoped. I gained more peace than I thought I could ever feel, more contentment than I thought I needed, and more confidence in God’s plan than I could have ever anticipated. I am still trying to fathom it, the words I heard God whisper into my ear and the people he perfectly placed in my life.

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After that I went nearly six weeks without having a migraine. I didn’t have to take my rescue medicine, I didn’t have any anxiety, I felt free. It was almost as if my anxiety evaporated right off of my shoulders and with it went the weight that had been wearing me down. That was the longest I have gone without having a bad migraine in almost five years. I never thought I would be able to look into the eyes of someone who has been praying for me all of this time and say that I have had some kind of relief.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. I have gained a lot of clarity and have been able to pinpoint what I am struggling with the most. I have come to the realization that I can’t afford to put my mental health in someone else’s hands, but also I can’t afford to not communicate how I am doing. I will not struggle in silence, not again. That is something I have really been working on, communicating when things are bad or when I am in pain. I have gone a long time not feeling like I could rely on people when I am in the midst of pain because of my past experiences, but I now know that my story is different than it used to be and that I can rely on the people in my life.

I am working on a lot of things, I know I have a lot more growing to do. I still am working through grief. I still am working on how to best cope with my anxiety and how to pinpoint my irrational thoughts before they consume me. I still have bad pain days. I am doing everything I can to learn how to better navigate the drastic transitions of highs to lows. But I have found bliss. And I know that my contentment is here to stay regardless of whatever pain comes crashing into me. I may not be myself when I am in the midst of pain, but without the pain, without my past, I would have never arrived—so wondrously and viciously by design—here.

September 2018

Allison's Story "Faking Happy"

Chapter One

Photography by    Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

In the eighth grade I got my first migraine. It wasn’t just a one-time thing, unfortunately. I had a migraine every day for two weeks. Almost immediately I was seen by a pediatric neurologist, he put me on medicine and instantly my problem was gone. I had one, maybe two migraines a month. Of course some months were worse than others, but one tiny pill everyday had me essentially fixed.

Fast forward four years and I was a senior in High School. My migraines had quietly snuck up on me, like I used to creep down the stairs in the middle of the night, trying not to wake my parents while raiding the fridge. Without even really realizing it I was up to one migraine a week, maybe a few. I was missing school a few times a month for my head, but what seemed to be just a rough patch completely turned my life upside down.

February 8, 2014 was a normal Saturday. I was being the social butterfly that I used to be, but when I came home in time for dinner I felt a horrible migraine coming on. I warned my mom and then dove into the darkness of my teenage bedroom to sleep it off, like I always had before. But the next morning when I woke up the pain was worse than ever before. The light creeping into my room blinded me, my head felt like it was under tons of rubble, and with every movement and every fleeting moment the pain grew worse. I was so confused as to why I couldn’t shake off this horrible feeling! Something was definitely wrong, but I was just at the beginning of what became a long period of denial.

A week passed by and before I knew it I was being admitted into the hospital. After a spinal tap, steroids, sedatives, baby pain medication, and the strong pain medicine, I left the hospital in more pain than I had arrived in. I was sent home in hopes it would “go away with time.” I was told I should take a vacation, that my stress was causing all my pain, and my mom was told she was causing all my stress.

In a whirlwind, I ended up a patient at the Headache Care Center, and then at The Mayo Clinic. I was essentially out of school, and would make the occasional appearance for an hour—once, maybe twice a week.

Allison with her regimen of over 60 pills and vitamins she would have to take daily.

Allison with her regimen of over 60 pills and vitamins she would have to take daily.

After months with no relief, horrible sleep, intense pain, constantly laying in the dark, and in isolation, I was diagnosed by both the Headache Care Center and the Mayo Clinic. I had chronic intractable migraines (meaning I have a migraine all day, everyday), insomnia, and severe depression. However, I spent my summer before college trying to be as “normal” as possible. I spent a month living in Minnesota at The Mayo Clinic in a pain rehab program where I was taught and trained how to live in constant pain. I went from rehab, to church camp and straight to college at The University of Tulsa in hopes that this was just a mere blip in my life.

I got away with faking it for awhile. Faking happy, faking stability, faking the pain—thinking that maybe if I didn’t acknowledge it, it would no longer exist. But then came the massive anxiety attacks which made me lose my will to live. I was suffering from even more severe depression than originally diagnosed with. There I was, somehow with the most incredible people surrounding me, and there for me to lean on, but yet I was more suicidal than I would care to ever admit. How I managed to be surviving my suicidal thoughts almost four hours away from home and in college—I give all the credit to the Lord and all the prayers I have received over time.

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Today, I am honestly proud to say that I am home in the comfort of my family and close by my team of doctors. I just made the decision to take a medical leave from school to really focus on my recovery and health. After coming to terms with my depression, opening up about what I am going through, and burning it in my brain that I may never have a day where I am not in constant pain, I have decided to seek out every treatment possible, which is why I am home. I have received multiple diagnosis in the past few months and am still having tests run too, but the difference this time is me.

Over the course of the past two years I have faced more loss than I could have predicted—from relationships, friendships, deaths, and losing myself completely in my illness. But through it all,  I now see a much bigger picture. I know why God has put me on this earth, I know what I am being called to do with my life, I know that no matter what the diagnosis is, no matter if I have this migraine for ten more days or the rest of my life that I will be okay and that I will be able to help so many other people who are suffering as well.

I’m going to take this much needed time to breathe and recover without any other distractions and in hopes that I can finally be a full time student able to attend class, getting the grades I know I can get, not withdrawing from classes because I am too sick to keep up, not taking in completes because I downplayed how I was feeling and missed the withdraw deadline.

I know my story is nowhere near over and that there is a long road ahead, I just hope that through sharing my story I can help anyone who needs it and that by adding my story to the mix I can help break the stigma that comes along with mental illness and/or chronic pain.

June 2016