Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Migraine and Suicide: Experiences from the Community- When Living Seems Too Hard

The following is a personal story from someone who lives with Migraine with and without aura, Retinal Migraine, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it is not death I fear but living.”  These are words I wrote several years ago when trying to process my own desire to escape the pain and isolation in which I was living.  I use the word “escape” rather than suicide as I never really wanted to die, I just wanted to somehow escape the chronic pain and loneliness I was experiencing.  Some would call that desire “selfish,” I see it as desperate and, frankly, normal. 

About five years ago I began experiencing chronic daily migraines (rather than the “normal” two to four a month).   Having already exhausted all the resources for migraine help in my hometown over the years, I began to travel visiting migraine specialists around the country.  I began each of these journeys with great hope - sure that someone was going to be able to tell me what to do to manage the unrelenting pain in which I lived.  Yet time after time, I ran up against the fact that I have migraines that are “particularly difficult to treat.”  The Bible is quite right when it says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

As a result of the pain of migraines and its accompanying symptoms, I had to leave the job I loved and found the social and familial framework of my life becoming smaller and smaller.  I became a virtual prisoner in my own home.  I was in pain, with no discernible  help for my migraines, feeling alone and not understood, and experiencing the death of my goals, hopes and dreams.  Pain is one of the most isolating conditions one can experience - particularly chronic, invisible pain such as caused by migraines or other illnesses that the world, in general, does not categorize as being catastrophic.  Yet, I believe there is nothing quite as catastrophic as being in pain and feeling like there is no hope,no solution and no understanding. Penney Cowan, founder of the American Chronic Pain Association, said “Living in pain is devastating, and not having others believe you is even more isolating.”   I don’t have to tell my fellow migraine sufferers how exhausting it is to have to “justify” your illness.  We don’t have cancer or a broken bone or some other syndrome that others relate to and understand the pain associated with it.  We often face individuals who believe that our pain is exaggerated or the result of our emotions.  “Chronic pain is an illness in its own right,” says Dr. Portenoy. “Patients seeking care for pain should be given the same respect as those with any other ailment.” (Both quotes are from Women’s Day magazine, April 1, 2011.)

As a mental health therapist, I have walked with many clients who felt desperate and saw suicide as one of their only options.  As an individual who suffers from depression, I have personally experienced that desperation and seen suicide as my only option.  Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ones who responds well to SSRI’s and have found an outstanding therapist myself.  Suicide hasn’t been in a viable option in my mind for well over twenty years; however, the desire to escape - to find any way out of the prison in which I live has become a regular companion.  How many times have I been in pain so intense that I just wanted to put my head through a window? How many times have the platitudes of caring family and friends made me feel like there was no hope?  How many times have I wished I just wasn’t me?

At this juncture, one may ask “how is that not suicidal ideation?” The only answer I can provide is that I have made a stalwart promise to myself and to others that suicide is not an option for me.  I do not wish to minimize the desire of those in pain to “just end the pain” by making this seem simplistic, for it is far from being so.  There are times when I am hurting so badly and feel so alone that I actually wish suicide was an option.  It simply is not."

If you, or someone you know, is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For the next post in this series, please go to For Family, Friends & Caregivers

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