I have a secret that only those close to me know... I suffer from debilitating migraines and thoracic outlet syndrome. All told, these conditions limit the functionality of my upper body significantly. I have a life-long affinity for horses though. I *need* horses in my life to stay happy and sane, no matter what the effects are on my body.
About 7 years ago, I never imagined I would be where I am, suffering with a four-week migraine. At that time I was pregnant with my second living child. At around 20 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with BRCA breast cancer. The death-knell of my maternal heritage. My life changed forever at that point, as I struggled with chemotherapy as well as a healthy pregnancy. Thanksgiving Day saw the arrival of my daughter, who also shares my love for horses. More chemotherapy and 8 surgeries later, I was left alive, but a walking wounded. I lost my job due to limitations form the after-effects of chemo and surgeries. That's when the other shoe dropped: debilitating migraines.
For as long as I can remember, I've had terrible headaches. They started when I was a child and "too young" to have headaches. Normal medications did nothing, but eventually, after I have my first living child, the headaches, now termed migraines, went on hiatus. After chemo and surgery though, they came back with a vengeance. They grew even more debilitating after a fall from my green-broke mare cracked my helmet in 4 spots and still landed me with a severe concussion, dislocated shoulder, and bruised coccyx. It's been a little over a year since that spill, my first in over 30 years of riding anything that whinnied, and the migraines are worse than ever.
Prior to my accident, I was still riding, driving, and training, although I was severely limited by my thoracic outlet syndrome. It causes my hands to lose circulation and grip strength while causing severe pain in my shoulder(s), neck, and head. Thoracic outlet syndrome is invisible and unpredictable. Whatever caused pain yesterday, may not cause pain today. Doing nothing today, doesn't guarantee a pain free day tomorrow, etc. It's a proverbial roll of the dice whether I'll be in severe pain on a daily basis. So often I had to choose: do an activity with my children, do something with a horse, or pray that if I did nothing today I'd have no pain tomorrow.
I still own the horse that bucked me off so spectacularly. On good days, I go out to spend time with her, longeing her and preparing her for life as a riding/driving horse. On bad days, I'm trapped indoors, in a darkened room, taking medication so the pain doesn't get too unbearable. Yet, even when things are at their lowest, our finances are a disaster, our children at each other's throats, I can look at a photo of my horse, smell her unique Curly Horse smell, and image us doing the 'normal' things most horse people do (and maybe even dread). That's why all my posts are headed with drawings. When my migraines and thoracic outlet syndrome get me down, I pick up my stylus and sometimes do the best work I've ever done all from my 'cave'. You can find more of my artwork on my artistic FB page: Benedict Catholic Creations.
My secret struggle may not seem like much to those who have visible disabilities. I have great respect for the para-Olympians that struggle and need assistance to even approach their horse. I've volunteered at therapeutic riding clinics and know these visible struggles seem insurmountable. In my mind, I know it is worse to lose the ability to walk or completely lose the ability to use a limb. Yet, this limbo between catastrophically disabled and healthy is a constant stress. I, nor my family, never know whether today mommy is going to have a good day or bad day. Planning events or even teaching my children is often put off on my wonderfully supportive husband and hands-on parents. In fact, many seem to think I imagine reasons to have more surgeries or see another far-away specialist because I do have all my limbs and some days I'm particularly good at 'faking it' and appearing to be healthy.
I'll keep plugging away, praying that this new treatment or that new specialist doctor will be 'the one' to resolve my problems. I'll keep our horse as a pasture ornament more than a riding/driving companion. I'll play hard with my children on good days to outweigh the bad. I'll just pray everyday in thanksgiving for this life I lead, even when it isn't the life I thought I'd have.
We all have our daily struggles. What is one of yours?