“I get it now.”
It was four magic words said to me by my then-boyfriend. We’d been living together for only a few weeks before I had a massive level-10 migraine. I looked like death. I felt like it, too. I cried in bed while I held a cold, wet washcloth over my forehead and eyes, trying to will the sun out of the sky, the Earth from spinning, my brain from rebelling against me. Me, a person who normally withstands pain like a cold, unmoving statue. Now sobbing into our comforter.
He’d never seen it before. Up until this point, he’d only heard about my migraines through my own descriptions. When we first started dating, I was feeling particularly terrible and had to cancel plans. “I’m sick,” I said, feeling like a corpse.
“Oh, what’s wrong?” he asked with concern.
“I have a migraine.” I could barely get the words out, I was so far down the migraine hole. All communication skills were washed away when the dam broke.
“Oh…that’s a weird way to describe it. That you’re sick.” He didn’t understand why I’d use that word. Why I’d describe it in the same way that you’d say you had a cold or the flu. To him, it was probably just a fancy way to say I had a headache.
I let that one go at the time. I didn’t have much energy to explain when most of my brain was so focused on the pain.
But now, freshly moved in together, he could see the sickness in my face. I looked pale. All the light and happiness had drained from my eyes. I was breathing heavily, sobbing. I was nauseous, sensitive to light and sound. Even to the untrained eye, it was clear this wasn’t “just a headache.” It was more. It was monumental. And unfortunately, it was routine. While this was my first level-10 migraine while living together, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
He saw me that day, and he finally knew. “I get it now,” he said as he brought me a glass of water, as he re-filled the big bowl of ice water I kept at my bedside to refresh the rag on my head.
He got it. Not just that day, but every canceled plan after. Every time my world crashed to a halt thanks to a neurological disorder I had no control over. That’s what it was like to be with someone who understood and cared about what I was going through. In the three years we lived together, he re-filled my ice water, gave me neck massages any time the tension built precariously close to triggering a full-blown migraine, kept the apartment quiet while I suffered alone in our darkened bedroom. While it might not have been the fairytale living arrangements either or us had envisioned, it brought us closer together.
It’s hard to find people who truly understand the struggle if they haven’t experienced migraines themselves. Even family might not get it. But finding a partner who understands is to be truly seen.
He set the precedent. He’s the ruler I measure all present and future romantic prospects by. As someone with a chronic illness, I can’t accept anything less than a loving and accepting partner. And neither should you.