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Choosing hope in invisible illness

| Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A year out of ND, I have seen and heard about the invisible illness campaign at ND that just occurred. As a former Ryan Hall RA, I have the privilege of knowing three of the beautiful “Invisilillies,” and was touched by their openness and effort to make this campaign possible. Miles from campus, I could almost feel the relief of these brave students in giving voice to their inner burdens, and doing it in a way that educated and promoted seeing past the exterior of every person on campus. My time at ND showed me again and again how important it is to see beyond the exterior of an extremely put together and successful student to understand that we all have stories, many of them painful.

My story has been profoundly influenced by an invisible illness, much more than I ever like to admit, even to myself. I experience on average a migraine about every other to every third day, along with a few million other Americans. My migraines wake me up, they make me nauseous, sick, tired, irritable, light sensitive and cause horrible pain. I try to hide it, to push through and ignore the pain and nausea, because to do otherwise would be admitting defeat, something I am not willing to do. I pretend I am fine when friends are around, but by now my closest loved ones can usually see past that. I have tried endless medications, some with bizarre and frightening side effects, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal supplements — you name it. My migraines are a constant in my life, my cross.

As I am sure many of those with invisible illness also do, I try to concentrate only on how bad it could be, how much worse off so many other people are, rather than admit that it is hard, that it sometimes breaks my spirit to wake up in pain again, that I make choices and sacrifices that others don’t have to to avoid pain. I am not the only one who lives in fear that I will wake up in pain and be unable to concentrate on the morning of an important test, a fun event, or now as I prepare for marriage, on the morning of my wedding. Decisions like going out with friends are calculated, since I have about a 75 percent chance of getting a migraine. Even my decision to become a physician assistant was influenced by migraines.

But this burden that I carry is something that makes me, me. It makes me passionate and compassionate. One of my residents last year suffers from an invisible illness, and walking with her as she faced horrible pain and eventual surgery helped me to realize that my pain, as hard as it is, made me better able to offer support. In my career path, I will be able to relate to and better understand my patients who come to me with chronic pain and invisible illnesses. So I choose not to look at the ways in which migraines control and infect my life, but rather at the way they make me a better person. I live in hope, not only because of a successful clinical trial for a new migraine medication, but also because I believe that my invisible illness, and all invisible illness, have some kind of silver lining, perhaps even redemption. And last week, we as an ND community near and far were able to see the fruits of that silver lining, thanks to the bravery of those who chose to be vulnerable, making their invisible illnesses visible. We choose hope rather than despair, and give hope to those who struggle in invisibility and silence; you are not alone.

Kaitlyn Kennedy

class of 2016

April 1

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