Hi there! If you’re new to my blog, so am I. So, before we embark on our journey together, let me introduce myself. My name is Jacey Van Roekel and I’m currently living in Ames, Iowa as student at Iowa State University. I have a passion for travel and an urge to change the world. Let’s talk about what led me here.
I started having headaches when I was 12. They started off very few and far between, but as time went on, they got worse. I had my first migraine when I was 14. Then, in March of 2012, I got hit with a migraine like none I’d ever experienced, and it wouldn’t go away. After suffering from the attack for a few days, my mom took me to see my doctor. I had an episode while in the exam room and my blood pressure nearly bottomed out. I was taken upstairs to get a CT scan of my brain, which offered no answers or explanations. So, I went home. The months that followed consisted of multiple neurological exams, blood work ups, CT scans, MRIs, MRAs, X-Rays; I saw chiropractors, ENTs, allergy specialists, neurologists. You name it, I tried it. The only test with any abnormalities was an MRA, which showed a possible arteriovenous malformation (AVM), on the right temporal lobe of my brain. I was referred to the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City to see a neurosurgeon. There, they did an EEG to make sure I wasn’t having seizures (it was negative), and I also had an angiogram. The doctors fed a tiny camera through my groin up to my brain to take a close look at the suspected AVM and verify the size and location. I awoke to the news that it was not an AVM, but rather just an abnormal cluster of blood vessels. Good news, right? Wrong.
You have to understand that by this time I had been in constant, severe pain for months and was desperate for a solution, a cure, something, anything to offer relief. I was crushed. I wanted it to stop so desperately that I was hoping to have brain surgery to remove the thing that was ruining my life. You’re probably judging me right now, I get it. I would judge me too. In fact, in retrospect, I do judge myself. But at the time, that diagnosis was the very last string holding me together…and it had just been cut. I felt defeated, lost, and hopeless. I was never going to get better. This was it, this was my life forever with no end in sight.
So, I got depressed. Really, really depressed.
In this illness, in this pain, I was alone. Nobody understood. I was totally alone. It affected every single aspect of my life. I was extremely sensitive to light and sound and was constantly nauseous. I couldn’t think straight or concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. Physical activity caused excruciating pain, sometimes to the point of passing out. It was painful to look at computer and phone screens. I had vision problems and there were times it even hurt to blink. My energy level was zero; I would get tired walking from my bed to the bathroom and back. I was irritable and moody towards my family, which they most definitely did not deserve. I wished people would lower their voices; didn’t they know the faintest of sounds felt like knives to my ears? I wanted someone to turn the lights off; didn’t they understand it felt like I was staring straight into the sun? I wanted to be left alone; didn’t they get that I couldn’t understand or comprehend what was going on around me? Honestly, they probably didn’t. I often downplayed my situation and put up a front that I was in much better shape than I was. Maybe I was trying to convince myself, too. I felt judged and misunderstood, because there were no physical signs of illness. I had no proof of or validation for my pain. My illness was invisible.
At some point, I was put on medication to control my depression and anxiety, and I moved on. It started to be more about controlling the pain and finding medications that worked for me, rather than searching for the cause. In 2013, I was admitted to the inpatient unit at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago for my condition, where I stayed for 10 days. I was diagnosed with New Daily Persistent Headache and Chronic Migraine and was put on a regime of daily medications as well as some new as needed options to try. For the following 10 months or so the treatment seemed to take the edge off and lower the frequency of migraines, but didn’t touch the daily headache. Then another attack hit and stuck around for 2 months, which eventually led to another hospital stay, this time for a week. I was treated with large doses of steroids and other medications, but nothing seemed to help. So, I went home. Things got really, really bad for a while. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t bare to go to work or school. For a few months, I was lucky to get 3 hours of sleep a night. My diet consisted of applesauce and graham crackers…not sure why, but it’s what I could stomach. I ended up having to quit my part-time job as a receptionist and human resources assistant at a nursing home and dropped all my classes for the semester. I had hit rock bottom.
For the weeks and months following my return from the hospital, I slowly started to feel some relief and eventually got back on my feet. I eased back into school and got a job as a gymnastics coach (which I still do today and absolutely LOVE, btw). The pain was still there, but I was dealing with it. I learned to smile through the pain pretty quickly after I realized I was in it for the long haul. As my momma says, you can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose your attitude. So, I started choosing happiness. I learned life is a whole lot better when you’re having fun. Besides, nobody likes a Debbie Downer, and let’s face it; I’m a people-pleaser, and smiles are much more appealing than frowns.
Happiness is a decision. —Michael J. Fox
21st birthday present from Mom
In 2016, I started seeing a new neurologist who specializes in migraines and is a leader in her field on using Botox as a treatment for Chronic Migraine. When she introduced the idea of Botox, I was hesitant, but heard her out. In the end, I decided to go for it.
BEST DECISION OF MY FREAKING LIFE.
The treatments are super easy. I go every 12 weeks and have 31 doses injected in specific spots all over my head, neck, shoulders, and face. It’s not comfortable, but it’s certainly not as painful as a migraine and only takes about 5 minutes. Totally worth it. Fast forward to today, and I’m very pleased to inform you, I’m doing great. Do I still have a headache everyday? Sure do. Do I still get migraines? Yep. But, ask me how many migraines I’ve had since I started Botox – go ahead, ask!
Ten. I’ve had TEN migraines in the last year. TEN. That is seriously a miracle. Before, I had a migraine 15+ days out of the month. Now, it’s less than one. I’m a completely different person than I was before Botox. I’m free! I don’t have to make plans around my bad days or live in fear of what might trigger a migraine. I can do whatever I want.
I want to travel and I want to change the world.
Never again will I take for granted the freedom of being healthy. I was basically trapped in my dark, quiet room for years, never knowing when the next attack would hit. Now, I’m no longer afraid of what could be and I don’t want to simply dream of travelling, always telling myself “one day.” No, one day is today. Not tomorrow or the next day, but today. Obviously I can’t just pick up and leave because a) I have no money and a lot of debt b) I’m still in school (puke) and c) I have no idea what I’m doing. Nevertheless, today is still the day. Today is the day I get serious about my dream and start taking steps to get there. I’m pledging to go on a spending fast, starting right now. That means absolutely no spending money on anything but necessities (Lord be with me). I’m going to get my debt of around $8,000 paid off. I’m going to figure out how in the world I’m going to make it happen, then I’m buying a one-way ticket out of Iowa.
I’m so excited to share my adventures with you along the way through this blog. Using this platform, I’ll share my progress, let you in on my saving secrets, help you find discounted travel deals, inspire through acts of good, fight for human rights, and whatever else may pique my interest (or yours…let me know!)
Until next time.