At the age of 23, my lifelong migraine illness was unofficially diagnosed by Doralie, an accounting paraprofessional at the CPA firm where my accounting career first began. Fresh out of college in 1986, I was interviewing for my first accounting job, promoting myself as a responsible, dependable employee. I didn’t include mentioning my health situation, or the fact that I had very little idea about what an accountant did in real life.

Starting a career and life on my own in a new town was stressful, to say the least. Doralie’s motherly personality was a lifesaver as she swooped in to show me the accounting ropes. She knew exactly how to ease my transition into a new environment. Opinionated and compassionate, Doralie earned my trust and my friendship in an instant. I could talk to her about anything.

I knew it was only a matter of time until a headache would come barging into my new life, and when it did, Doralie was the one who saw and listened to me. Hesitation was not in her nature. Despite her background in numbers not medicine, she informed me in no uncertain terms, “It sounds like you have migraines.” One sentence spoken from an unlikely source swung the door wide open to hope.

Don’t get me wrong. My parents loved me and took good care of me during attacks. They just didn’t know what we were dealing with or what questions to ask. My childhood episodes were infrequent, leaving a tiny imprint on our memories, as more pressing issues jumped to the front of our list of priorities. None of us ever considered making a bigger deal out of a headache. Migraines crept into my life with a stealth subtleness that we had all accepted as a normal existence for me.

I wouldn’t be surprised to know many people around me classified my reaction to pain as a character flaw instead of a medical condition. Described as one of “Tammy’s headaches,” my body’s pain required a dark, quiet room to heal. Most people can take aspirin for their headaches and keep functioning. I was born different, weak, and inadequate. These were the invisible labels silently spoken over decades by friends glancing away, in remarks by co-workers, or worst of all, awkward silence laced with judgment.

Stigma grew along with the frequency of episodes, so I tried to keep my shortcomings to myself as much as possible. I tried to project myself as capable, independent, and strong. Then, I shared my struggle with my new friend Doralie, and she spoke the sentence that changed everything.

“It sounds like you have migraines.” From that point on, I knew without a doubt this wasn’t a character flaw. This was a disease with a name.  A real beast I could identify and study and fight. Diagnosis gave me direction, courage, and power.

It gave me the courage to begin a quest for knowledge. With the help of my doctor, I have learned how to understand my illness, take control of my physical disorder, and live life on my terms. Thanks to an accounting paraprofessional and the one sentence that shined the light of hope on the door to a healthier future.

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