The heat of the hot Kansas sun beat heavy under my baseball hat as I stood in the outfield. At eight years old, I’m not sure if I liked softball or not, but we were a baseball-loving family, and my dad was the team coach, so I played.
Holding my glove up to squint past the bright sun, it was only a matter of time before the heat would take me down with a severe headache.
We didn’t know it at the time, in the 80s, but I was experiencing migraines.
After one season of this, my parents pulled me from the softball team. Looking at the team pictures, I’m easily identifiable as the girl with a face as red as our team uniform.
I wish I could say the migraines stopped when I quit playing baseball in the 100-degree heat. Instead, I continued for the next 30 years to adapt my life to accommodate a chronic illness that no medication or alternative therapy has been able to improve.
Today, I’m pretty good at functioning with a high pain tolerance.
As a single mom, I learned quickly that complaining, lying in bed, or taking time off when in pain caused more significant problems in my life.
Over the years, I’ve worked on enough medication cocktails that would probably knock most people down flat. I’ve had doctors comment that I shouldn’t be awake or that they’ve had grown men unable to take as much medication as I have, and yet I’m still functioning.
I’m not bragging about this tolerance; instead, it’s a sad reality that many single parents face, with no choice but to work at all costs amidst pain.
I’m one of the lucky ones to come out of the years of medication fog with no dependencies.
I carried on this way, driving to work as a zombie on so much medication until I finally found a way to support my family and work from home.
But even now that I can work at home, the pain still robs me of being the best mom I want to be.
A migraine is always around the corner.
As hard as I try, I can’t play sports with my kids. If I’m stationary, I can pass the ball back and forth, but I can’t jump or run while playing basketball or football.
I can’t run around with my kids. I can walk, but only when the sun is down or during the fall or winter. The hot sun is too much.
I don’t make promises. Instead of saying, “we will go here tomorrow,” I say, “maybe tomorrow or the next day we will go here,” because I know if I have a migraine, I can’t go anywhere.
As hard as I try to keep going, sometimes our outings are cut short. Sometimes even vacations are cut short.
As a single mom, I can’t indulge in lying in bed when I have a migraine.
I still go to work and get the kids up and ready for school. I still bathe the kids, pay the bills, and drop the kids off at their playdates.
For this reason, many assume my pain isn’t “that bad,” and perhaps I “just need an Excedrin.”
I’ve had many people remark they “had a migraine once” had to stay in bed for a day. How can I possibly do all I do if I’m really in this much pain?
Because I’m a single mom, I have no choice.
I don’t have another adult in the house to fall back on financially. Or to help with day to day life with young children.
Who will bathe the kids? 5-year-olds can’t start their own baths. Who will feed them something besides what they’re grabbing out of the pantry? They can only have cereal bars for so long. Who will make sure they’re getting on the bus safely? Or take them to their doctor appointments?
Even the best employer gives only so many sick and vacation days a year.
Don’t get me wrong, I have days that knock me flat on my back. But even through those, someone has to take care of the basic needs of the children.
Yes, I have a wonderful mother who helps out, but when you live with chronic pain 20 out of 30 days of the month, you learn how not to live life from your bed.
Years of living with chronic pain as a single parent has taught me a few hard-earned lessons.
I’ve learned how to conserve my energy for the days when my kids really need me.
I’ve found that kids can be entirely happy with popcorn, cheese, and crackers for dinner. Kids also think lying in bed to watch a movie with you on a weeknight is a treat.
Sometimes I wish there were another adult in the house offering to take the kids and drop them off at friends or sports practice or pick up milk at the store. But wishing for another life will only make me despise the one I’ve been given.
I remind myself no one has a perfect life.
I’ve got two incredible kids who love me. I don’t know what demons the mom down the street who looks healthy and happily married is fighting.
Some days the pain coupled with the responsibility is too much, and I think I’d prefer her demons, whatever they may be. But then evening draws near, the kids pile up on my bed for another movie night, and I look at their smiling faces.
I adjust the ice pack on my head and say a prayer of thanks.
Jen Smith writes at Grace for Single Parents to inspire single moms to live their best life with trust, faith and grace. She’s a contributing author for Her View for Home, Grown & Flown and Sammiches & Psych Meds. She currently lives in Kansas with her two teenagers and two dogs.