The Dwyer Family

Sharing Melissa’s story to save others.

On June 7, 2013, Melissa Dwyer took her own life. She was 22 years old. Chronic migraine disease and unending pain had stolen her will to continue living.

Melissa’s family is dedicated to telling her story. Her mother, Becky; her older sister Erin; and her younger brother, Billy, pour their heart out in a way that is beautifully tragic. Melissa provided a glimpse into her life through her Facebook (legacy) page and a personal story she submitted to Migraine.com and published in 2011.

The best way to tell Melissa’s story is by weaving together the words they generously offer:

Melissa

My mom is an angel. She is a saint, my best friend, and my everything.

My journey with migraines has been a very long and hard one… I guess it began when I was little because I remember always having headaches. At age 15, I began having these absolutely debilitating migraines.

If there is a test—I had it. If there is a medicine—I’ve tried it.

There is no worse feeling than a doctor giving up on you. “You have daily chronic migraines, learn to live with it.” I should explain why hearing “learn to live with it” was so hard to hear… I was 19 years old and had to withdraw from college because of this. I couldn’t work a job, and lived in a dark, quiet room. I did NOT have a life. So, to learn to live with this… wasn’t an option because I wasn’t really living.

I wish people understood more. I don’t get headaches, and I wish more people could understand how bad migraines are.

This is not a life I would wish on my worst enemy.

Erin, Melissa’s sister

Melissa missed a lot due to her migraines: family birthday dinners, Billy’s high school graduation, and the day I picked out my wedding dress. She tried so hard not to let everyone down and we just kept letting her down.

Melissa’s life, and her story, have completely changed my adult life. It’s made our family realize who and what is important in life. We were a pretty close family before any of this happened, but now we are so much closer.

I want people to understand that the pain is real, the people are real, and the seclusion is real. I don’t want anyone else to feel so hopeless and alone in the fight against migraine and chronic pain that they feel suicide is their only option. I want people who are suffering to reach out, even when the medical community is failing them. I don’t want my baby sister or her story to be forgotten.

Billy, Melissa’s brother

Melissa was an outgoing, personable, and adventurous woman. She was always loud, with an absolutely great sense of humor. Truthfully, I do not think I had any idea how much my sister was struggling. When she started experiencing migraines, I was fairly young, and her struggles continued throughout my teenage years.

Losing my sister has influenced the way I live my life every single day. I decided to pursue a career in social work to advocate for vulnerable populations and to create policies that are compassionate.

Do your best to love and support those who are struggling, in whatever way they need. The isolation caused by my sister’s migraines completely crushed her spirit. If we can put loving people first, and asking questions second, we can change lives.

If anyone reading this is currently struggling, I want to let you know that you are not alone. Remember that there are always people who love you and are willing to walk with you through your pain. Your struggles do not define you.

Becky, Melissa’s mom

She was my drama queen and best friend. She loved to be the center of attention and always wanted to make people laugh. She and I shared so many special conversations, laughs, and heartache as we laid in many hospital beds together so she wouldn’t be alone.

She was 10 years old when her migraines started causing her to miss school. The beginning of being chronic started when she was 16. She made good grades in school, but had a hard time keeping up. She became daily intractable at 19. She started having severe panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. She became moody and, at times, angry from the pain. She had to drop out of college and that literally destroyed her.

She tried over 40 different preventives. She vomited so frequently and so violently that she had a gastric pacemaker placed for gastroparesis and cyclic vomiting syndrome.

The first of four specialists who would refuse to take her case in the last six months of her life said, “There is nothing I can try that you haven’t already tried, so you would be wasting your money and my time coming here—you need a team of doctors to treat you.” It was gut-wrenching to watch her totally defeated after each of these doctors turned her away. It truly was the beginning of the end.

Her friends would come visit her in the hospital all the time, painting her toenails, talking and laughing with her just to distract her from the pain. As she got worse, those friends all seemed to disappear. They thought she was faking it, seeking attention—it became too hard to be her friend.

The best support came when we found the Facebook group Chronic Migraine Awareness, Inc. Prior to that, Melissa felt she was the only person going through this. She made so many special friendships in the short time she was aware of that community, and she treasured that connection.

I knew Melissa was suicidal; she talked very openly about the plan she had if she was ever going to do it, but she also promised me she would never. I knew in my heart and gut before I ever opened her bedroom door what I was going to find. My world as I knew it had ended.

In sharing Melissa’s story, I have met so many beautiful people who suffer daily but continue to support me and give me hope that she will not be forgotten, and that her death was not in vain. I have gotten so many messages from people who were on the brink and told me they thought of Melissa and knew they could not go through with it. I tell people to believe in the pain of others. Isolation can and will kill. So many reach out for that thread of hope—throw them a rope to hang on to.

I have faith that she has saved many lives by me telling her story and supporting others.

Postscript

Starting in 2018, the headache disease community will begin recognizing June 7, the day of Melissa’s passing, as a special remembrance day for all those who have been lost to headache diseases as part of National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month activities.

Resources:

To Write Love On Her Arms: twloha.org

Chronic Migraine Awareness, Inc.: facebook.com/groups/cmaware/

Clusterbusters: clusterbusters.org