The University of San Francisco has a rhetoric requirement that students must complete in order to graduate. I decided to get this requirement over with during my freshman year, so my second semester I took the last two required courses: Written Communication and Public Speaking. The purpose of these classes was to help students communicate effectively and convincingly. To speak honestly, the majority of the course content seemed like common sense to me, but I did manage to take many hard-earned lessons with me. Good and bad.
It was during the final presentation of Public Speaking that I had one of my most detrimental migraine flare ups.
USF has numerous resources for people with disabilities and chronic conditions and I am endlessly grateful for the understanding and care with which they deal with these debilitating circumstances. But, not everyone knows what a migraine is or has even heard of them. The professor of the Public Speaking class I enrolled in for the Spring semester of my freshmen year was a little baffled by my condition and subsequent accommodations, but she was respectful nonetheless.
The Public Speaking final took place during my second to last day of classes before school let out for the summer. I had practiced the criteria of the final until I knew it inside and out. I was prepared. The night before, I went to sleep excited to get the last of my finals done and go home to see my family again.
The final was an “Impromptu Speech.” The assignment was to memorize the simplified structure of a successful speech. Our professor had a powerpoint with 144 slides, and on each slide was a different picture. We would choose a number between 1 and 144 and the professor would click to the slide. We had to create a presentation on the spot from the picture we were shown. I believe her exact words were, “to let your brain jump puddles until you’re comfortable with the puddle you land in.” Basically, she wanted us to come up with tangential ideas from the random pictures we chose.
On the day of the Public Speaking final I had been running around like a mad woman. An appointment with my counselor, a meeting with classmates for a group final project for another class, and a study session in the library for another final. By the time I was heading to the Education building I was beginning to feel the phantom pains of an oncoming migraine. But I went to that final as I was and stayed as my symptoms rapidly got worse.
Here was the problem: This class period was my only chance to take the final for this class.
I have been living with migraines since I was eleven years old and I know they can flare up at unfortunate and inopportune times. I always investigate office hours and make-up opportunities for important projects and exams. The professor of the public speaking class was not offering office hours until I would already be gone for the summer. If I did not make the attempt that day while having a migraine I would not get the grade.
Here was what stuck in my mind that day: I have to at least try.
I walked to class with that phrase as a constant mantra. I have to at least try. I was determined and stubborn, as I am in doing everything in this hectic life. I did not recognize my sudden fatigue as an oncoming migraine until I was already seated, and the rule of presentations in Public Speaking was no classmate was allowed to leave while someone was presenting. So, I could not leave the room to take the medicine I had in my kit that I carried with me. Ridiculous, I know.
I could feel my migraine building as the minutes ticked by and classmates ahead of me in roll-call presented. The pain and murky vision were clouding my ability to think straight. I HAD to at least TRY. I had to.
This was my only chance.
Needless to say, my presentation was an absolute mess. Horrific honestly. I had done so well the previous practice/preparation day I could understand the surprise on my peers’ and professor’s faces. Each student is given three minutes to prepare the simplified sections of their Impromptu speeches. Those three minutes slipped through my hands like nothing. I was physically, literally, horribly incapable of jumping puddles with my brain. I could not think straight to save my life or my final grade. Worst of all, sometimes when I get migraines it impedes my speech. And this happened during an oral final for a speech class.
I remember being so frustrated and angry with myself. I am a good public speaker, I knew I could do better and had done better in the past. The odds were against me and my body rebelled against me. I just wanted to at least try. My stress probably made the migraine worse. Putting this all down in words makes me ill. I wish it hadn’t happened.
At the end of class I went up to my professor. My aura was in full swing and I knew I was squinting and twitching my eyes, but I couldn’t stop. I told her I was having a migraine and that it had affected my presentation. I said to her, “It wasn’t because I didn’t try or didn’t care.” My voice cracked when I said that. I remember how awful the words felt leaving my mouth. Like I could choke on them if I said them any louder. God, I almost cried right in front of her. She looked so sad. She asked, “Can you make it to my office hours?” I told her no, I would be gone before then.
I texted a friend to help me walk back to my dorm. I slept for the rest of the day.
This event is going to haunt me. It’s one of those memories that sneaks up on you when it’s late and you’re trying to go to sleep. I wonder what I could have done differently? But maybe I am making it more difficult for myself with what-ifs. You cannot plan for the spontaneous random happenings of life.
What remains is my determination to persevere. This is not the first time something like this happened to me and it will not be the last. I have to at least try. Always.