I grew up in the small town of Dunnavant, Alabama, the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. I was just a nice normal kid. Then in 2006, I went off to the University of North Alabama and got into partying every night, drinking a lot and taking pills – prescription opiates and barbiturates. They were prescribed for my arthritis and migraines, but I started abusing them and things spiralled out of control. I used to pharmacy hop to get multiple prescriptions; I became an addict.
One night in March 2008, I drank a ton of vodka and washed down a lot of pills. I woke up the next morning and remembered absolutely nothing. I started hiccupping. All morning, they wouldn’t stop. I used to get hiccups a lot, so thought it was just another bout. But they didn’t go away, and my neck and chest started to hurt pretty badly. After a week, I went to the campus infirmary. They just shrugged them off and said nothing was wrong.
How much I would hiccup varied. They would get worse if my stress levels were up, or if I hadn’t had much sleep. On average, I would say I was hiccupping about five times a minute, so almost every 10 seconds.
When I first spoke to my family, they thought I was faking it and just making funny noises over the phone. It was only when I saw them in person that they started to believe me. They could hear me hiccupping all night, even when I was fast asleep, so they knew it was real.
The doctors initially thought it was all in my head. That was a struggle. It made no sense that I would lie about such a thing, because it was painful and annoying. Even today, some doctors I see don’t believe there is such a thing as chronic hiccups.
I got kicked out of class at college one day because I was said to be disruptive and disturbing. It impacted my day-to-day life and what I could do socially; I would never go to the movies, because I thought I would disturb everyone. The problem was not only physically exhausting, but mentally, too.
For a while I went back to drinking as a way to deal with everything, but I realised that was making things worse. So that year I stopped taking pills and drinking. My life got back on track, but the hiccups didn’t go away.
Dating was hard at first. Some people told me it was adorable, which was infuriating. When I first met my husband, I had the hiccups and we watched Monty Python And The Holy Grail. There’s a scene where a guard has constant hiccups, so it became a bit of a joke. Humour became really important in dealing with it.
Over the years I’ve been given lots of different medications. Having tried so many different courses with no improvement, I thought things might never get better. Then, eight years after it started, they eventually got the right combination; my hiccups never stopped completely, but the medication made them a lot less frequent.
It took a long time before I could get back on track with my studies. I finally graduated in 2012. When I later became pregnant, I came off the medication and noticed that the hiccups seemed more manageable, maybe once every three minutes. I haven’t been back on the medication since.
I’ve been sober for so long, I never thought that my hiccups could be linked to my college drug use. It took years of research and appointments before a connection was made by my doctors. They’re not exactly sure why it happens, but apparently chronic hiccups can be caused by any health issue affecting the nervous system, and also anaesthesia.
I’ve now been living with hiccups for 12 years. I feel mentally stronger for going through this, as well as a more patient person. I’m so used to having them that it’s like blinking to me, although my daughter does still giggle when she hears me do it.
• As told to Daniel Dylan Wray