The Cost of a Migraine

Every little girl has a dream of what she wants to be when she grows up. For many, it’s a lifelong goal and they actually get to do what they want, or at least come very close. For others, our dreams change as we get older and for still others, the dreams never culminate in anything more than that- dreams.

I’ve always been different, never really went with the norm. If you asked me in the 8th grade what I wanted to do, I would tell you in all my 13 year old wisdom that I wanted to be a journalist. I wrote for the school newsletter and fully intended on working on my high school paper, as well. Recalling the fervor with which I believed I could change the world with a scathing article over why we didn’t get lunches when our parents paid tuition embarrasses me now. Then I realized I didn’t want such a passive job, I wanted in on the action, not just to observe and report. I could feel my ideals shifting but it wasn’t clear where I was heading. I would figure it out in time, but my dreams never came to fruition due to one reason. Not my bipolar or depression, not my heart murmur or my thick glasses or my skinny ankles but my migraines.

I got my first migraine when I was 9 years old. I was in school and I asked the teacher if I could use the restroom. The bell dismissing us for the day was about to ring, so she told me I could hold it till then. I was miserably nauseated and I honestly thought my head was going to explode. After the teacher told me to go sit down, I did. And promptly emptied the contents of my stomach onto my desk, the floor, everywhere. Ironically, the teacher who refused to let me go to the bathroom had to clean it up. I stayed home the next day, mortified and sure people would pick on me for the rest of my life and that “puked on desk” would go on My Permanent Record, you know, the record the teachers warned you was on file and would follow you for all eternity. From that point on, I would get migraines every Monday or every first day back at school after a holiday. We only had one bathroom in my house and I recall having to throw up in the basement wash basin because someone else was using the restroom, and always after Monday night dinner.  Fortunately, with time, the nausea went away, but I would still get frequent migraines. Once I got to high school, they were a lot better and I attributed the bad spate of headaches with the stress I felt in junior high from being bullied.

I started working full time right after high school and went to community college part time, not really having a major or any specific goal in mind. Not long after I started working more hours, my migraines increased again. Taking 4 classes at college while working dropped down to just 2 classes and I was getting frustrated. Somewhere in the course of going to school at night after work, I finally figured out what I wanted to do and it surprised me. I wanted to be a firefighter. The college I was at had a fire sciences program, and I was looking at all the requirements, started working out to be up for the physical challenges of the job as well. My parents were surprised but supportive and I decided in fall I would apply for the fire sciences program. Then my migraines launched the worst attack I had ever had in my entire life (until now that is). I would wake up, go to work, sleep immediately when I got home, shower and go back to bed. I barely ate, I dropped to one class at college. It was so bad I used to sneak into a quiet room at my job and sleep for 20 minutes in the hope of reducing the intensity of the migraine. I went to the doctor and the first battery of tests began. I got my wisdom teeth pulled to see if that was contributing. I had allergy testing done, I had a CT scan. I was put on a new medication every 4 weeks and the neurologist simply said he could find no cause. Finally, I had to drop out of college. The next several years of my life involved new medicines, doctor’s visits, counseling and tears.

Years down the road, I found a medicine that worked and it helped me for nearly five years before I had to stop using it due to damage it caused my kidneys. Subsequent medicines proved less effective, but I am here at that desperate place again, hoping my new medicine will be “the one”.  I have accepted that my employer will never give me a perfect attendance award. I have accepted that I will miss out on family get togethers and fun nights out with friends due to my migraines. I have accepted that having a romantic relationship is very difficult both due to my migraines and being bipolar- it’s no fun to be with someone who is always napping, hurting or just miserable. I have never accepted the betrayal of my own body costing me my dream, however.  When a fire engine goes speeding past me, I feel just like Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, that sadness of your dream passing you by and you’ll never catch it.  Last year, I did get to pretend, though. One of the fire squads that works with my hospital offered to let me ride along for a shift. It was exciting and fun. But it helped cement the finality of it, as well.  Migraines have cost me more than I ever thought they could. I won’t stop fighting them, though. I owe my dream that much, at least- to fight the migraines as bravely as I would have fought a fire.

HyperBrain

No, I’m not manic or even hypomanic, but my mind has been spinning since last week. Everything from coming to terms with the death of my coworker to ideas on how to get back on track with my diet to post ideas. I’m also still in the midst of trying to solve the problem of my intractable migraines. I underwent a home sleep study to determine if I have sleep apnea, which my doctor believes may be contributing to my migraines. I never really thought I snored, and it’s not like I can really call my ex-fiancee and ask him if I snore, but the sleep study showed I do, in fact, have trouble breathing. The test results were deemed inconclusive, however, and now I have to go through a monitored sleep study. At least it’s not painful, but you certainly don’t rest too easily with all kinds of wires attached to you.

As far as post ideas are concerned, I have a few ideas knocking around my head, still really trying to flesh them out. I try to write about all kinds of things, but sometimes the ideas become too big or elaborate and they get away from me. I have been reading the amazing writing of Esme Weijun Wang (www.esmewang.com) and her fluid, nearly poetic style always gets me jazzed about writing more. I encourage you to read her blog and take note of the photos she uses that showcase normal daily objects and scenes yet they somehow look otherworldly.

My emotional overeating has plateaued, triggered by stress at work. One unfortunate side effect of my medications is that I have gained weight. It’s not much, maybe 4 or 5 lbs, but I don’t want it to get out of control. I was starting to really beat myself up over it and then I decided to cut myself some slack. True, I need to get the emotional eating under control, but berating myself might trigger another episode, or worse yet, an episode of self harm.

Finally, as autumn truly arrives, I find myself feeling nostalgic and sentimental. I long to spend time with family, to have a refresher course on crocheting with my grandmother, to hike with my aunt, to watch endless hours of football on the reclining couch with my dad. I know this sentimentality/nostalgia partly stems from the death of my coworker. You remember how precious life is, and tangible items, things you can see and hold and feel take on a special and nearly mystical meaning. Sometimes the sentimental feeling makes you realize all you’ve lost and other times it helps you embrace all you still have. I hope to write more about this later, but I need to do a little picture taking first.

As always, please feel free to comment and thank you for reading!

On Loss

Today, I stayed home from work due to another bad migraine with accompanying nausea. I was in bed most of the day, largely unaware of anything going on in the world around me. Right about dinner time, my best friend called me. It’s unusual for her to call, we see each other at work just about everyday and text nonstop, so I knew something was up. She told me, through tears, that a coworker of ours had been found dead in his apartment. He was only 25 and leaves behind a 4 year old daughter. There were no obvious signs of suicide or foul play, so until an autopsy is performed, we have no idea why he is gone. To be honest, I didn’t always get along with my now deceased coworker. But over the last few months, as I got to know him more, we were certainly becoming friends. I think that’s what is hurting me the most right now, not the suddenness of his passing or anything, it’s the reality of all the things he will never be able to do. Watch his daughter grow up, finish his degree, live a nice long life full of helping other people. I said a prayer for my coworker and admitted to God that I really don’t understand this.

As most of you know, I work in a hospital in the emergency room. We deal with life and death on a minute by minute basis. With time, you learn to compartmentalize your feelings, as it’s absolutely essential in an environment like that. It’s how you’re able to go from assisting on a full arrest to taking care of the patient with a resolvable illness. You learn to keep yourself mostly detached from the emotional experience so that you can do your job. That’s not to say you have no feelings or that you’re insensitive, but that you put the emotions of your patient above your own, and deal with your feelings later. We go through training on helping people in all aspects- the body, heart, mind and spirit. We have policies and procedures galore on everything from what we wear to what medications we use to how to use our equipment and so on. But there is no procedure on this. There is no way to handle being told someone you work with on a daily basis is gone and that his sweet little girl no longer has her daddy.

The only way out is through- that motto is more or less the mantra of my life. And I suppose it’s the motto my workplace will be living for the next few months.

 

Muddling Through the Migraines

Welp, I saw the new neurologist this week at the Headache Clinic in a nearby hospital. The fact that the neurologist actually said “Whoa, that’s a lot” when I told her how many migraine days I have per month was a bit offputting and borderline amusing. So now I try a new drug and I will be going back to the Headache Clinic for what is called an occipital nerve block. Essentially, they will be injecting anesthetic and a steroid into the muscles above my neck in the back of my head. The hope is that with repeated sessions of nerve blocks, the inflammation causing the migraines will reduce. My neurologist is hoping it will present a 50% reduction in my headaches, which doesn’t sound great, but when you say 10 headache days per month instead of 20, that is huge.

I now muddle through the beginnings of yet another new medication course that again has a whole lot of expectation riding on it’s chemical shoulders. Having a game plan has eased my mind at least a little, but depression still lingers in the background, a wisp of darkness I see in my peripheral vision, just waiting to take over. The usual worries about money lurk and working overtime this week has left me bone tired.  Work itself has been it’s own bizarre stressor of late. Clashing personalities, power struggles and just being plain busy have amounted to one big mess. I do the best I can to leave it at the door when I get home, but honestly, the emotional overeating/binge eating is making a comeback. Lucky for me, being poor means you can’t buy all the Halloween candy at the store and my food allergy prevents me from eating an entire cheese danish, much as I would like to.

Interestingly, in the midst of all this, God has given me yet another reason to stop and say to Him “You have a wacky sense of humor” by reviving that thing I thought was dead, namely my heart. Too soon to really tell you all much suffice to say it’s not The Paramour.

I’d like to thank everyone who read, shared and commented on my last post. It means a lot to know I’m not alone in my suffering. I don’t particularly buy into the whole “creative genius stems from mental illness” thing, which means to say I know I’m not a great writer by any means so it does mean a lot when someone says “me too” based on my rambling stream of words. I also really appreciate everyone’s suggestions and love to see the little bit of community that sometimes pops up on a blog’s comment stream.

A Sad, Soggy Mess

The last few months have found me suffering from my migraines a bit more than previously. This combined with the bipolar and financial worries have me feeling so incredibly stressed out. The frustration with the migraines is really the worst part of it, but it exacerbates nearly every other problem I’m having in a vicious cycle. I get a migraine, so I call off of work, lose pay for that day and then I stress about money. Then I start beating myself up for it, saying that I should have gone in to work, I should be more responsible with my money, etc etc. This sends me into a depression, I stop taking care of myself, and then we’re back to square one.

I go to a migraine clinic tomorrow, where I will, once again, undergo various tests, answer a billion questions and then leave, feeling no more relieved, understood or hopeful. I keep trying to have hope, to think that maybe this neurologist will have the answers, that they will find the magic drug to take away the pain. The research I have done on my own has revealed there is a huge comorbidity of migraine and bipolar. This particular information has resulted in me having a cartoonish image of just what my brain looks like with all of it’s neurological and biological flaws.

The last few days I have felt especially tearful, but I refrain from crying because that, too, gives me a headache. I truly am a sad soggy mess at present.

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

As I type this, I am in pain. I slipped and fell on my kitchen floor today, not fun. Besides that, I’m in emotional pain from a particular individual I work with who is cruel and miserable. Her harsh words triggered a depressive spiral that I haven’t been able to come out of. I’m actually surprised by the level of this depression. It came on suddenly and is painfully insidious. I’m having very dark thoughts and I am finding day to day duties difficult to complete.

I usually find some solace in one of my many hobbies, but I’ve lost interest in most of them. I know this is most likely temporary, but it is still disheartening. I am having trouble in regards to conversing with God, as well. My mind is too crowded with doubts and insults. I try to comfort myself with knowing that no matter what, God does still love me and I’m nowhere near as awful as my mind (and some people) would like me to believe.

I am afraid there is no feel good takeaway in this post, I just cannot summon brightness in the midst of this dark depression. But I will keep holding on, ignoring the lies depression tells me.

Why I Left

This is a difficult post to write, one I’ve debating writing for some time. But recent events have brought new light to bad memories and I feel I should take the opportunity to share my experience, so that it might help others.

I am a survivor of domestic violence. Ten years ago, I dated a drug-addicted, mentally unstable young man who attempted to control my life through various means: threats, emotional manipulation and outright violence. When sober, he was charming and brilliant. When he was in a bad mood or had been drinking or using drugs, he was a monster. Because it could trigger memories for readers who have been there or readers suffering from PTSD, I will spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, it went from a relationship with a coworker to a complete nightmare that had me fearing for my safety and the safety of my family.

I am not sure how I feel about this whole #WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft hashtag thing. Domestic violence and spousal abuse is so much more than you can fit into 140 characters. Hashtag activism will not help this. What will help is a different attitude towards the issue, meaning not blaming the victim and giving the abusers a pass. I don’t know it all, I have never claimed to, but I do know from my own experience that domestic violence is a complicated issue with no one size fits all solution. It affects all economic classes, all social classes, everyone. It causes a strain on our legal system, our medical system and our social systems. The current goings on in the NFL show that it happens to even financially well off couples.

I guess I could tell you all what I learned from the situation, which is that I am a human being deserving of respect, just like you. I am now a much more cautious person, less trusting and I don’t care much for being near drunk or aggressive people. It’s had a negative impact on my mental health that I try to counteract every day. However, it has made me a better health care worker, it’s easy for me to put myself in the shoes of an abuse victim. I find that despite my mistrust, I’m a little less judgmental of certain situations. With all the media coverage on the Ray Rice incident, the prevalent question has been “Why did his fiancee marry him?”. It’s a loaded question. We have only seen one incredibly terrible part of their relationship. And I know that within my own personal experience, I stayed for a while because I felt he needed me. Janay Rice has her own reasons for staying and I personally am not going to judge her for that.

Much like mental illness, you can explain domestic violence clearly to someone who has never experienced it, but it doesn’t mean they will “get it”. There’s no way to express the fear for your life, the mind games, the financial controlling, all of it. I really don’t know how to help the conversations happen, besides the obvious advice of simply starting the conversation. I guess all I can conclude with is that if you find yourself in the situation of domestic violence, you aren’t stuck. It won’t be easy, but you can have a normal life again. And most of all, you are, in fact, an amazing, wonderful person who deserves to be treated well.

I welcome your comments and emails, as always.