Monday, September 6, 2010

Migraine tales

Sadly, I lost a good two to three days this weekend to a migraine. This one was a baddie--I felt the usual pain (like three nails being driven into specific places on the right side of my head) but also had a good bit of nausea. And I still haven't gotten rid of the muscle tension--it feels like the right side of my back, from the middle to my neck, needs the world's most intense massage. Or maybe shock therapy.

I've been having migraines for about 20 years now, and I would like to be done with them.

For the first 15-ish years, I just focused on getting rid of them. I was astounded how much doctors and scientists don't know about headaches. (They know a bit more now than they did 20 years ago, but still, it's amazing to think that headache is still so rampant...) I signed up for whatever medication seemed like it would do the job.

That worked fine for a while, and when it stopped working there was a new medication to try. When that one stopped working--around the time that I got my tenure-track job--and my headaches got more frequent, the only thing that was appropriate for me was a pain-killer: one on board, with a nap in a dark room, and the headache would leave, sometimes. It felt like the medication would break the pain-fear-tension cycle long enough for my body to stop hurting. I could always feel when the stuff would start to work: it felt like all the joints in my body were un-coupling, loosening and floating, and soon my head would follow.

After a couple years, the day finally arrived when I had a bad headache, took a pain pill, experienced no change, took a second pain pill, and still nothing happened, no relief. I looked down that road and didn't like what I saw. A couple weeks later, a woman I had met at the UU fellowship in my town gave me the business card of a local acupuncturist. I figured it was a sign.

I was a bit skeptical, but I also thought that the practice wouldn't have been around for thousands of years if it didn't work at least part of the time, and I was excited that it didn't have the chemical side effects of taking medication (and especially of being addicted to pain-killers), so I tried it.

Acupuncture has worked wonders for me. I am not cured--obviously. But the frequency of my debilitating migraines has gone way down. (Because I live in Ohio and not someplace on the west coast, I've had to pay for all of this out of pocket--yet another aspect of our health care and health insurance systems that makes no sense to me...)

I'm still pursuing treatment; I'd still like a cure. But in the meantime, I try to think about the lessons available to me as a person who can be laid flat by signals in her own body. I try to think about pain the way mystics did centuries ago: as a teacher, or a test, or even a gift. (I have to admit, that last one is too much of a stretch for me just yet.)

I am trying to learn to surrender, to know that doing nothing for the better part of three days is the task I have been given to do and not worry about the things that aren't getting done during that time. I am trying to learn that asking for help and being waited on aren't things to be ashamed of. (It was so much easier for me to learn and practice that concept when I broke my arm a few years ago--a traumatic injury excused it more convincingly, somehow. Trying that with a chronic illness seems harder.)

Sometimes, when I've survived a bad one and the weather is gorgeous after a storm (like it is today, the storm having arrived with the pain), I feel like maybe this is what it's about: notice this. Notice that the sky is blue and crickets are singing; notice that the wind in your face feels like motion; notice that the air smells dry and your legs feel strong on the walk home. This is the gift: the mundane things I might take for granted all seem new, and precious.

(This tree, on my way to campus, stopped me in my tracks today...)

I think I'm on the other side of this one now; I've woken up two mornings with pressure, but not pain, in my head, and have been back at work for a day. I'm catching up on whatever I can get to without sending myself back into that dark territory of hurt. And in the meantime, I'm listening for what else I'm supposed to learn...

May you feel good today,


  1. Hey Karen, Hope you are well today, Sept 9th. This golden barked chan oyate "tree person" looks like a Scots Pine. Sweet photo. Looks like you are open to learning about the teachings of migraines. Are you familiar with Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life? My Mom, Peg Weaver who lived to a ripe young life of 97, did a lot of healing from it. Here is what Louise Hay says about the probable cause of migraine headaches: "Dislike of being driven. Risisting the flow of life." New thought pattern "I relax into the flow of life and let life provide all that I need easily and comfortably. Life is for me." Or as Albert might teach at sun dance "wi choni" for life. We do this so the people may live. My you feel well today! Will you be in Delaware, the land of Moses Bixby Oct 25-26. I will likely be staying with my cousin in Troy and want to drive over. I will contact you!

  2. Han, sic'esi Tom!

    Thanks for asking; the head pressure and back pain is finally gone, so things are looking up. (whew)

    It sounds like I need to read Louise Hey. I'd say she has me pegged--at least partly... Sounds like I need to pray to the water spirits a bit more seriously and ask them to help me figure out how to flow... Thanks for the tip, and for the reminder about Sun Dance!

    October sounds good. We should be in town, so please do be in touch!

  3. Have you given any thought to allergies to particular foods as triggers? My mom used to get debilitating migraines, and then she stopped eating cheese and I don't know what all else - a couple other things - and they went away. I can't remember how she arrived at that particular conclusion, but it was like night and day.

  4. Hi, LemonGloria!

    I've tried a lot of things, and have even cut way back on caffeine in recent years. Mine seem to be keyed to my cycle primarily (boy, am I looking forward to menopause!), and the weather secondarily. If it's a certain place in my cycle AND we have a weather front move through, I'm doomed.

    But thanks for the tip. I'm glad your mom found some relief!

  5. Ugh. Sorry to hear you, too, get migraines. I get them, fortunately only occasionally. They seem to be triggered mostly by radical changes in the weather front for me. (Oh, and visits from my mother -- bada-bump! Thanks, I'll be here all week, folks!)The worst is thinking that other people think you're being a wimp because you can't take a headache, but whatev. No one expects you to carry on with a railroad spike in your head. Why is this any different?

    Wishing you a happy head for the foreseeable future.


  6. Wow that was so REAL! I just took a couple of vicoden !
    I can not imagine having more than one of those headaches! I am such a pussy I would be looking for the ammo...for real, I would be.
    I hope that you find the source of the headaches- I know they are mysterious. My son has Bell's Palsy, and with that come headaches- the only thing that has helped has been lymph massage- we tried every other thing- thousands spent on accupucture, steroids, homeopathy...but the lymph massage is the only thing that works for might give it a try.
    Stay well!