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.
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,