Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fight the Pain pt 3

The suspense is palpable. Here is the third installment in the Pain Fighting Trilogy that addresses the questions: How well am I fighting the pain, and what strategy is really best for me?

In this article, Eight Effective Pain-Relieving Methods by Rebecca Ruiz at, the author says that the most effective treatments for chronic pain involve these eight elements (to varying degrees); physical aids, physical therapy, yoga, medication, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, invasive procedures and counseling, which I agree, pretty much sum up the options.

Here are my takes on medications and invasive procedures.

My current medications are pretty mild. Marijuana, muscle relaxers, infrequent, small doses of caffeine and even rarer high doses of OTC drugs are all I'm working with lately. Which has been, until recently, just fine with me. I've had the distinct displeasure of having a doctor who preferred to write prescriptions rather than explore any other avenues of pain treatment. None of the thirty-some-odd medications he had me try did anything good for me, so a bevy of side effects later, I'm a little gun shy when it comes to pills. There are a lot of drugs out there that I haven't tried and new drugs are discovered to help migraine sufferers all the time, so I am not discounting them forever. I am well aware that there may be a pharmacological cocktail out there that might just work, so I'll keep trying. But, I have learned not to leave my medical care solely in the hands of a doctor, but to insist on having a say in it, so hopefully I won't go through the same pain and discomfort again.

Finally, we come to the last resort, invasive procedures. In googling, I've read about patients and doctors touting implants, nerve blocks, and even surgery to sever nerves and muscles that cause pain as remedies for migraine. Some procedures seem extreme, and the success rate isn't always fabulous, but it seems worth it, some days. Just cut it out, please.

I've considered botox, and would try it if it became financially available. It is a little unnerving to think of injecting botulism into your head, but from what I've read, bad reactions are fairly rare. As for surgery and implants, well, I'm not rushing into anything, but I will probably try anything, if all else fails.

I guess the moral of the story is this: Migraines are Like Snowflakes. No. That's not it. Maybe it's: Try Everything Once. Or: Nothing works for everybody and everything works for no one. Yeah. No. That's definitely not it.

Keep An Open Mind When It Comes To Your Own Health And Medical Treatment, But Not So Open That Your Brain Falls Out And You Turn Over All Medical Decisions To An Impartial, Rushed, Assembly Line Worker With A Medical Degree.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I love to sleep. I always have. I need at least nine hours of sleep a night. Any less and I begin to... change. I get... tired. And you wouldn't like me when I'm tired.

I really enjoy sleeping. I love drifting off. The feeling of slipping away, falling into the relaxation and letting my mind finally stop. Dreaming is an awesome way to work out inner turmoil and to experience fantasies. I don't have lucid dreams often, but when I do, I really enjoy them. I tell off people I'm mad at, I fly and swim and run and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nightmares, while terrifying, provide a cleansing of soul that is sometimes needed. Frustrations, fears and anger all have to come out somehow, I think through dreams is the least destructive. Waking up is all stretching and slow thinking. Enjoying the last remnants of heaviness in my limbs before accepting my fate of consciousness.

On that, it's not that I don't enjoy my waking hours. They're more trying since the head pain started, but not entirely without joy. I have reasons to get out of bed and usually do so cheerfully. I sometimes even put off going to bed (gasp!) because I am having another, more important life experience. Like watching The Mentalist. Has anyone seen that show? That guy is so cute!


Sleep is my favorite food. I taste it and chew on it and swallow it down until I am full and drowsy. I can smell it, it's earthy and warm, like vanilla and morning dew. It feels like silk or the softest baby blanket imaginable, in a deep, dark blue. I curl up inside of it, and around it. My mind embraces it like a lover, intertwined and helpless to its seductive charms.


Also, it's good for migraines! Having the appropriate amount of sleep consistently is very important in keeping my head functional. I don't get sleep-triggered headaches very often, since (I'm not sure if I've made this clear, or not) I am pretty into sleep and making sure I get enough, but sometimes I'll go to bed too late or be woken up too early, or I'll wake up six times in the night to pee, or I'll just fall asleep in a weird position and wake up with my neck cricked and my head announcing my mistake before my eyes are even open. Few and far between, the sleep-triggered headaches are, but brutal.

I occasionally take supplements/drugs to help me sleep. I start with melatonin and chamomile. If that doesn't work, I'll take a soma or two. If I'm still up, it's time for a benadryl or a sleeping aid. I get infrequent bouts of insomnia, but they usually go in spurts of a few days, so I'm careful about overusing that last group. Before the headaches, I would just ride out the insomnia, and go a day or two without sleep. I don't like taking drugs if I can help it and before the pain, I really could deal with little to no sleep pretty easily. I just powered through it. I might get a little punchy but I was fully functional. If I get less than six hours of sleep now, I am dead weight for several days.

I've been trying to go nocturnal for a few months, off and on. Since spring hit, the sun has been particularly painful for me. I'm bringing sunglasses, hats and umbrellas with me whenever I suspect that I'll be exposed for more than 2 seconds, which is becoming awkward, cumbersome and embarrassing. It would be so much easier if that pesky fireball would just stay behind a cloud, or better yet, not even rise! Instead of bending nature to my will and screwing with the natural cycles of light and dark on our planet, it occurred to me to eschew the sun, head for night and never look back. Sounds great, doesn't it? But my sleep won't let me. I wake up no later than 10 am every day. Usually it's much earlier though, between 6 and 8. And the time I wake up seems to have little to do with the time I go to sleep. I tried to ease myself into day-sleeping by pushing bedtime until 2am. My head pushed back by waking me at 6:45 and refusing to let me go back to sleep. Three days of nausea and eyeball throbbing later, I was back to 9pm bedtimes. What I probably need to do is just commit. Keep going to be no earlier than 2, or 4 or whatever makes me go less crazy, until my head gives in and lets me sleep until 5 pm. 3? I'm bargaining and I haven't even started yet!

I'll definitely give it another try. But if my sleep messes with me for more than a week, it's over. Leaving the house freely during my waking hours won't be any fun if I am raging out, sick and in pain all the time.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Fight the Pain Pt 2

Here is the second entry in a trio that addresses the questions: How well am I fighting the pain, and what strategy is really best for me?

In this article, Eight Effective Pain-Relieving Methods by Rebecca Ruiz at, the author says that the most effective treatments for chronic pain involve these eight elements (to varying degrees); physical aids, physical therapy, yoga, medication, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, invasive procedures and counseling, which I agree, pretty much sum up the options.

Here are my takes on yoga, physical therapy, acupuncture and counseling.

I haven't been nearly as active as I should be. I am too easily tired and affected by the weather, or noises, or the glare of the sun. I mean to get a treadmill, so I can stroll indoors, earplugs in, as slowly and for as long as I want. Until then, I lay dormant. I've tried yoga, and loved it for a long time, but for the past few months any change in head elevation brings great pain. That knocks out about 95% of the poses I am familiar with. Not to say I couldn't bust out with a little warrior or corpse, I just miss my down dog. I do manage some stretching in the shower, maybe it's the hot water on my skin that keeps the blood rushing to my head or maybe the steam is soothing somehow, but that's the only place I can bend over without immediately regretting it when I stand up again. I love hot, hot, hot showers. I almost always feel better afterward, at least temporarily.

Massage and physical therapy are the first appointments I am going to make once I get insurance. I know they work. Relaxing tense muscles, cranial massage, trigger point therapy, and meditation are powerful tools in pain management. I get my boyfriend to rub me down, use my theracane or a tennis ball on my knots, and use self-hypnosis techniques to try to relax into the pain. It helps, but the results are, unfortunately, very temporary.

I haven't tried acupuncture yet. It's on my list. I'm ambivalent about it, honestly. I've read studies in which the placebo group had just as much success as the group who received "legitimate" acupuncture, so I am skeptical. That doesn't mean I won't try it out, though. Even if it's the placebo effect, if it gives a reprieve from the pain, I'll take it.

Counseling is also on my short list. I feel like I am dealing with the chronic pain and disability pretty well, given my personality type. But I can't deny that a little outside intervention and perspective would be extremely useful. I get depressed, and sometimes feel self destructive and a little suicidal. Not to worry, I have plenty to live for, despite the pain, but sometimes I just wish I could be put into a coma until the headache goes away. Those are the times when I wish I had narcotics in the house. Muscle relaxers and weed can only do so much. But, I have the Logic fairy on my right shoulder to remind me that I will live through it. (Impulse, in the meantime, is considering gobbling mouthfuls of pills from the "useless rx box" we haven't gotten around to cleaning out.) Yeah, I could use a little therapy. Heh.

To be concluded...


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not Wallowing

Dwelling on the pain is usually the worst thing I can do. Says the girl in her migraine blog of ultimate dwell.

Avoiding wallowing can be difficult, but I'm not making it easy on myself. I keep a detailed headache diary, in a small notebook I take with me everywhere I go. I write here almost every day. I google phrases like "migraine chronic new treatment" and "therapy chronic pain alternative" and "disabled resources california" constantly. Friends and family ask about it. I have to explain it to everybody who wants to talk to me on the phone (because I can't). I consider it deeply with every invitation received. I am always distracted and/or consumed by the neverending headache.

NOT wallowing and NOT dwelling and NOT immersing myself in my head twenty-four hours a day can be hard. I garden, cook, fiddle on the net and watch television to distract myself. I have a few people I spend time with regularly. I have outside interests. But the headache never goes away and it taints everything and I can't avoid it, no matter what I do.

Now that we've established that I am definitely wallowing over here (sigh), let's talk more about how I'm not. And how I'm moving on, or trying to.

In spite of my head tainting all I do, I do it. For example: I went to the beach recently.

It was fabulous. I walked on the wet sand, hunted for cool rocks, shells and seaglass. I frolicked gently with my friends and family.

Also, I make sure to see my parents every weekend, regardless of my head state. It is often painful, but they accommodate me pretty well and are accustomed to me wearing earplugs and walking around with an icepack on my head, so the mocking is kept to a minimum. Besides that, I spend as much time as I can with friends. Which isn't often, admittedly.

At home, I keep myself busy with gardening.

I love my plants, a little too much maybe. I've got zucchini and tomatoes growing in containers and bell pepper, spaghetti squash and grape tomato seedlings waiting patiently for me to get around to transplanting them. I have a bunch of non-food-bearing plants, too, including a few spider plants, a pretty little weeping fig, a gold dust croton, and a daisy bush. I enjoy watering, pruning, propagating, pollinating and inspecting my garden daily and it keeps me from getting too stuck in my own head even when I am at my worst. It's funny, before headaches, I had a real problem keeping plants alive. Now, my porch and my bedroom are filled with green. It's a true and deep love that I've discovered. Getting dirt under my nails, the smell of earth as I water as the sun comes up, the particular shade of green common to anything young and just sprouting, they are all calming and almost meditative for me.

Other than zen-gardening, I knit, sometimes. I play with and train my dog.

I take her for walks or to the park, if I can. I've started taking my camera with me everywhere I go and I've really been enjoying taking photos of interesting things in my path.

I've dabbled in the diy scene. I have cooking binges when I feel good (and freeze the leftovers for when I don't). Other, less productive, hobbies include: online gaming, television/movie watching, idle internetting and writing. I have a boyfriend, with whom I discuss international affairs. And we cuddle on couch. Besides all of these wonderful things that fill my time, there is always some housework to do.

See, I don't have time to wallow. I consider myself lucky to have so many people, places and things in my life to keep me alive, interesting, motivated and happy. And totally uninterested in wallowing.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Fight the Pain Pt 1

I ran across this great article, Eight Effective Pain-Relieving Methods by Rebecca Ruiz at (the article is here) and it got me thinking. How well am I fighting the pain, and what strategy is really best for me?

I've split this entry into three, for length. This is part one.

In the article, the author says that the most effective treatments for chronic pain involve these eight elements (to varying degrees); physical aids, physical therapy, yoga, medication, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, invasive procedures and counseling, which I agree, pretty much sum up the options.

Here are my takes on the Alexander Technique and physical aids.

First of all, I had never heard of the Alexander Technique. In the article, it is explained as a lesson in posture and movement, to correct bad habits. I had great posture as a kid. I went to a private school for elementary and they constantly corrected posture. I have vivid memories of wearing plaid and having my back tapped by a yardstick. When I switched to public school, everyone slouched. I noticed, and I forever ruined my back by trying to fit in, in a weird way. Also, I hit puberty suddenly at about the same time, shot up a few more inches to tower over my classmates and then I sprouted boobs. I was very self-conscious of these rapid changes, so I started slouching and hunching to cover the changes. (It didn't work.) AND, I apparently have a mild case of scoliosis. I try to be mindful of my body position and its effect on my head (hint: HUGE trigger) but in general, my posture is bad. Besides being generally slouchy, I hunch when my head hurts, which is the worst thing I could do. If my back starts to hurt, it just travels up. My shoulders, neck and head are all subject to the whims of my back. So, I could probably use a lesson or two in movement and posture.

Physical aids like ergonomic chairs and and screen filters for your monitor can reduce triggers, thus reducing headache frequency and/or severity. Also, in the physical aid category for migraine and headache disorders are dark sunglasses, earplugs, and non-flickering light bulbs. My innocent looking laptop is a trigger, but it helps that I have my color settings on "High Contrast Black", meaning the background is black, letters white, and links and titles are blue. Webpages that override a browser's default settings can trigger immediate nausea and stabbing eye and head pain for me. The shock of a bright white page to my eyes is just too much nowadays. I am subject to internet rage when trying to navigate a website with a bright background or with a lot of moving graphics.

When sitting or laying down, I make sure to change positions often enough so nothing gets sore or stiff or falls asleep. Strategically placed pillows and mindfulness are key because, again, a sore back is going to travel upwards.

I do my best to avoid lightbulbs. Even the benign ones, non-flickering I guess, still bother me because it is a light source, period. I have a pretty floral print sarong over the standing lamp in my bedroom, which diffuses the light enough so it's tolerable. I sometimes wear a hat with a visor to combat overhead lighting. I should really get some tinted glasses to wear at all time. Something specifically for migraineurs. I read here that there is a machine that can help pick the right tint for each person by showing them text with different colored overlays. The one that feels the best or is the least irritating is chosen and we all live happily ever after. Yeah, no. But they had a few testimonials that were positive.

To be continued....

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pushing It

My favorite quality about myself is my determination. I can be a lazy, fickle, unfocused procrastinator. But when I really want something, or if everything is falling apart around me, a will of steel emerges and I get stuff DONE. This comes in mighty handy when my head hurts but we need dog food, for example. I have no choice but to power through it. Or my dog dies.

Thinking in that kind of extreme can help me get on my feet. I'll think to myself, "Get a grip. Pain is only pain. The worst it can do is hurt. But the dog needs to eat. Can't let the dog die. If she doesn't have food every day, I am a bad dog owner. So, take a deep breath, and GET UP!" And most days, I do. Then it's a matter of working with/through the pain to walk, buy, speak, reach, bend, drive, and deal. I tend to count my steps or sing to myself in my head. Or think only of the next few steps in my action. "Go to the register and pay. Where is the money? Back pocket. Am I breathing? Stop hunching. Look away from the lights. Don't walk into the pole..." You get the idea. :) It's all coping skills and survival instincts in the middle of the local urban grocery store. When it's over and I'm finally back home, back in my comfies and tired from all the coping, I am in danger of getting a letdown headache as soon as I sit or lay back down. Best thing to do is get the icepack, a big cup of water, maybe a little caffeine, take some drugs if I have them, and then lay down and be quiet while my head gets revved up. It's no use fighting it, unless I've got a damn good reason, I usually just try to ride it out.

I must anticipate the pain and be prepared for it at all times. But that doesn't mean I'm always afraid of it. I use my determination, my strength of will, my need to experience life and refusal to give up or give in to a challenge to keep me moving. It's always there, my head, but it's not the center of my universe, I am.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pretty (Weird) Pictures

I've been making self-portraits using an online photo editing program, Picnik. I like trying to translate what I feel into a visual medium. Also, it gives me something to do when I am stuck to the couch.

Water. I often meditate on water. I imagine I am floating, or sinking, or waves are washing over me. Water is very soothing.

Circuitry. Electrical impulses. Synapses and neurons. Blood and bone.

Pieces. Obvious.

Crumble. Despite my face falling apart, my eyebrows look fantastic. Figures.

Photophobia. Not the fear of, but the aversion to. Despite the dark, halos abound.

Sunflower. So named for the colors. The colors were chosen to represent the feeling of the sun on my face, another meditation technique.