It’s said that diamonds are made from pressure, immense pressure and compaction of coal that eventually turns into some of the hardest material on the planet. Goody for it.
It’s an entirely different matter when the same process happens to your head…
A Medical Condition
In accepting that its time to be more public about sharing my personal thoughts and ideas on the internet, I realize I have to be upfront about my health. This concept is still a bit strange for me because I always used my past attempts for blogging to be a planned set of content that got me from point a to point b. The theory back then was to try to deliver what possible readers would find interesting.
Now, with the idea being more a way of discussing what is on my mind as if it was valid to anyone but me, it puts me in a unique position. Admission.
I suffer from chronic migraines. I’ve had them since I was a teenager and when I turned 19 it went from painfully functional to debilitating. This was in 1999 and back then the word migraine meant very little. In fact if you didn’t have initials behind your name, you probably didn’t know what it meant or even heard of it.
In less than 20 years that has changed dramatically.
Talking about my migraines isn’t that strange to me however, I’ll mention it on my Facebook page and recently did a Twitter post about the one I had today, but that’s because I have decided not to discount the significance of it in my life.
Opening my eyes
For most chronic conditions I have found there is a cycle. Much like grief I suppose, but the cycle is the same no matter the condition.
- Living with it
It’s only recently, within the last few months, that I’ve finally hit stage 5 I believe, living with it. I realize it may sound strange considering that I’ve had these for the length of time that I’ve had them. Pulling out my trusty calculator, I figure 24 years dealing with them, 19 of those as an official diagnosis.
The thing about chronic pain is that it’s hard to accept making the change from feeling it from time to time, to having it affect your life for a full month and not realizing it. The last time it happened I realized it was time to stop avoiding reality.
It’s not going away…
The escalation from pain that made it hard to think to pain that laid me out in a darkened room with medicine to help me sleep because I couldn’t do it any other way took me by surprise. I honestly didn’t know what was going on which triggered a panic attack. It was a co-worker that found me, head on my desk, unable to even speak. I had to write in the creepy scratchy writing of a serial killer ‘help me’. It spurred him into action and I got the help I needed.
Several months passed before my doctor asked me if I’m seeing funny wavy lines in my eyes before or during an attack. Since I was getting the severe headaches three times a week, I was able to say “uh, yeah” at which point he sent me to a specialist. I got my head examined, the specialist confirmed that yes, I have migraines then we started trying to figure out my triggers and medicine regimen. Great fun… hardly.
Fortunately I was in the military at the time so I had all the support I needed… until they wanted to have me go through a medical board. It was only because I demonstrated that I really wanted to be in the military and had a supervisor and doctor who was willing to stand behind me that I managed to get through it.
My supervisor once asked my doctor if he could give an explanation of what I was going through in a way he could understand. My doctor asked him if he’d ever had a four-alarm hang over. My supervisor confirmed he had and my doctor said “imagine it as being ten times worse than that, without the fun of drinking to earn it”. In all these years I’ve yet to find a better explanation than that.
Learning happens in two stages. The first is learning what they hell it is that you’ve got. In my case it’s migraines so I asked the four primary questions.
- What are migraines?
- How do I stop them?
- When will I get them?
- Why do I get them?
I won’t bother giving the answer for the first one, search migraines and you’ll find out. Hell, you can even wait for the right commercial and you’ll find information because they have to push the next new drug. As for when I get them, it depends on many factors. Some I can control, others I can’t.
How do I stop them? Sometimes medicine works, most of the time it doesn’t. To complicate my situation is that I have a fast metabolism for medicine (not food though, which is irritating) as some of it just won’t work for me. The more I use something the higher the odds it’ll become ineffective for me. As a result of that, I have to be cautious about using my medicine.
Leaving me with why – it’s genetic. A little tidbit that was failed to be mentioned to the family until after I was diagnosed and I was in person with my grandmother after a brutal one had passed. She looked at me and told me “you know, your great great aunt used to be laid out like that for days too.”
Gee, thanks Grandma. Grandma, I love and miss you, but your timing was atrocious in telling me all about that aspect.
The second stage is learning any and all information there is about the condition. In some ways that’s how you answer the above questions, in other ways it provides comfort to know that you’re no the only with a head that feels like it’s betraying you.
For me, this was the longest phases. The longer it went on, the more my doctor kept telling me that I had to adjust how I live, my diet, my expectations…
Heh, I’d like to say that I finally grew to accept it, but the reality is that I continued to believe that it might fade away. It didn’t help that my head was filled with conversations from others who had dealt with migraines. Newly engaged, one woman whose daughter I babysat, had told me when she gave birth to her daughter, her migraines were cured.
Can you imagine how I felt when I learned I was pregnant with my first one? I had hoped I’d be equally as lucky. I wasn’t, not exactly, but I did see a significant decrease in frequency. When before I was getting them two to three times a week even on my medicine regimen, I managed to go nine months without any but the low-grade headaches. This was good for me because when you’re pregnant you can’t take the meds that would help.
After she was born, the trend continued and for a few years I managed to have few of the severely pain ones and the low-level pressure in my temples remained that way. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but I called it a win.
Then I got pregnant with my son and backwards I went. Ten years later, I still get at least one a month with varying severity. There are more months where I get more than just one as well. Worse, as I get older I’m finding that my triggers are changing, I’m even finding new ones. Goody, goody right?
After leaving the military with the birth of my daughter, my migraines only affected our family for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there was still an effect on my home life. Events canceled because I was laid up, my ex having to take a day from work because I couldn’t care for the kids sometimes. Other times I had to fight the urge to take more medicine than I’m supposed to.
That’s not even counting the times when I had to go to the hospital just so I could get some kind of relief.
When my ex suggested heavily that I get a job, I realized that I had a responsibility to let my employer know of my condition and I had to relearn how to work with my chronic pain. As a web developer, that made my job even more difficult due to being light-sensitive (severely at times).
After he left, I had to learn how to manage my children, my work, and my condition without another adult to support me. I am fortunate that my children were old enough to know and understand what it means when I say my head hurts. Still, while I lived with my migraines, it wasn’t until recently that I understood how much of my life revolves around them. Then I received a major wake-up call.
Living with it
Late March to early April 2017 is a bit of a blur for me. I remember doing things, I remember celebrating my kids birthdays. I recall going to work, but if I was asked to recall any specifics, all I can do is shrug. I do remember feeling like I was living under a blanket. Some days it was just pain, other days it was like a shadow covered me non-stop. Waking, eating, showering, working, sleeping… it never seemed to stop.
I think I had a few days that had very little pain, but again I can’t recall it. I do remember when it finally eased up though. I went to work, turned on my computer then stared as I tried to figure out why my monitors were so damn dark. I turned to my boss to ask him how long was I dealing with migraines, a week right?
He gave me a solemn look and said “about four weeks”.
What?!? I stared at him for a long time and I think he understood exactly the surprise and shock that gave me because he sighed and told me it was all right. It wasn’t, not really, but I understood that he was saying it was the price we pay when having a chronic condition.
Many don’t know, not even my family or close friends, that my head always hurts. I have this pressure that always sits in my temples. Sometimes it feels like someone is squeezing a little harder and other times it explodes. Today was a pressure day, where too much light hurt, too much movement antagonized, and higher thinking skills was a struggle.
I could talk, joke around and laugh with my co-workers, I could do the basic skills, but troubleshooting code was difficult. I think what I hate the most is that I feel like it’s a lion, getting ready to pounce when I least suspect it. I accept, though, that I have to live with it. I have to deal with it on a mental standpoint and realize that hoping for anything outside of relief and understanding in my life time is impractical.
Living with it is something I’m still working through. As I figure it out I’ll probably talk more about it. Also, there is another part of my migraines that I haven’t discussed and, please pardon my superstition, but I fear talking about it will cause it to happen so I’ll wait until next time.