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A Certain Level of Brain Freedom

August 22nd, 2010

I am enjoying a long stretch of freedom from pain in the brain. Hooray! I have had only six Migraines since late June. Less than one a week! A better rate than I’ve achieved in the past three years, at least. I began taking the blood pressure medication Lisinopril in late June, and this seems like a winning combination for me. My current regimen includes:

That’s about 15 pills in the morning and 6 at bedtime. If that’s the price of freedom, I can live with it. As always, an unintentional experiment proved how well this regimen is working for me. A few weeks ago I had a Migraine on a Thursday evening and, as I sometimes do, forgot to take my bedtime pills as I was treating the Migraine and everything else went out of my head. The next day we were leaving just after work for our cousins’ beach house and I got up early in foggy post-drome and packed for the weekend before work. I forgot to pack my pills! So just as Danny was leaving the house to come meet me at my office, I called him and asked him to pack them for me. He did that, but when we met up and transferred the bags from the car he was driving to the other, the bag of pills got left behind. We discovered this at about 10 pm at the beach house. So I went without pills for a second night in a row, and missed my morning doses Saturday morning. Danny was a hero and drove over 6 hours round-trip to go get my pills so I could stay through Monday. Two nights and a morning without had a cumulative effect, though, and I had a pretty severe Migraine Sunday night.  It is now two weeks later, took my pills every day and no Migraines in that two weeks!

My Migraine specialist, Dr. Bill Young of Jefferson Headache Center, had said to me , “Six to seven Migraines a month isn’t good enough. We can do better!” (Love this guy! Compare with the last guy who thought I should be satisfied with reducing from 10 a month to 7.) So when I went to my last appointment in late June with the news that my blood pressure had been running high, for the first time in my life, he was excited! I had to tease him about that, how many physicians would say, “Oh good!” on learning that their patient had developed high blood pressure! But he explained that anti-hypertensives can be excellent Migraine preventives, but can’t be prescribed if the patient’s blood pressure is too low. He was confident that the two medications together, along with all my other supplements, would produce better Migraine prevention results for me. And so far, so good! I try not to really measure a trend until it’s been going on for several months, but early results look promising. I am loving the extra time and energy I have for hanging out with family and friends, and getting some chores and projects done around the house. Now if I could just manage the fibromyalgia…

For any of you who see doctors who only know a limited number of Migraine preventive options, or who aren’t comfortable with combining several medications, or who aren’t knowledgeable about supplements, find another doctor! If you aren’t doing daily relaxation, meditation, yoga or another practice to calm your nervous system, get on it! It can take time, but most of us achieve a significant level of brain freedom.

Hope you’re doing well. Leave me comment and let me know how you’re getting on, okay?

- Megan

Smoo cave waterfall photo courtesy of Subflux.

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Posted in Managing, Medicine, Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Who You Calling Disabled?

June 5th, 2010

I hesitate to call myself disabled. I work 25 hours+ a week at a demanding job, I do get out and see people, sometimes, and I’m down to only 3 or 4 days a month in bed. Most days I can wash the dishes and straighten up a bit, more than half my days I get some exercise, many days I can manage the laundry.  I’m down to 5 to 7 Migraine days a month, from 12 to 20 a few years ago. Although I have some fibromyalgia pain many days, days like today when I feel wrung out and ache from head to toe don’t come more than 2 or 3 times a month. So who’s calling me disabled?

I push forward through my life with a great deal of determination and most of the time I confidently expect to get better and better. I have learned so much about how to take care of myself, how to manage my various conditions, and I’ve really improved so much. Days like today, where all I can manage is some reading, some hanging out on line, some tv, when I travel from the bed to the armchair to the bathroom to the kitchen, and that’s a major undertaking, days like today can fill me with despair. I may never get any better than this. I have to accept that possibility – not that I won’t keep on getting up and being positive (mostly) and working striving and pushing (and breaking down when I push too far). But maybe this is as good as it gets.

I am researching Migraines and Social Security Disability for an article I’m planning to write. I encountered the blog of a disability law firm who have helped a number of Migraineurs to get their disability recognized, and compensated. Here’s what struck me. In writing up a Migraine Disability case study, Lawyer Jonathan Ginsberg recounted that the vocational witness called in his client’s case testified that although she felt the claimant could do light duty, low stress work, that no jobs existed that would allow her to be absent 4 to 7 days a month. It’s hard to do this kind of research and really stay detached, and reading that I thought, wow, I could easily need to be absent 4 days a month! The fact that I work less than full time, and for a flexible and understanding boss, makes it possible for me to switch hours around and avoid some of those sick days. But I would be disabled under the same criteria that got the woman in that case granted disability benefits!

Then there’s the MIDAS scale. MIDAS is the American Headache Society’s Migraine Disability Assessment Test. A year ago my MIDAS score was 57 – Which is “Grade IV Severe Disability.” I have been retaking the assessment every few months, and I am down to a 30. Great progress! Guess what a 30 is?  “Grade IV Severe Disability.”

I am not knocking my progress, really I’m not. I recently had a reader write in and ask me how to take back her life from Migraine. That’s certainly a phrase I’ve used a lot. Having 5 to 7 Migraine days a month is incredibly much better than having 12 to 20. Being proactive, recognizing our sensitive nervous systems and caring for them, looking at the areas we can impact and working on them, all of these things do make a difference. I am doing better all the time, building up my stamina (though slowly), and managing these days to earn somewhat of a living, which is nothing to sneeze at. But I felt I needed to tell this woman, you can take your life back in the sense of being in charge of your life, but that doesn’t mean you can make the disease go away.

There come those days, like today, when I slam into the brick wall of my own limitations. I worked a long, hard, stressful week this week and today I woke up feeling like I had been pushed through a strainer. Do any of you recognize that one? I’ve felt it on and off for many years, at least ten, and now I recognize it as a sign of a fibromyalgia flare. I feel strained, like my nerves and muscle fibers have been stretched, shoved, pushed, shredded, sieved, including the nerves in my temples that start the Migraines. Days like today feel blank, wasted, and I cried this morning at the prospect of a life ahead filled with days like this.

My disability is invisible, at times even to me, but it’s there. I will keep on striving. And I also need to be with what’s so, that this is who I am. I am this person with a hyper-sensitive nervous system, I do need days of recovery from just the normal everyday days of life.

I know I’m incorrigible, but I have high hopes for tomorrow.

- Megan

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Posted in Managing, Musings, Uncategorized | Comments (0)

Headache on the Hill

February 25th, 2009

I spent the day yesterday doing something I’ve never done before – lobbying Congress.  I’m not entirely sure I would ever have predicted that I would lobby Congress.  It was a great experience, and one that I’m sure will take me several posts to process and tell you about.  But I can at least get started.  The Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy (ADHA) is a wonderful group of doctors, advocates, writers and researchers who are fighting for better headache care for YOU.  I arrived in DC on Monday for a training session put on by the AHDA and learned some key things about the underfunding of Migraine and headache disorders research, and about how to lobby.

Nearly 40 of us spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill speaking to legislators and legislative aides.  I visited two senators and three congressmen from my state, along with another Migraine sufferer.  We were requesting that they add language to the 2010 appropriations bill which will direct the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to spend a larger share of their funds on Migraine and Headache Disorder research.

Here are some of the things I learned, straight from the AHDA fact sheet which we shared with the legislative aides:

Headache Disorders are the most prevalent neurological disorders.  This year:

US costs for headache disorders this year will be:

Migraine is extremely disabling, resulting in:

What has the response of the NIH been so far?  The NIH is responsible for funding, with our taxpayer dollars, the basic research that makes medical innovation possible.  So far the NIH funding for research on headache disorders is less than $13 million annually which comes to less than 0.05% of the NIH budget. Research of NIH funding relative to disease burdens (the impact of a disease on society, including prevalence, economics, disability, and mortality, as discussed above), shows that a fair share of funds for headache disorders (compared to other diseases with similar disease burdens) should be at least $103 million annually.

We got a good reception, particularly from our senators’ aides.  There is more work to do, but I think we are making an impact.  You can make an impact too.  Go to the ADHA site and sign up for their action alerts.  On Monday, March 2 we will be asking you to email your congressional representatives, asking them to sign on to the language directing the NIH to do the right thing with regard to headache disorders.  If you sign up for AHDA action alerts today, taking action next week will be as easy as a couple of clicks.

- Megan

We can make a difference!

US Capitol image courtesy of Kim Baker.

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Posted in Advocacy, Current Affairs, Medicine, Science, Uncategorized | Comments (9)

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