April 8th, 2012
Well, not literally. Not that it would be unheard of in the Migraine world, many of us have banged our heads at times when the beast has settled down upon us. It’s a kind of counter-irritant, I guess. Something, anything, to try to break the repetitive throbbing. Or a distraction, some surface pain to focus on instead of the hideous rending inside the head. I’m really glad I don’t have many Migraines that get that bad any more.
Last Monday I woke up after a rough night, sleepy and with a mild ache on the left side of my forehead. Technically I’m sure it was a Migraine already, but I thought of it, as I often do, as more of a maybe-migraine, a migraine wannabe. My first impulse (so often the right one) was to call in to work, take my sumatriptan and go back to bed. And then the thought entered my mind of the budget for the month, and of the sick leave hours I try to budget too, and how since my Migraines have become less frequent I sometimes have a little headache that doesn’t turn into a full-blown Migraine. So my little headache and I went off to work, and chose to focus on the less mentally taxing of the tasks on my desk, and did most of my thinking out loud to help me focus, and took a walk at lunch, and did all I could to keep the beast at bay.
But I was talking about head-banging. Which I wanted to do before the night was out. I got home and tried to focus on all the stuff I try to focus on after work, like visiting my on-line world, Migraine related and otherwise, and helping Adam manage his homework, and imposing some kind of order on the chaos that is my home, and trying to build up and work on some of my free-lance work, and I found all I could do was go take a sumatriptan and lie down.
I set the alarm for about an hour and a half, rolled a pillow under my aching neck and dosed off, hoping the pill would do its job. And woke up groggy when the alarm went off, groggy and in pain. Groggy and nauseous and hungry and in pain. It was not yet two hours from the time I took the triptan, so I couldn’t do another dose, and the pill had had no noticeable effect. So I had to wait 15 minutes or so, and I needed to eat something for my blood sugar which was dropping (contributing to the Migraine). The head had started throbbing, one of those times when I imagined I could specifically feel each dilated vein around my brain pulsing and stretching and shoving against my skull.
So did I hit myself upside the head? In a sense. I didn’t actually feel like head-banging this time, though it was the worst Migraine I’ve had for a few months. Probably about an 8 out of 10 this time, the kind that makes me cry. I knew I had to bring out the big guns this time. I had to give myself a sumatriptan injection. A highly effective way to abort the Migraine, but which I put off and avoid as long as I possibly can. Why on earth would that be, you ask? If you have to ask you have never had one of these injections, or you are lucky enough not to experience them the way I do. First of all the injection itself hurts. It’s a spring-loaded injector; you shove it hard against your arm and hold it there, pressing until it injects. It’s not a jab, it’s a SLAM-STAB, and you have to keep pushing that thing in for 30 seconds to make sure all the medicine goes in, I do it while breathing hard through my gritted teeth.
Then you need to take your sore and aching arm and get yourself prone as quickly and smoothly as you can, so you can be lying down as still as can be when the real head slam comes. For me, and I understand for many others, the injection causes a “surge” of increased head pain before it begins to work. So the only thing, sometimes, that will make the pain go away, is a short-term, extreme increase in the pain. When I say short-term, it’s not an agonizing 30 seconds like the injection torture. It’s a good five to ten minutes of the front of my head feeling like it’s being hit with a tire iron, from the inside.
The only thing that gets me through to the other side is lying on my back as still as I can, doing my relaxation breathing. I have to go into the pain, be with the pain, and visualize my breath carrying the pain away, out with each exhale. And eventually I fall asleep, and usually in that sleep the pain goes away.
This time it took a long time, almost until morning, before the pain lifted. If I’d followed my original impulse and taken a pill in the morning before the pain was much of anything, I probably wouldn’t have needed the injection. If I’d taken the injection right away when I got home I probably would have been pain free in two hours. But I couldn’t bring myself to hit myself upside the head. Until there was no alternative. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.
- Megan Oltman
November 19th, 2008
This may seem obvious, but it’s something I need to remind myself of from time to time. We can’t avoid every Migraine. The job before us in managing life with Migraine disease is to avoid as many as we can, through avoiding triggers, getting rest, exercise, nourishment, drinking enough water, living a healthy life, through relaxing and calming our nervous systems, through getting the best medical treatment we can, appropriate use of medications, using other therapies to help us maintain ourselves, balancing our energy and our work-load, getting support, getting to know our own bodies and our own reactions… are you breathless yet? Yes, we do all of that, and it is a big job, and most of us can have a huge impact on the number and severity of Migraine attacks that we get. But we can’t avoid every Migraine.
I didn’t avoid the one that hit me last night. Sometimes you can see them coming, you can see the set up as it is happening, like in a movie where you start yelling at the heroine, “No, don’t open that door, don’t do it!” but she does it anyway. Here’s what happened to me: I missed a dose of my preventive medication; I had several days of anxiety over current financial uncertainties; I slept badly for two nights; I got my period; something upset me and I cried; I had a fun and exciting radio interview which I enjoyed very much; I began feeling some head pain and didn’t take an abortive right away because I needed to drive my kids to some appointments.
Chances are that even with the large stack of triggers I was dealing with, if I had taken my triptan and laid down at the first sign of pain, I probably would have minimized the Migraine, if not eliminated it altogether. In a perfect world, my husband wouldn’t have had an important commitment I didn’t want him to miss, and could have driven the kids. Hell, in a perfect world, we’d have safe available public transportation! No, wait a second, in a perfect world we’d have the public transportation and I wouldn’t have the Migraine!
Instead, I took Adam to his drum lesson, then we went to the library until it was time to get Rachel from her rehearsal, then we sat outside the High School for 45 minutes until she was let out from the rehearsal. I should have let her drive home but the effort of climbing out of the driver’s seat and into another was too much to face. By the time I got home I could only climb upstairs, vomit, give myself an Imitrex injection, and lie down. I couldn’t find my ice packs. The pain was so intense that even shifting position in bed made my head pound. All I could do was lie perfectly still with my bean-bag eye mask, do my relaxation breathing, and wait for the pain to ease. After a couple of hours it let up enough that I could sleep. It’s still with me today, though much less intense. I think if I keep very quiet it will leave today.
I am lucky that I don’t get a Migraine that bad very often. Not more than once every month or two. Most often I am able to treat the Migraines I get right away; most of them do not progress to that kind of excruciating pain. Life happens, though. We don’t live in a perfect world. We have a disease; we do the best we can. I have been going about a week between Migraines, which is great progress. I’m grateful. I hope you are doing well too.
October 6th, 2008
What are we getting better for? What are we here for? I realize these are big questions and challenging even for minds that aren’t screaming with pain, let alone those that cope with frequent Migraines. They are central questions to creating and sustaining the will and optimism to keep pushing through the pain and discouragement that comes with a life with chronic illness. Searching for the larger, deeper meanings, a connection to humankind, the world, the divine, is an important part of the human experience. There comes a time in our lives when most of us wonder what we are here for, what our mission is, what we are uniquely put on this earth to do. Be it spiritual, altruistic, political, creative, there is something that sustains us, that pulls us forward.
It is easy to lose sight of this when we struggle with pain. Ending the suffering becomes important enough that we can forget there is more to it. I don’t believe there is anything inherently ennobling in pain. “No pain no gain” is a bankrupt philosophy. People can achieve great personal growth out of learning experiences based in pain. They can also become embittered, limited and frightened by pain. People can achieve great personal growth without great pain. There are no guarantees, no formulas. My experience is that when we are living inside a known, expressed purpose or goal, it gives a larger context to our experiences that makes it worth moving forward, worth seeking out the learning, worth looking beyond the pain.
As a coach, I help people determine their goals for their lives – what possibilities they will create for themselves and the world, what they value most that they want to promote. Of course if we are ill we want to feel better, but feel better for what? Feel better so I can be a person who can squeeze every moment of enjoyment out of life, and give it to everyone around me? That’s worth feeling better for! You get there at least in part, and as much as possible, by living that way today. So we talked a few weeks ago in this blog about having fun, because your life is NOW, not someday when you’re all better. If your goal is to have a family full of love, have it NOW, today. If you want to be creative, be creative now.
My goal, in its most recent expression, is to build lives in balance – creating wellness, joy and
abundance. That means for me, my family, my friends, my clients. It means that’s how I approach my politics, my community, my world. It means that’s how I make choices about my day. When I spend the whole weekend with Migraines, as I did this weekend, I need to think about what a life in balance looks like in that context. For me this time it looked like staying in bed when I felt like I should be up and helping, taking medication when I didn’t want to, accepting that two beautiful October days were going by with me inside, inviting my children and my husband to spend time with me in my bedroom, one by one, since I couldn’t deal with them in a noisy group in the noisy downstairs. It meant putting off this writing and some other work until today. I’m glad my pain is mostly gone today. But even gladder that I can be more active in pursuing my goal today.
Think about what you’re here for. Your unique contribution, your humor, your helpfulness, your intelligence, your skills, your drive, your compassion, your biscuits, your strength. Take care of yourself, your nervous system, your body and soul, so the world can have that, the gift you are. Do what it takes to be well inside of that. Get better for that.
- Megan Oltman
July 11th, 2008
The problem with pain, aside from the fact that it hurts, is that you never get used to it. And then there’s that other problem, that the purpose of pain is to let you know there’s something wrong, so you can take your hand out of the flame. But what’s the purpose of migraine pain? To let us know that our neurons are going haywire? Oh, how useful! Since they’re going to do their haywire thing whether we know it or not. And then the other problem, of course, is that it hurts. I know, I already said that. But did I mention that it Hurts?
I love my Migraine-free time. Sometimes I worry that I don’t love it enough, that I don’t remember to love it every minute. Then the pain takes me by surprise when it comes back. It feels like such a betrayal. How could this be happening, again, when I’ve been so good, well, mostly, well I’ve tried to be…
I had 4 weeks with two mild migraines. Went off to the migraine specialist saying “I’ve just had the best month in about 7 months – kind of like when you take the car to the mechanic it stops making the noise!” Kine-ahora! (That’s Yiddish for… kind of like knock wood… ward off the evil eye.) So on the way home from the migraine specialist what do I get? You guessed it! I ended up with a two day temple-gouger this time. Pain like I haven’t felt in, well, a month?
When I was little I used to have scary dreams with ghosts. If I said (in the dream), that I didn’t believe in ghosts, the ghosts would throw me up in the air or bounce me up and down or do something to prove they were real. I feel a little like that with the Migraine I just had – like I’m going along saying how well I’m doing and the beast has to jump out and bounce me up and down to prove it’s real. All right, already, I believe!
Who knows? I don’t like the nasty surprise of the pain, but maybe it’s better than remembering it all the time. Better to live completely in my wellness, rather than still in the Migraine. I felt well today. For which I am exceedingly grateful. I hope you did too.
May 23rd, 2008
That’s what I’m doing today. It’s 5:00 and I think I’ve missed status migrainous by about 4 hours. Status migrainous is a condition where a migraine has continued for 72 hours without a 4 hour complete break in
pain while awake. It is a serious condition which carries an increased risk of stroke due to long-term dilation of the blood vessels around the brain. I am lying in bed with my fingers crossed because my migraine seems to have finally broken after about 68 hours.
The pain started Tuesday evening and has varied from about a level 2 on a 1 – 10 scale to about a level 8 or 8.5. It has varied from itchy nagging pain all over my head to furious pounding pain in both temples. It has been a particularly sneaky persistent presence, sending me strange nightmares. I have woken up two mornings in a row with the sense of something awful sitting on top of my brain, waiting to pounce. I have used 4 doses of Imitrex on it. Finally today, after all of today in bed, most of yesterday, and half the day before; and after 4 expensive, befuddling and nauseating doses of Imitrex, I think the pain is gone. I’m afraid to move in case it’s just asleep and I wake it up again. For many of you, this will sound quite familiar.
Nearly all of my plans for the last few days have gone out the window. What have I accomplished? I did have an important business conversation with my husband. I did gather up a list of all the homework my son has missed while he’s been out of school with the flu. I did wash a few dishes here and there. I did about 20% of the business work I had on the agenda for the last few days. I helped my daughter find her uniform for work. I’m about to be really ambitious and dig up some pretty pictures to illustrate this post. Other than that, I have been taking care of myself.
What does that look like? Today, and the past few days, it has looked like sleeping late, staying in bed in my pajamas for much of the day. Today it involved not even taking a shower so as to keep my head quiet. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I hate not taking a shower! It has looked like saying no to even talking to my family when the pain level was high. It has looked like keeping track of how long this migraine has gone on, diarying about it, and calling the doctor for help. I spoke to the nurse this afternoon and now have a plan in place for what to do if the migraine doesn’t break, or recurs, over this holiday weekend. I’m happy to say the Emergency Room is not the first line of defense in the plan!
I went on the My Migraine Connection forum to connect with my buddies over there and gripe about this long migraine. One of my friends told me she was proud of me for taking care of myself. It was a revelation to me, a welcome one, to realize that I have been doing that – taking care of myself!
After 30+ years of migraines, coaching others to accept their disease and build the best life they can around it, I still struggle with acceptance. After basing my self care on meditation and relaxation exercises and building my life around my illnesses, I still fight tooth and nail. I didn’t take an Imitrex Tuesday night because I wasn’t positive it was a migraine. Maybe I could have prevented the following days of pain if I
hadn’t been in denial then. Regret is pointless. Great thanks to Gret for reminding me of what I am accomplishing today. I am taking care of myself. The shower will still be there tomorrow. Chances are, so will the dirty dishes. And the newsletter I owe to you, my subscribers. And the garden beds to weed.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing tonight, remember to take care of yourselves. I hope for all of us a pain-free tomorrow.
January 19th, 2008
What migraineur has not heard that as a put down? “It’s all in your head!” What people mean by that is, it’s psychosomatic, or it’s psychological, or snap out of it – you can control this. Migraines are in our heads – and in other parts of our bodies as well. They are a series of rapid firings of a bunch of overexcited neurons – in our brains, which happen to be in our heads, not our elbows or our spleens. So what? Just because something is taking place inside our head, doesn’t mean we have control over it. Try snapping out of it! Try snapping out of depression, or anxiety, or worse yet seizures, or a stroke. Try not thinking of an elephant while you’re at it. We can’t even do that!
Is that a statement straight out of the mind/body fallacy or what? The brain is a bodily organ. It controls the rest of the body, to a large extent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not part of the body. Just because we use it to think thoughts, doesn’t mean we can control its processes or malfunctions. We like to think we are completely independent in producing thoughts, but our thoughts are strongly influenced, if not controlled, by our emotions, and emotions are produced by biochemical secretions. You can’t think your way out of an illness. Or maybe you can, who knows, but I can’t, I’ve tried!
On the other hand, our bodies influence our brains. We put chemical substances in – foods, nutritional supplements, medications, that help or hinder our recovery, relieve or trigger our migraines. We walk and exercise and that affects our moods and our thoughts. And keeping a positive attitude, doing things to take care of ourselves, reaching out for support and helping others – all these things can influence our moods, and our health. They should be part of our migraine treatment plan. But they won’t take away the underlying condition. I cannot think or emote or eat or exercise my way to a redesign of my neurons.
This kind of thinking is particularly damaging when it feeds into our own perfectionism and guilt about being ill. The next person who says that, you might say, “I can’t think myself well, but you can think yourself tolerant!” After all, their prejudices against migraine are all in their heads!
Laying low with a headache – keeping migraine at bay
brain photo courtesy of Gaetan Lee
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