Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Just Breathe

Just breathe, I tell myself. If I can just breathe, I’ll be okay. But I don’t want to breathe. I want to end it.

Migraines are a personal hell I’ve been living thru for almost 20 years. To family, friends, coworkers, they are just an excuse: not to be at a family gathering, not to exercise, not to have a cleaner house. Not to do more with my life. Perhaps that last one is my own.

To someone who has never had one, there is no explanation that can do a migraine justice. It’s not “just a headache.” It’s not just in the head. It’s a full-body, full-sensory experience. Imagine being in a state of ecstasy. Except in pain.

It’s the dizziness and nausea and sensitivity to lights, sounds, smells, temperature, weather, foods. It’s the disorientation and the inability to focus, concentrate, think. It’s the heaviness in my body as if I’m made of lead and can’t move. It’s the full-body pain that I feel, beyond my head. It’s the defeat I feel every time I get another one. Again? Two steps forward and one step back. Progress and then a plateau.

It is the constant need to apologize to friends & fam a good 10 days out of the month of not feeling well enough to fill-in-the-blank: come to dinner, see a movie, go somewhere, do something. 

Sometimes I force myself to go anyway. The thing about a migraine is that it’s not like I’m bleeding or something dramatic. You can’t see chronic pain, it’s not that obvious. To anyone who would see me, I look normal. 

I don’t like this identity for myself. I don’t want to be a migraine person. It’s like I’ve made a career of trying to find the magic bullet. But there is none. So much of what I’ve done has helped; chiropractic, acupuncture, dietary restrictions, herbs, supplements, massage, Reiki, Resonance Repatterning, meditation, TMJ splint, glasses. I know my triggers: certain foods, chemicals, perfumes, weather, low blood sugar, lack of sleep, stress.

Things I’m no longer eating: gluten or any grains, night shades, dairy, sugar, onions, citrus. I’ve not had soda or food additives, sugar substitute, wine, chocolate for years.

Types of migraines I get:
  • ·       Structural, my neck or TMJ is misaligned.
  • ·       Hormonal. Every month.
  • ·       See aforementioned triggers.

I’m seeing three doctors now; an acupuncturist, a chiropractic neurologist, and an osteopath who does functional medicine. All are helping. It’s been suggested that I have Hashimoto’s, a thyroid disorder. I’ve been treated for being hypothyroid for years, but Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, with hypothyroidism one of its symptoms. So I’m hopeful that this will be the missing piece.  We’ll know more with blood work.

Last Friday was the nadir. I made my way for an unscheduled afternoon appointment for the chiro-neurologist. I was going out of my head with a migraine that started as severe TMJ pain. I’m lying in a dark room on the table, just trying to breathe. What did you do? he asks as he palpates my neck and jaw. I woke up with it, but it just got worse and worse. I think he called it “a mess” and said I must’ve slept wrong. Crack. He said to rest and he left the room to treat other patients. Then he came back. Crunch. Another adjustment. I’m not sure how many adjustments there were, but by the time I left, I was 50% better. Almost back to the living. By the time I got home, I was 70% better. Functional. Exhausted. Weary. Ready for another day.

I read somewhere that ripe bananas can trigger migraines due to the tyramine in them. I had frozen banana smoothies Thursday & Friday. Add bananas to the List of Forbidden Foods.

I’m taking my basil temperature first thing in the morning before I get out of bed as part of the thyroid protocol. This morning it was at its highest at 94.3; the lowest is 93.8  I’m sure it hasn’t helped that we’re having a heat wave & I don’t have AC. I did manage to get a small window unit in my bedroom & I do have ceiling fans, but I wilt in this heat. Another hypothyroid symptom the doctors ask: Intolerance to extreme heat or cold?  Yes.

Now that I’m getting sort of back to normal—at least not in a migraine haze— I feel hopeful; hopeful that I’m close to feeling better on a consistent basis. That it’s not all in my head. That I’m not going crazy and that I can be healthy. That I can stop apologizing for not being able to do things.

Sunday was my first day of feeling well enough to go out into the world. I was standing in the freezer section of Costco. There was a little kid blowing a whistle that had the high pitched sound of a smoke detector alarm. It shot through my nervous system like an explosion. The grandmother was oblivious. I said, “That’s a really obnoxious sound.” [I regret having said it this way because it set up a combative response. I wish I had said that it was loud, or it hurt my ears or something where I wasn’t labeling it “obnoxious.” But, hindsight, yada yada.] Grandma said, Well git yursef some ear plugs, then!  The thing is, it was her whistle that she used to call her orbiting crew of four munchkins back to the cart. I walked away and I heard her tell someone else about our little interlude. I turned on my heel & went back & told her that she was being rude. She said I obviously didn’t have kids and then waddled off. 

I was fuming & felt physically weak from our interaction. I’m staring at something in the freezer, trying to calm down. What has come over me that I’m confronting Gammy in Costco? Just then, a couple walk up to me and thanked me for saying something to her. “We wanted to say something, but we thought we were the only ones.”  And we all had a good laugh. It was just the sort of validation that I needed in that moment, the sort of camaraderie I imagine people share during natural disasters and such. As I was walking toward the check out, I passed by Gammy in another aisle. She sneered and gave a long blow of the whistle. Too late, Gammy. I’ve tapped into the zen humour of the moment. I’m leaving—and you will still be with 4 kids in a supermarket. And then I felt sorry for her.

Migraines, for better or worse, have shaped a large part of who I am. I would not know all the different healing modalities I’ve learned and I wouldn’t know all the wonderful practitioners I’ve met along the way. I would never have become a massage therapist and I would not know how to treat chronic pain as well as I do. I would not have become the artist I am today, nor would I have mastered meditation so well. More than that, it has given me a compassion for other people that I think I would not otherwise have. It has helped me not to take things personally when someone is having an off day or they are in a bad mood. I don’t need to understand something or someone to have compassion. Sometimes I forget that, like I did with Gammy. Sometimes it’s closer to home.

While I can acknowledge the gifts of migraines, I’m ready to let go of the limitations. I would really like to be done with these for the next half of my life. They mess up everything. And I’m just tired.

Just breathe.

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