Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I have come to the point in my life where I usually face my headaches and associated symptoms,  fatigue, drugs, side effects and more with some level of equanimity or at least resignation - for good or ill.  My therapist thinks I should cry more, but I just rarely do.

My left funky foot
However, the last few days combined with the last 3 months of foot trouble have left me gnashing my teeth in frustration, crazy with irritability, pissed off at my doctor and yesterday, definitely on the verge of tears.

Lying around is not easy for me, especially when I don't have a headache.  If I'm toasted by fatigue, pain in the head, recovery from migraine, I'm only too happy (in a way) to take it easy.  But, basically by nature, I'm not a good sitter.  Also walking is a big deal for me.  One of my major life fantasies is walking off my illness.  It's also a technique for dealing w/ the frustration of migraine disease.  Even with this avenue effectively closed off for a while, I'm not entirely without ways to cope, but I am off kilter, literally and figuratively.

So, in spite of it all, I deal w/ frustration by:

1.  Walking and riding my bike, sometimes working in the garden.  Anyhow I get outside.
2.  Seeing a mental health therapist every other week, which is a big help.
3.  Journaling and doing art work.
4.  Writing
5.  Going to the beach whenever and wherever I can.
6.  And last but not least, asking my husband to light a fire and make me popcorn in the evening.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Full Circle

Two or Three weeks ago, I went back in time to the Town where I was born and raised, lived until the age of 18.  I left and have never returned.  And I haven't spent much time thinking about it since then.  But an article in Orion Magazine, Jan. Feb. 2011, "Colonization of Kern County" by Jeremy Miller brought me "home" again with an abrupt yank.  I grew up in the desert oil fields of Taft, California, and my father was an engineer working in the industry.  Miller's article details the vast destruction the oil industry has wrought in the area.

Steam extraction of heavy crude oil

As a child, I lived in a lovely, old house with a wrap-around screened porch and an oasis-like garden.  I roamed roads of our oil-lease home on my bicycle, built forts with tumble weeds, played on the hillside "cliff," balanced on pipes across ditches, went rabbit hunting with my dad.  It was a good place to be a kid.    

The post WWII oil boom peaked in 1985, and the once prosperous oil town of Taft has shrunk to half it's former size.  The air smells of hydrogen sulfide.  All the houses where families once lived on the oil leases have been torn down, obliterated.  They have been replaced by a dirt-bike raceway with a gated entrance where we once came over and down the hill onto the lease with a view of the office where my dad worked, the shops, neighbors and our home.  The high-wage oil industry engineering and management jobs have been outsourced to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Honolulu Oil Lease, office, shops, neighbors & playmates
Revisiting my hometown was surreal.  In the last few years, I've begun to experience episodes of anxiety, usually brief and most often associated with several days of headaches without much respite.  Then the anxiety began to surface when I was in situations that challenged my supersensitive nervous system.  This return to my old home "place" brought forth wave upon wave of anxiety.  I don't really know why:  whether it was the haunting, dusty, depletion of the town, the environmental destruction in the area, some association with the time and my family, house and neighborhood (or "lease"), the complete eradication of home and 'hood' or some combination of all three.

Anxious me
We didn't hang around for long, just one night.  That was enough.  The next morning we packed up and headed back to the coast, the ocean, the beach where I always find respite and ease.

Lovely beach and ocean, Morro Bay

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Coming out of the closet

Talking about migraine disease

How do I do it?  I can only address this topic with a look back ..........  It has been a long process for me to admit than I have severe chronic migraine and that it affects my life on a daily basis.  Now, at the age of 66, I am (usually) very frank about how I'm feeling at any given time.  I don't broadcast it unless I'm feeling bad and can't make it to work or to some other commitment because I don't want it to enter into every conversation, but I don't hesitate to explain if the need arises.

Me & the kids

There have been many steps in the long process of opening up.  It began first at home, out of necessity.  When my kids were young, it was very difficult to admit that I couldn't always be there for them when I wanted to.  At that point, I didn't know, hadn't faced the fact that I had a chronic health problem, much less "migraine disease."  And it fluctuated.  I would have periods when I was fine for a while.  Then depending on many factors, my headaches became more frequent and impacted my life and those around me.  Over the years, I have had to take at least 4 or 5 leaves of absence from work plus a permanent reduction of hours at my present job.  In order to do this, I had to make clear to my administrator what the problem was and why I needed the time off.

More recently I have come out to my friends in a fairly clear way.  My husband and I belong to a small group of families who exchange work.  We move from house to house on a monthly basis doing, mostly, gardening and other outdoor projects.  We convene on
Sundays.  We work for 2 to 3 hours and then eat together, potluck.  

We are all very good friends and this has become a really wonderful way to get together, share and have a good time doing it.  Sometimes I just can't do it.  At first I felt really bad about this, but the longer we've been at it, the more comfortable I've become just doing what I can when I can.  I've gotten nothing but support from everyone.  Sometimes I do it all.  Sometimes I can't participate, and I just have to stay home.  And sometimes I come and eat and socialize and skip the hard stuff.  Having this freedom and support, with good friends, has been a big deal for me.

Like many of you, I come with a family history of migraine.  Sadly, that includes my 36 year old son.  When I first realized he had serious migraines, I was quite filled with guilt and dread - for him and what might lie ahead.  Now, I somehow truly know this is not my fault.  And I have a close confidant with whom I can share ideas and lessons learned.

This spring, for the first time, I went to a nationally-recognized headache treatment center, Michigan Headpain and Neurological Institute, for a 10 day hospital stay.  It was a huge step, a kind of surrender to the fact of my headaches as well as a plea for help.  Since asking for help isn't easy for me, this was yet another step in opening up.

Finally, I've begun in ernest to write publicly about living with migraine and it has become a part of my visual art too.  Being more open about living with severe chronic migraines has helped me open up to other things and people in my life.


I often don't talk about my headaches with other people because, at any given point in time, I'd rather talk about my kids, my grandson, my art, my students, books, travel or hear about their lives.  On the other hand, if I feel like it or I'm having a bad day or I've learned something new or funny or disturbing about migraines, I speak up.  That's what it's all about for me.