Thursday, June 27, 2013

Defying the gravity of migraine

I have a Bowling Ball inside my head

Heavy Duty

Having migraines is heavy.  It makes me feel bound down, full of pressure, and often brings me to me knees with the weight of it all.  I have my own personal image that has represented my headaches for years, not one I actively conjured up, but a nasty fantasy that popped into my head all on it's own, years ago and still returns from time to time.  I have a bowling ball inside my skull.  There is just a little space in there between the surface, the circumference of the ball, and that of my head.  With each movement of my head, it thunks against the inside of my skull.  It is a heavy burden, and as I move my head, its weight causes more anguish.


I have recently begun to develop a fantasy as well as an actual practice that provides me not only with relief but pure pleasure.  I am floating in the swimming pool at Bungalows la Madera in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  I am on my back, at perfect ease, suspended, with my head cooled by the water, my hair streaming out on the surface and my head and body supported by elemental liquid.  

I am, in fact, very buoyant, and I love to swim, more and more, lately.  I go to Mexico a couple of times a year, and swimming is a huge draw for me.  This last trip I was on my own, with plenty of uninterrupted time.  It was May, off season, and there was hardly anyone else staying at my little hotel.  Alternating between swimming in the ocean and the pool, I began to play around with just floating, and it was lovely.  The pool water felt tepid on my body, warmed by the sun, but once I rolled over onto my back face tilted up, suspended with head and hair in the water, coolness permeated my scalp, and a wonderful feeling of relief took over.

 the Pool

Suspended Animation

Swimming is another piece of my fantasy supported by real-world experiences, as many as I can make happen.  For me, there is nothing like swimming in the ocean beyond the break line on a calm day, cruising along at a leisurely pace, buoyed up by salt water as it slides under and past my body.  Rivers with slow moving pools are good too and the lake in the summer.  I'm even beginning to appreciate the local city plunge or the YMCA pool.  After all, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and you can only swim outside for 2 or 3 months of the year.

In the lake

River swimming

Swimming is a trip

We are soon to take off on our annual road trip south to Santa Cruz, Calif. to see the sights and hang out with our son for a few days.  We have a van, and we camp or stay in a motel depending on the day, the place and how we're both feeling.  This year I'm plotting our course to take advantage of hot springs, swimming holes and beaches from the Canadian border to southern Calif., if we get that far.  Have fantasy, will travel.  I'll let you know how all that works out.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

No Baseline --- Am I sick? Is this normal? or Do I have lyme disease???

Another bleary-eyed day

Lately I've been feeling unfocused, fatigued, sleepy, and in some degree of head/ neck pain every day. Now if there's a good side to this .... I am not in extreme pain, but I am essentially non-functional.  Oh I can do the basic stuff even and including cooking dinner, but that's about as high level a task as I can handle right now.

the blues

In Feb., I had pneumonia, and it took me, I think, at least 2 or 3 weeks to figure out that I was in fact sick.  I came back from Mexico almost 2 weeks ago and I was convinced I had picked up an intestinal bug due to a variety of symptoms.  A visit to the doctor yielded a script for Cipro plus a nice little kit for a stool sample.  I took the Cipro, finished the prescription only to find out I wasn't, in fact, "sick."  Lab findings were negative.

What's normal?

The point here is that at least for me, it is often very difficult to differentiate symptoms of chronic daily headache or chronic migraine, prodrome, postdrome, etc. from hundreds of other possibilities.  I have had this very chronic problem so long, I have lost my healthy baseline.  Is this just normal fatigue?  After all, I'm 66 years old.  Can I just not think or motivate myself to "move" anymore because I'm either heading into a headache or getting over one?  Am I just unaccustomed to the heat (Mexico)?  Am I depressed?  Do I have something else wrong with me?  How would I know?

How would I know?

Here's my own personal favorite, "God! You just must be lazy"  What is wrong with you?  Just get over it and get a hump on it."  Subscribing to the "just get on with it" approach today, I made it through a one hour English tutoring session with my Pakistani student in spite of nausea and a band of pain across my nose and eyes, came home, shot up (injected DHE), and then went swimming at the local pool and stopped by to pick up a summer shorty wetsuit at REI before heading home to write this column.  I don't have a headache but I'm still drowsy and stupid.  Who knows what dinner will actually be - or when.  My standards have slipped in the last few months, years.

Sorting it all out

This morning my husband, who is thinking more clearly than I am right now, looked up one of my preventative meds on the web and pointed out that a cardinal side effect is drowsiness.  There it is:
Dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor or pharmacist promptly.
Now, I carefully read about the side effects of every new medication I take, but this somehow escaped me, or (certainly possible), I forgot. 

Also, we change.  I tolerated one medication for quite a while, went off of it and then back on a year or two later, only to discover intolerable side effects that didn't occur the first time around.  
Sometimes waiting a week or two is a good option.  Patterns of symptoms become more apparent or the malaise lifts and you just begin to feel a little better.  Some piece of peace re-enters your soul.  But sometimes, this sort of symptom suck is like an undertow, and you can find yourself at sea without your surfboard.

Then it's time for some outside input:  a walk in the park, a swim in the lake, a trip to the south shore of Lake Winna-Bango or even a visit to your, hopefully, trusted headache specialist.