Monday, May 4, 2015

When things aren't going well

Coping level
Hard days night

The last few months have been ugly.  Headaches have been daily, and I'm not sleeping well either.  Pain and anxiety have invaded my dreams.  When I stagger out of bed in the morning, I'm often in the worst shape of the day.  Things tends to slowly improve as the day wears on.  Then they start to deteriorate in the evening with fatigue and onset of dull pain in my head or muscle spasms in my upper back.  I know this is not just my story.  Many with chronic headache could tell their own versions of the same tale.

So what do you do when things aren't going well, when you're scraping the bottom of the barrel and it seems there's nothing to be found there?

Exploring meditation

Serendipity.  I ran into an old friend the other day, a fellow migraineur.  We met for coffee, checked in with each other on how we were doing and one of the subjects that came up was meditation.  Nancy has started meditating and after sticking with it for a few months, found it to be very helpful.  This little piece of information got to me at the right time, and I have begun to explore.  A large body of research over the years supports meditation as a powerful tool for pain relief.

Having experience with yoga, biofeedback and progressive muscular relaxation, I know that breath work is a powerful tool for well being.  But of course mindfulness meditation is a whole other level as well as a spiritual path not yet traveled for me.  It's a commitment I haven't yet made, but I'm moving in that direction.  I've begun to set aside 20 min. in the morning to meditate.  I've attended an evening session at a local meditation center and found a tutor to support my beginning to practice.  One of the difficulties for me has been that most of the action, the group sits and beginner classes are either quite early in the morning or in the evening after working hours.  These are my hardest times, so I've had to work to find some support during the middle of the day.

Help at hand
It feels hopeful that there is a possible path forward that doesn't include more medication since I'm becoming increasingly intolerant of each "new" drug that I try.


For me, artistic expression is a way through the pain.  I have been a weaver for a long time, but lately I haven't been able or called to my loom.  Instead, I've been working with oil pastels.  My energy level is low, fatigue high, but somehow, what I call coloring is working for me.  Drawings and sometimes collages  reflect my mood, my dreams, my memories and more.  I have no formal art training, but it doesn't matter.  It just feels good and I lose myself in the work.

A book for us all - "How to be Sick" by Toni Bernhard  

There are many helpful guides out there that give headache-specific advice on how to recognize triggers, that provide lists of all kinds:  medications available to prevent, abort or rescue you from migraine pain, lists of foods to avoid, techniques and equipment to help minimize the pain.  Books by physicians in headache medicine inform their readers about the mechanism of a migraine, how to "conquer" headache, how to recognize and avoid rebound and much more.

But what if you have followed all the guides, have the best headache care available and you still have chronic daily headache?  "How to be Sick: a Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers" is a whole different approach.  Rather than tell you how you might avoid or get rid of the disease, this book gives you skills to live with what you are experiencing right now.  It is the most helpful book I've read in a long time.

Before she got sick, author Toni Bernhard was about to begin her twentieth year as a law professor at the University of California at Davis.  Now she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, a post viral disease that causes severe, debilitating pain and fatigue.  On a European vacation trip, Bernhard contracted a viral infection from which she has never recovered.  No longer able to practice her profession, she began to apply her long-term spiritual practice of Buddhism to help herself live a full life in the midst of daily pain.  Like many of us, she continues to work with her doctors to search for effective treatment.


Gifts to nurture

I belong to a small group of women who meet once a week to do art.  None of us have much experience, but we're all drawn to explore.  And we have a great leader who is not only a fine artist but also has a background in art therapy.  Recently one of her prompts suggested we make an artwork that reflects a gift or strength that needs the most nurturing right now.  Initially I was stumped, but as the day wore on, I began to make a little list:  writing, laughter, seeing (often with my camera), connection with nature.  
 I have no idea what form the art will take, but just making the list has been helpful.  I've been hard-pressed to do any writing because I just haven't been able to figure out what I have to offer right now, but Julia's prompt lead me to make this attempt.