Monday, November 6, 2017

Bottling Sonshine

It's mid October now, and I've been struggling, in a downward spiral from one or two migraines per week to daily pain and all the symptoms that go with it.  But that's not what I want to write about. I've been here before, and hopefully this will pass.

We've just returned from a quick trip to California to spend a few days with my son and daughter-in-law.

When we arrive at their beautiful, small home in sunny Santa Cruz, I am dogged by pain as well as steady, low-grade anxiety, one of my least favorite symptoms.   Our mini vacation is full of hard-to-manage triggers from air travel to the noise of intense, people-filled dinners and days.  My Santa Cruz family are hard-workers, involved in the marine sciences and the restaurant biz, impacted by the current politics and environmental issues like all of us.  Our conversation ranges from their recent African travels, national divisiveness, backyard projects, alternative energy, writing, work, family and friends to what to cook for dinner and the horrific California wildfires that burst into flame 100 miles north of us during our stay.

Monday morning.  The sound of my son grinding his morning coffee wakes me from a horrific nightmare.  I pull myself together, wash my face and go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  Settling into a chair at a quiet end of the living room, I struggle to shake off the hangover from my ugly dream.  With a sixth sense, Andrew moseys over and sits next to me, beginning a quiet morning chat that draws me out of my low-down funk.  In immense relief, I surface from dark, sticky horror into the daylight land of the living.

On Wednesday, as we leave the cool, clear air of Santa Cruz for the San Jose airport, a pall of smoke drifts in, a few miles out of town and thickens as we crest the mountain on Hwy 17.  Visibility drops to a mile or two, and the air wreaks of smoke.  My headaches don't go away nor reduce in intensity or frequency during our mini vacation.

It takes me three days to unpack, do the wash and stow my travel belongings.  On Saturday morning, I am in the shower when the phone rings.  There is a message from my hometown son announcing an imminent visit with grandsons in tow.  Fifteen minutes later the kids, age 3 and 7, burst through the front door full of noisy, good-natured energy.  Popping half a pain pill, I sit down on the couch to play tinker toys with Lucas.  Later I wander into the kitchen to talk to my son, never short on conversation or opinions.  With a few kind words, Ben dispels my mounting worries over some disturbing medical findings.  

Over the next week or two my migraines begin to space out to every other day, then every third day,  as my pain and anxiety level drops.  So why do I feel better, more grounded emotionally since our trip and return home?  Here's what comes to mind, a steady dose of all of the following.

Change of scene
Sun, beach, redwoods, campfire, hammock, biking, walking

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Migraine madness

The plan was to get out of town, take Sunday and Monday off and head to Port Townsend, spend time with Cousin Carl, walk the beach and then revisit the beautiful Elwha River unleashed by the removal of 2 dams in 2014.  After weeks of work on writing projects and a difficult, headachy month, we were both ready for a break. 

Sunday morning, and I'm moving slow, in a fowl mood with a foggy brain.  It feels like a monumental effort to pull myself and all my medical needs together to pack for a couple of days away.  We pull out of the driveway in our electric Nissan Leaf at about 11:00 am.  Heading south out of town, I remember too late that neither of us has thought to make a Keystone ferry reservation, a serious oversight in the summer, on a weekend, with one of two ferries out of commission.  We decide to hope for the best, knowing that if we're willing to hang on the beach for a couple of hours, we'll eventually get on.  Loaded with all kinds of snack and lunch food, we can eat our way through the wait time.

We arrive at the ferry, buy our tickets and wander through the campground down to the beach.  I'm still cranky and low.  Sitting on the rocky beach of Admiralty Bay, I begin to idly pick through the stones, running my thumb over the surface of each one, selecting for flat and smooth.  As I start building a tower, I wonder about the meditative practice of stacking rocks.  I recall making trail markers long ago, in my Girl Scout days.  I remember sitting on the river bank constructing small rock and stick houses with my mother on family camping trips while my father and sister were fly fishing down stream.  Looking carefully, I see symbols and images in the irregular patterns and colors on the surface of each rock.  I think it would be an interesting practice to sketch what I'm seeing in each hard, smooth piece of mother earth.

The inbound ferry rounds the point, and we wander back to the car.  Suddenly I am struck with the sure knowledge that I have forgotten to pack my preventative meds.  My heart sinks as I share this bleak omission with my husband, knowing we will have to turn around and head home.  He is sympathetic and understanding, but I am embarrassed, ashamed and disappointed.  I am a careful planner, and I know that my slip of mind is due to cloudy thinking that comes with migraines, but negative self blame still sticks to me like glue.

We pull out of line and head toward home facing yet another miscalculation.  We have only 11 miles left before we need to recharge the car, and the next charge point is 10 miles north, a nerve-rackingly skinny margin of error.  We are so relieved when we arrive at the Penn Cove plug-in, that high-volume hydroplane races taking place nearby become a joke rather than yet another fowl play.


Feeling better the next morning, I begin to bake my husband a long-overdue birthday cake.  The sun is shinning through the kitchen window, and I'm enjoying this simple, methodical process and the taste of chocolate batter as I lick it my fingers.  It is August 21st, the day of a total solar eclipse if you happen to be in just the right location in Oregon or Washington State.  We will see the sun about 93% eclipsed by the shadow of the moon.  We made no special preparations, but as the hour arrives, about 9:30 am, and the sky turns dusky, we wander outside with a hastily-made, pin-hole camera.  We hold our paper up to the wall across the street, and there it is, the sun turned into a half-moon reflection on the garage door.  I return to my cake making with a smile on my face.  Looking down on the kitchen counter, I see a tiny refraction of the eclipse as the image passes through the window pane.  With a thrill of wonder, I call my husband in to look.  I want to take a picture, but it's gone before I can grab my camera.  After a hard, painful yesterday, the cake and the eclipse are redemptive.  They arrive as gifts that help me regain my equilibrium and make my day.


Lately, the migraines have been an unrelenting, daily occurrence.  The SpringTMS keeps the head-pain level down but doesn't eliminate the muscle spasms in my shoulders and back nor reduce the accompanying mood dips, lethargy or foggy thinking.  Finally facing my slump, I'm taking the afternoon off.  On our small deck in the sun, I sit reading and listening to bird calls in our park-like back yard.  I sit for a long time, soaking in the colors and patterns of the trees and the movement of the leaves, and slowly, I begin feeling better.  Hearing an unmistakable bird call, I look up from my book to see a hummingbird hovering 18 inches from my face, his beak pointing right at me.  His tiny wings whir as he pauses in place for 10 seconds, then moves to my left a couple of inches and hovers again.  He moves left yet again and hovers one more time before a quick dash off into the big, old, transparent apple tree.  I am entranced with this little interspecies communication and know, without a doubt, I'm being upbraided for neglecting the hummingbird feeder, which has lain empty and dirty for months immediately behind the chair I'm sitting in.  I get up, collect the feeder and go inside to wash and fill it.  Delighted and renewed by my encounter, I gather my gear and put on my shorty wetsuit for what may be my last salt-water swim of the season.  The migraine waxes and wanes all day long and into the evening, but my mood has lifted, and by the time I hit the sack, I can relax into sleep. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Calm Before the Storm


After a cold wet spring, it has been a warm, very dry summer in the Pacific Northwest.  Being a sun worshiper, I'm ordinarily good with that, but this summer has been a killer.  To the north of us, 163 wild fires burn in the interior of British Columbia, Canada.  Dense smoke has drifted south and blanketed our region with a persistent dirty haze.  Around midsummer the winds that normally blow cool marine air in off the Pacific die and we enjoy incredibly beautiful long, clear days as the sun drops slowly towards the horizon, twilight lasting until around 10:00 pm.

This has been a smoke-filled month.  Reports claim we have had the worst air pollution in the Country, on a par with Beiping, China, with extraordinarily high levels of particulates in the air, ozone and radioactivity.

While missing the clear, clean air, I was feeling pretty good - until I wasn't.  Five or six days into the bad air, I started to cough and hack, first in the morning, then at night too.  My headaches began to amp up to near daily events although my SpringTMS continued to minimize my pain levels.  This last week our weather shifted as cool, moist air cleared out the smoke.  Still, each day is once again a struggle with daily pain, constant fatigue, cloudy thinking, low energy and all the rest.

Refractory period

This is a pattern for me.  Give me a cold or the flu, an emotional upset, bad air, and I'm okay for a week or 10 days.  My body takes care of the infection or the assault.  Then, just when I think I've dodged the bullet, trouble sets in.  Migraines increase in frequency, duration and severity.  All those little associated symptoms like muscle spasms in my shoulders and upper back, terrific ear aches, tinnitus, depressed mood, anxiety and more begin to plague me anew.  Our weather pattern began to change for the better on August 11th, a welcome birthday present, but I'm still suffering the effects.  Probably in another week or two, if the smoke doesn't return, I'll begin to feel better.  In the meantime, I have to work hard to be happy and productive.

The Old Question

Yesterday was Monday, my usual day for taking care of business:  paying bills, battling with the insurance company, mapping out my week, making contact with people I want to see, making appointments.  I also try to get a couple of hours of writing in during the morning.  Yesterday, I just couldn't do it.  So I resorted to my tried and true inquiry, "What can I do to help myself feel better?" 
Remembering to ask the question gave me a little breathing room.  The answers, my answers?
  • Start a blog post and write only until I run out of juice
  • Retreat to the window seat in my studio to drink a cup of tea and write in my journal, read, look at children's books and illustrations
  • Work on my art
  • Take a nap
  • Drive down to the water, sit on the beach and look for a rock ("Everybody Needs a Rock" by Byrd Baylor)
  • Buy some flamingly magnificent dahlias from the itinerant vendor parked on the Boulevard on my way home from the store.  This was not a plan, just a brilliant impulse!
  • Go for a short walk after dinner, anything to get outside
  • Early to bed

It worked.  I did feel better, not over my funk, but the day got a bit brighter and less fraught.  

The Flower Vendor

An added lift came from Ricky, the dahlia guy.  For a couple of months every summer and into the fall, he parks his van on a major thoroughfare and sits there most of the day selling his lovely flowers.  He has a boom box and listens to music, jazzy, bluesy stuff, and he has a camp chair or rather a camp rocking chair pulled up behind table that holds buckets of red, white, yellow, pink, purple, orange and variegated dahlias.  I've bought flowers from him every year but never really had a conversation.  Yesterday was different.

"Do you grow all your flowers?"  I asked.  "Oh yeah," he said.  "They're all mine - until they're yours!"  "You must have a pretty big garden."  "Wanna see a picture of it?"  "Sure," I answered.  He hauled out his cell phone and fiddled around for a moment and found photos of a large, maybe quarter-acre plot.  At the bottom of the photo, at the end of a row of flowers was a white stool, like a shower stool out of a medical equipment catalog.  "They're just coming on.  They'll get better in a week or two."  I was seriously impressed.  Ricky looks to be about my age, which is to say not young.  He's quite heavy, wears support stockings, and when he moves around his mobile flower stand, showing off his wares and bundling up my favorite picks, he hobbles as if his hips or knees hurt.  I drove away with my flowers, new respect for Ricky and a feeling of, perhaps, solidarity.

The next day, on the way home from my physical therapy appointment, I stopped by again.  I had a low grade headache, building as the day wore on, and a knot in my left shoulder.  "Ricky, I have a question for you."  "What's that?" he said.  "Could I take your picture?  I have a lot of headaches, and those flowers made me feel better yesterday."  "Sure, you can take my picture any time you want."  I shot three or four photos and thanked him.  He picked up a bucket from the table, "You want some yellow plums?  They're super ripe.  Picked them this morning 'cause they were gonna rot if I didn't.  Take as many as you want."  I took three.  He made sure I got the ones that didn't have a split.  "I like your camp rocker."  "Yeah, it's good.  I got it at Fred Meyers, pistons and all."  I bid him good by and headed home to cook dinner.  My headache had disappeared.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Miles for Migraine

June challenge

Miles for Migraine <> is a non-profit organized to improve the lives of migraine patients and their families by raising money and public awareness and helping find a cure for migraine.  The June Challenge is a virtual event.  Participants from anywhere and everywhere run (or walk) to raise money for sorely-needed research.

This year I decide to take the challenge.  I set out to walk almost every day, both to contribute and as a personal challenge, to explore my own ability to set one foot in front of another and day after day make a personal commitment.



In 2012 I tripped and fell going down the steps to the basement.  It was a hard landing that resulted in a soft-tissue, foot injury, and subsequent re-injuries requiring physical therapy, orthotics, crutches and five years to heal.  It's a long story on its own, with many frustrating setbacks.  I love to walk, and it has been a harsh blow, added to incessant migraines, to be deprived of such a simple pleasure and a means of coping with chronic pain.  Finally, this spiring, after several more months dedicated to exercises by Eric Miller, my superb physical therapist, my feet began to take me further and further without protest.  I was ready for a challenge, excited to have a goal and make a contribution.

Walkin' to New Orleans 

A superb old Fats Domino tune, title above, shows up, his voice and superlative piano play accompaniment to my walks.
On June 1st my husband joins me in my mini crusade, and we begin to walk everyday around our neighborhood, down to the Bay, the library, around town (to New Orleans).  It feels great although migraines and subsequent fatigue continue to limit the miles I clock via Strava, an ap that not only counts your miles and route but also feeds the information to Miles for Migraine and to followers.

June 5th my husband and I set out on our annual road trip to California to visit our son in Santa Cruz. First night in a yurt at Champoeg State Park south of Portland, Oregon, a big, expansive, rolling green park on the Willamette River.  We clock 2 miles through oak and maple woods, along the river.  Second night, Crescent City, California, a favorite stop for us.  We log 3.2 miles walking the lovely, long beach across Hwy 101 from the Curley Redwood Inn, where all the awesome woodwork (doors, paneling, trim, tables, headboard on the bed) was milled from one giant California curly redwood tree.  Third night we are home-away-from-home free in Santa Cruz.  Every day for a week we walk beachside West Cliff Drive to the lighthouse, to Natural Bridges Park, the neighborhood taqueria, a woodsy trail to the old lime works above Felton, around wildlife refuge Neary Lagoon, to Vasilis Greek Restaurant.  My mileage climbs from 1 or 2 to 4 or 5 miles at a whack.  I am feeling good!  

I am - a Tiny figure in blue
After a week with Andrew and Jenny we head over to Pinnacles National Park on the San Andreas fault, scene of spectacular, craggy red rock, sprawling old oak trees and abundant wildlife. We pick out a campsite and set up our brand-new, spacious tent.  The next morning, on a short hike, we head up a rocky trail, strewn with boulders and cave-like rock falls to a gem of a reservoir where we lay eyes on brilliant red and blue dragon flies flitting the surface, water snakes, frogs and Easter Island-like rocky heads.  On the way down, I take a short hop off a rock and feel a little twinge in my left groin area.  "Hm, I won't do that again," I think.  After a late afternoon swim in the campground pool, we have chicken salads and Andrew's home-baked sour dough bread for dinner.  We watch the sun go down and the stars come out and turn in early.


The next morning I get up with pain in my hip crease every time I take a step, so we abandon our morning walk and hit the road, driving north on 101, heading toward home.  It is a long, stop-and-go day as we battle traffic jams from Watsonville all the way through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge at rush hour.  We finally throw in the towel in Petaluma and get a hotel for the night.  Over the next few days, with a sinking heart, I quit walking as the pain in my hip grows progressively worse.  We skip stops at favorite swimming holes on the Eel and Smith Rivers.  Arriving home, I have my husband dig my crutches out of the basement and schedule a doctor's appointment for the next morning.  Diagnosis, soft tissue injury requiring at least 6 weeks to heal.  This is all too familiar territory.  When the doctor says 6 weeks, I hear 5 years and an end to my newly acquired walking ability, a summer without swimming or bike riding.  I have a major meltdown.

Let it Be

We are now almost a week into our return home, and I am still on crutches.  Once again, a song rises from the depths to give me a hand up, the tune, the lyrics playing background music to my days as I cope with this new, old reality.  "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.  And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, Speaking words of wisdom, let it be........"
Thank you, Paul McCartney.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Speaking up and Reaching out


Fall 2015, I signed up for a class, "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction," at our local Zen center.  The cost was $ 280.00.  Based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and pioneered in Boston at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, this 8-week series of classes was designed to help those with chronic pain and other difficult health conditions. A well-researched and-widely practiced curriculum, it includes mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures.

I made it through four weeks of classes before I had a spike in my chronic migraines as well as some stomach trouble.  I just couldn't get there by 9:00 am, or get out of the house at all on some days, so I dropped out and requested a partial refund or if they could apply my remaining tuition to a future class.  The answer was "No" accompanied by an apology and an explanation that they needed the income to keep the program and the Center afloat.  It seemed unfair.  After all, MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) is supposed to serve those of us with health problems.  Could there not be some acknowledgment of and provision for the challenges we live with?  Apparently not.  I stewed about it for a time before I moved on.
Anger Goddess

Meanwhile, I continued to take my once weekly adapted yoga class through our local Parks and Recreation Department.  When I had to miss class for two weeks for an anticipated, out-of-town trip, they credited me against my tuition for the next quarter.  It felt good and right, a simple acceptance of my needs.

Meanwhile, I continued to receive regular emails from the Zen Center on their classes and retreats, including MBSR.  A couple of months ago, finally goaded into action, I responded with a polite email of my own.

"Thanks for the information about the upcoming retreat.  I took a class, MBSR a year or so ago, and I’m not inclined to follow up with any more classes or retreats at the Center.  I have a chronic health problem, and basically there seems to be no place for those of us who can’t always show up according to the set schedule.  While I understand that you have to work to keep the program afloat financially, it seems ironic and counter to the philosophy of MBSR that you can’t really accommodate those with chronic health problems.  I had to drop out of the class after about a month because of a spike in chronic pain.  There was no allowance for this, and I forfeited my tuition.  While I’m doing better now, there’s no guarantee this will continue to be true.  So I’m not willing to pay for something I may not be able to follow through with.

I previously took a summer drop-in class.  Heather was the teacher, and the class was great, very helpful. I enjoyed practicing with a group. Apparently there are no more drop-in classes.  Too bad.  It worked really well for me, and I made it most of the time but didn’t have to pay when I couldn’t show up."

I received an immediate response from their new office manager, saying they did have a refund policy and would be happy to reimburse part of my tuition.  They thanked me for bringing the issue up and promised to look into a drop-in class.  They have, and that class will start in the fall.  Last week I received a check for $ 180.00.  Not only was it nice to have the money, but it was also a crystal-clear  affirmation.  "I see you. I hear you."  And hopefully it will help someone else along the way, too.

Practice - sticking up for yourself 

Sometimes I have to get a little angry.
I have learned, slowly, over the years, to stick up for myself, but it is a lesson I continue to need.  Opportunities abound.  Sometimes I can rise to the occasion, sometimes not.  This last Wednesday I had another opportunity.   I had an abscess in a wisdom tooth.  It had to come out.  At the pre-op appointment, the oral surgeon gave me a rundown and instructions including nothing by mouth after midnight for a 10:00 am appointment.  I explained,

"I have chronic migraine headaches, 20 to 30 days a month.  No morning tea will surely trigger a migraine before the procedure.  Can I drink clear, black tea and a glass of clear juice?"

He was reluctant, but once he understood the extent of the problem, he agreed.  He would add an anti-nausea drug to my IV sedation to prevent vomiting with the danger of aspiration.  I was relieved. The extraction went well, and I awoke with no head pain.

Anger Goddess

I am a weaver.  Sometimes when I feel the need of someone to express what I'm feeling, I create her.  The Anger Goddess reminds me to stand up for myself, to speak out when I need to.  She's a good friend, and of all the dolls I've made, she is everyone's favorite.  They like seeing that bold side of me.

Sunday, March 19, 2017



It is Thursday.  Kim left two days ago, and I am now by myself in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  My feet and now my right knee are giving me fits, old injuries angered by walking, dancing and lots and lots of stair climbing from the beach up and down to our hotel room, from our room to the lobby and street above.  This is old Zihuatanejo, old, well-kept hotels, no elevators or even handrails.  I like it like this. Even though Zihuatanejo has long since been "discovered" by Gringos and Mexicans alike, the town retains a flavorful, scrappy mix of old and new.  But right now, it's a painful, logistical problem.  I put on my clunky Keens sandals and slap a bandaid on the blister forming on my right big toe. I've sussed out a way to minimize my stair climbing by heading down two short flights of stairs, turning left to walk along the beach for 200 yards, then left again up a short, cobbled side street.  Today I wait as they finish filling a dump truck with rubble and drive off.  On the main cross street I hail a cab to take me downtown to the dock where I can catch a boat ride to Playa Las Gatas, across the bay.  Against my natural inclination to walk, I have schooled myself to take advantage of the cheap cabs and give my walking legs a rest. 

Playa Las Gatas - (the cats beach)

I grab the stanchion and carefully step over the gunwale, into the small open boat that will take us across the bay to Las Gatas.  It's a sweet ride, just 10 minutes, rolling across an easy, rhythmic swell on a beautiful warm day with trade winds blowing a comfortable 10 to 12 knots, just enough to take the sweat out of humid 85 degree weather. 
Named after cat-like whiskers of the sharks that used to inhabit the area, Las Gatas lies at the mouth of the bay behind a reef, so there is no surf, thus less aggravation for my knee.  There is a short stretch of beach textured with rough bits of coral reef.  Lined with palapa restaurants, it is surrounded by dense, jungly vegetation. A couple of years ago, during rainy season, I clambered off this same foot ferry and encountered three guys with flamethrowers.  "What do you use those for?" I ask, always curious about the endless differences I encounter in my Mexican travels.  "We kill the snakes at the edge of the bosque so they don't come around the restaurants."  It gave me pause.....  I decided not to trek from the beach through the woods and out to the point where there's a surf break.  Flat water of the small lagoon and shaded beach chairs were suddenly all the adventure I needed for the day.  Another day at Las Gatas I encountered a lazy-eyed, slightly predatory guy with a large iguana, tethered with collar and chain and perched on his shoulder.  You never know.

One of the many things I like about Las Gatas is that it's frequented mostly by Mexican families on a weekend getaway or vacation to the beach.  There are Americans, Canadians and others, but they are heavily outnumbered by Mexican children, parents, aunts and uncles all having a good time playing in the sand and water.  Today I wander down the beach and decide to stake out my spot close to the biggest concentration of little kids where the sand is smoother and I'm less likely to stumble over a hunk of coral.  A young waiter snags my attention with a promise of the best tacos, cerveza, margarita, whatever my heart desires.  I allow myself to be roped in by his charm as well as the location of this particular spot on the beach.  

Alone in Mexico, I am always more likely to strike up a conversation, given the main chance.  My waiter pulls up a lounge chair for me and offers a menu.  He is slender with a lean face and delicate features, his wavy dark hair pulled into a short pony tail low on his neck. We begin to chat.  The ice breaker question is always, "Where are you from?"  I love it when someone asks me this simple question in Mexico.  It means they're friendly and up for a chat.  I respond in Spanish, and we introduce ourselves.  Ruben's command of English is limited to restaurant vocabulary, understanding food orders and queries about the location of the bathroom. Perfect. This means we communicate in Spanish.

For me, one of the joys of traveling here is the opportunity it affords to practice my Spanish, which is serviceable but far from elegant.  Ruben and I talk about bicycles, sports, baseball and soccer, how many children I have, his job and how they pay him a 10% commission on food and drink orders.  On busy days he does well, but on slow days, he makes little money.  He interrupts our conversation to solicit business as families and couples stroll by.  I go for a swim and come back to my chair for lunch, fresh albacore tacos, which are delicious.  After the midday boats have come and gone and what passes for a lunch rush is over, he sits down next to me.  We talk a little politics.  Most Mexican people are curious and sad about the recent presidential election in the U.S.  I tell him about my brother-in-law who carves skateboards and builds bicycles.  He tells me about his family.  As we talk, I struggle a little with Spanish words or phrases. Ruben helps me out, and we begin to form a nice warm bond.  What we lack in linguistic specifics is made up for in body language, facial expression, gesture and all the other bits and pieces of communication that carry you beyond words.

I taught English as a second language to immigrants for years, and I had to work hard to hear with a critical ear. Left to my own instincts, my communication with students leapfrogged beyond the vocabulary and grammar I was tasked with teaching.  I would forget to listen to the sentence structure or individual words and instead cut straight to the person, their intention to communicate, their spirit, their smile, their presence.  If I wasn't careful, the end of class would arrive along with the realization I had failed to calibrate their ability to use new vocabulary, past tense or personal pronouns.  I like languages, and I continue to tutor students.  While I take great satisfaction in watching them learn new skills, the ultimate reward for me is the relationships formed.

What does this have to do with migraine?

After a December vacation, in Zihuatanejo, with no headaches, I returned in February because I love this place and because I needed to know if I could replicate this ten-day miracle.  Instead I had nearly back to back migraines, every or every other day.  I have lots of theories about why, but it's all guess work.  What I have carried home from this trip are memories that supersede the pain in my head and my wounded feet and knee.  Writer Jeanette Winterson talks about "the wound" and wound stories.  "What we notice in the stories is the nearness of the wound to the gift: the one who is wounded is marked out - literally and symbolically - by the wound." She says, "All my life I have worked from the wound." My gimpy knee led me, out of the way, to this little beach and my encounter with Ruben.    My achilles injury pointed my way to the taxi stand and the opportunity to chat up the cab drivers.  Perhaps my head pain imposes a pace more conducive to true connections with people as I make my deliberate way, step by step, down the beach - or through my life

Thursday, January 19, 2017

10 Days in December

A Rough start

It is 4:00 pm on Dec. 4th, and we are in lift off mode.  Tonight we're home, tomorrow Zihuatanejo, Mexico, our annual winter beach, vacation destination.  I print our boarding passes, and a couple of hours later my husband calls a cab to run us to the airport for a 5:00 am flight. We learn from the dispatcher that our Seattle to LA leg has been cancelled due to an incoming snow storm. After a brief panic I get on the phone, and Alaska Airlines rebooks us for an earlier flight out of Seattle, which means a 2 hour drive tonight to a park-and-fly-by-night motel south of the airport. We scramble to pull ourselves together and head out the door within an hour.  The hotel has a sketchy feel, but the room is clean, and it was the best I could do on very short notice.  This is not a seamless start to our vacation. It compounds the travel anxiety that has dogged me with aging and increased migraine frequency.  Maybe this trip wasn't such a great idea.  So much easier to just cave in and stay home.

Minor league miracle

The rest of our trip south is thankfully uneventful. We step off the plane in Zihuatanejo in bright sunshine and balmy 85 degree weather.  Customs and immigration is efficient.  We're in and out the other side in half an hour. We catch a colectivo or shared cab to the hotel and flop into chairs on the terrace of our modest beach-side room, heaving a sigh of relief and wonder. It is 5:00 pm local time, and we're home-away-from-home free. 

We watch families play on the beach, birds dive and catch fish as we marvel at the sunset. The days pass slowly to a low-key rhythm of watching the sunrise with our morning coffee, strolling into town morning and evening, frequent swims in the bay or the pool, reading and going to sleep to the sound of waves breaking on the sand below.

On the third day I turn to my husband and say, "Do you know, I haven't had a headache since we got here!"  Every day I wake early, make my tea and curl up on the day bed outside to watch the sunrise, birds, fishermen, early joggers and swimmers - with no headache.  I have not one headache during our entire 11 day vacation.  What if I don't have headaches anymore?  I begin to fantasize about what life will be like when I return home headache free.


We arrive home on Dec. 16th to the pre-Christmas rush. I'm tired from lost sleep and the trying 14 hour trip home. Per usual, I am not ready for the Holiday. Even though our celebrations are quiet and informal, there are still presents to buy, a few decorations to pull together and a small family Christmas dinner to plan. The headaches resume, frequent and more severe at first, then reverting to a more usual pattern once the holidays are over.  


This mind-bending 10-day respite has left me wondering what combination of factors enabled a marked change in pattern.  What can I learn from this?  I know that I feel better when I'm in and around salt water.  I love to swim in our chilly bay in the summer and hang out at the beach in Santa Cruz when we visit my son.  But I suspect it's more than that.  I think of my life as unstressful.  I am retired. Our finances are in decent shape.  I've got great kids who are doing well and two beautiful grandsons.  I have friends and things I like to do.  Nonetheless I struggle, especially in winter, to stay on an even keel.  

It's a puzzle, trying to translate the lessons of an 11-day Mexican beach vacation to daily existence at home.  But I'm working on it.  The Spanish word for puzzle is rompe cabeza, which means literally 'break the head.'  I think that perhaps that's exactly what I do to myself when I agonize over bits and pieces of my life.  I'm trying to let go and have a little faith that the things I dither over will work themselves out without eternal fretting.  For a start, I'm rescheduling my days so I have creative time to myself in the mornings, to write and draw.  I need to return to a meditation practice that took a back seat to my daily routine 6 months ago. I'm teaming up with a pal for a 2 week return to Mexico in February to learn more, to see if this pattern repeats itself.

What does it look like?

What does it look like .........

not to have headaches?  I realize that I perceive my head as dense and heavy, full up with pain, thoughts, emotions, plans, expectations and more.  What would it feel like to have more space up there, more room for the breeze and the birds and fishes?  More ventilation.  What if it were roomier and quieter?  How can I achieve that at home as well as away?

This little miracle has been a real eye opener that will inform my search for answers in the weeks and months to come.