There is a plan afoot to take an all-day art-viewing jaunt to Seattle with four friends. I want to go, but this morning, waking yet again with a migraine, I turn down the invite. I am unable to believe, imagine that I can actually pull off a day-long event without succumbing to pain and/or devastating fatigue. Sitting at my computer I come across a piece I wrote last summer, never published, that speaks to nearly the same circumstances including the same four friends. It helps me re-evaluate my decision in favor of a more hopeful outlook.
Saturna Island - 2017
Cortical Spreading Depression
I awake slowly, crawling reluctantly towards consciousness, resisting the pain that accompanies it. Dread and a feeling of failure, resistance and fear piggyback the dense heavy pain at the top and back of my skull, sliding down my neck, wrapping around my torso as nausea crawls into my gut. Migraine is a full-body experience.
I am spending four days with four close friends on Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands. Taking this trip is a leap of faith for me. The Gulf Islands are not that far from my home, but traveling, even short trips, with anyone except my husband has become problematic because migraines attack frequently with severe pain and a host of symptoms that stop me in my tracks. Noise, fatigue, a surfeit of human energy and a shortage of down time, alone, are among the triggers. Not only that, I am on crutches with a pulled muscle in my groin, unable to bear weight on my left leg. It is awkward and tiring and lowers my pain threshold.
We stay up late on Saturday night, deep in discussion about family, art, death, illness, challenges we all face as we enter our 60’s and 70’s. I know it’s past my best bedtime, but it’s a conversation I choose not to walk away from. It is 12:30 by the time I take my meds, brush my teeth and crawl into bed, knowing I may pay for this rich communion among loving friends.
At 5:00 am, I crawl out of bed and take a Naratriptan and my morning meds and fall back to sleep for an hour and a half, wake up again on the precipice of vomiting and diarrhea. I use my SpringTMS electromagnetic device, take a 10 mg. Vistaril tablet and burrow back under the covers to doze fitfully for another hour. Eyes open, and I deliver another series of pulses with the SpringTMS and hope for a miracle. Finally, at 8:00 I get up, wrung out but grateful that I may be able to take some limited part in the day before me. Two cups of black tea and a piece of toast settle my stomach, and the mental sludge begins to clear fractionally.
My friends are up, rattling around, chatting and making breakfast, french toast and bacon. I am barely able to tolerate the clatter of cooking and conversation, much less contribute to the making or even the eating. My circuits are fried. The volume and energy of breakfast conversation plows into me with the force of a bulldozer. I retrieve my earplugs from the bedroom and retreat to the couch, across the room, to give myself a buffer, space to wake up and recover. I am limp, overwhelmed and sad. By 10:30, I am in no pain, but my nervous system is blasted, capable only of beginning to resurrect my body in relative isolation. I would be better off in a cave this morning.
Paddy throws open the doors and lets the lovely cool morning air off Fulford Harbor drift into the room. Instantly chilled, I cocoon myself in a couch blanket. Prefering the difficulties of participating to the isolation of comfortable retreat, I settle in with everyone else to begin our ritual sharing of adventures and art work we have each engaged in over the past two months. Our time together is precious and infrequent these days, so I hang in there, listen, look at samples and images and make an occasional comment. When my turn comes, I have trouble with the simple functions of my iPad I usually navigate with ease. Word finding and putting my thoughts together are a struggle. I stumble through a narrative about my recent travels and some photos that are important to me, that represent both the places I’ve been and the path I’ve walked getting there and returning home.
We break for lunch. By 3:00 pm I have recovered from the worst of this neurological storm that manifested itself approximately twelve hours earlier. I am fatigued and drained, tapped out and a little depressed but on my way back to the surface, to light and life after near drowning. We sit in lawn chairs reading and watching draggon flies flit through the late afternoon light.
After dinner the plan is to take a drive up island and a short hike down to the water on the Straits of Georgia. I pile into the car, dragging my crutches awkwardly behind me. By the time we arrive at our parking place, I am feeling mildly nauseated and ill from too much too soon after my morning migraine. Telling my friends to go on without me, I crawl into the back seat and lie down. While grateful for the sudden quiet solitude, I am also sad that I’m missing out on an evening of stupendous beauty as the sun sets over the water of the Salish Sea. Seals, oyster catchers and other shore birds swim and wander the rocks at the water’s edge.
As I lie quietly in the backseat, door open, I listen to the leafy branches of the madrone trees sway and rustle in the wind. Silence. A lull as I doze. Then something stirs. I hear the soft crunch and crackle of a creature - or a spirit. Moving through the duff of leaves and shore pine needles, feeding on grass or shrubs, uprooting small plants, an animal grazes very close by. Breathing. Chewing. I don’t get up or look. I just listen enjoying the priviledge of close proximity to something wild, quietly sharing a little piece of forest.
My stomach begins to settle along with my frayed nervous system. My friends return, and we drive back to the house along the glassy-smooth water lit orange by the ball of sun dropping into liquid.