(Having Excruciating And Debilitating pain
And Carving out a Happy Existence in Spite)
For some time I debated whether to devote a section of my web site to this subject matter. It is not fun or uplifting, the way I tried to make most of my other sections. But all of life for anyone is not fun and uplifting. I've had to remind myself often that it is those "thorns in the flesh" we all have that help us to appreciate the good times, and to help us to be more empathetic and compassionate regarding other's "thorns".
My physical health was always fairly good growing up and into my young adulthood, other than battling some extra pounds (which I was usually able to get off, though that has not been the case in recent years) and what seemed like more colds and sinus problems than most people had. I attribute the latter at least partially to being in a usually closed-up apartment and closed-up car with two chain-smoking parents. I had pneumonia in 1979 when I was only married 5 months and was in the hospital for 9 days. Other than that, I have still thankfully never been in the hospital.
My emotional health growing up was not so good. I was raised as an only child and spent a lot of time alone. I never made friends easily and was teased by many of the kids in school from about 5th grade on. My last name of Fisch became "Fish Face" or worse, and the first name my mother gave me (which I legally changed to Teresa many years later) didn't help. I wore glasses since I was 10, was tall and a bit heavy for my age, and generally frumpy - a real late bloomer. Being shunned by one's peers at a tender age leaves scars which never totally heal. Though I regretted it in later years, I dropped out of high school after my sophomore year, but I found working wasn't much different. After all, I still had to take myself along to my jobs. I went out with my one close girlfriend from school sometimes, but never had any dates. My parents, who had me at ages 38 and 40, were very overprotective, which didn't help me gain confidence in myself.
Many years later, I learned a background such as I had describes a typical candidate for chronic migraines. Of course, I had heard of migraines, but never really knew what they were till 1982. I woke up on New Year's Day of that year with a really bad headache that would not go away. Prior to this, when I got a headache, I would take a couple Bufferin and it would go away. But this one was different, and it was mainly on the right side of my head. I also felt nauseous that first day, and I had the headache the next couple days before it finally went away. A few weeks later, I got the same type of awful headache. They started coming every four weeks like clockwork and seemed to get progressively worse. I would generally wake up early in the morning with the headache, go through a period of moderate to severe nausea the first or second day, and I would have the headache till about 6 p.m. the third day.
Over the years, I've usually felt I had to go to work in this condition, so my attendance wouldn't suffer too much. Many a day over the years, I couldn't wait to get home, lay down in a dark room holding my head and pray the pain would go away. Some people's migraines are preceded by their seeing "auras" of light, but I don't have those. I simply wake up with what I describe as the feeling of having had a knife jabbed into the right side of my head (it's always the right side). As the migraine progresses, the knife is jabbing itself over and over into that same area of my head and, depending on the severity of the migraine, I might merely get a queasy stomach or I might not be able to even keep down water. As the migraine gradually subsides, the knife has been removed from my head, though I can still feel where it was. This is usually followed by a fourth day of feeling generally wiped out and tired, despite the extra bed rest I'd had.
As you can imagine, feeling like this makes it hard to function at work or to do things I may have wanted to do on the weekends. Sometimes I make myself do these things anyway. As I said, when I was feeling this way three days out of every month, I couldn't miss work every time it happened or my attendance would have been awful. I visited several doctors over the years in an effort to find a cure. One doctor, back in the 80s, prescribed a pill called a "beta blocker". By taking this pill every day, supposedly it would prevent me from getting migraines. Sounded great, except absent-minded me would have to remember to take it EVERY day or I would get a migraine. A couple of weeks later, we went on vacation and, sure enough, I forgot the pill one day, and I got a whopper of a migraine while we were on vacation. So instead of enjoying myself the next few days, I had the familiar but dreaded "knife in the head" and was too sick to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, The Old Spaghetti Factory. So much for the "beta blockers"!
In the 90s, thankfully, I started getting migraines less frequently, and the length started to vary. Some of them would be comparatively mild and would only last two days, while others would last as long as five days and be severe. I went one stretch of five months without getting one, and a few other times, they came only three weeks apart. I did some reading about possible causes and realized part of what triggered the migraines was sensitivity to certain ingredients in foods. For instance, I have always craved pretzels and have been known to finish a big bag in two days. More often than not, I got a migraine. I believe the yeast in the pretzels was the culprit. (Pretzels are a lowfat snack, but as the Bible says, "All things in moderation", which doesn't include pigging out...). I would also get one if I ate ramen noodles a few days in a row. Here, the problem was the MSG (monosodium glutamate), a common trigger of migraines. I now try to be careful of not overdoing it with foods such as these.
I continued to try a few other prescribed migraine medications, and nothing seemed to have an effect until 1997. At that time, my doctor prescribed a fairly new medication called Imitrex. He advised to take one Imitrex in the early stage of the migraine. They are tiny pills which would be extremely expensive per pill without health benefits. But even if we had to pay full price, I believe we would need to buy the Imitrex. They are the only thing that has ever worked for me. I still get a few migraines a year, but they are usually the milder variety that, while unpleasant, I can still function with. So now if I wake up with a headache, I'll start out by taking two Excedrin, which often does the trick. If it doesn't, I'll wait two hours and then take an Imitrex. I may have to repeat this once more, and then more often than not, the headache will subside or, at worst, remain present but tolerable for a couple days. This has really been an answer to prayer!
Though the migraines have been my main health concern, there are others -- chronic insomnia, occasional lower back pain, and seasonal allergies in the spring, especially to a pretty yellow ground cover plant called Scotch Broom which is hard to avoid in this area in April and May. The insomnia seems to have been helped by my giving up diet drinks containing aspartame (Nutra Sweet, a/k/a "Equal") in February, 2000. I read and heard a lot of health concerns about it and decided I no longer wanted to ingest it. (See this link for some of the info that convinced me.) My back pain was helped by switching to a padded computer chair at home instead of sitting in a folding chair for hours, and would likely be helped further by shedding my excess weight.
I hope anyone with migraines will be encouraged by reading my account of how mine are now pretty much under control with the help of the Imitrex. You should definitely look into the possibility of certain foods triggering your migraines, and you should ask your doctor about Imitrex. It is also a fact that migraines become less frequent as one gets older.
I'm not sure why I've had to spend so many days in my life with a "knife" in my head. It's often made me feel even more cut off and isolated from other people than being an only child and facing the preteen rejection from my classmates. I can only trust that God has all things under control, and now that my affliction (while not yet healed) has become more tolerable, I have more appreciation for the majority of pain-free days I have now.
"Dream Orphans" - official font of The Evergreen Refuge - download here
Music MIDI performed by pianist Margi Harrell