I’m really, really fucking grateful.
Grateful for non-headache.
Let me please explain.
Around five am I woke up with the kind of mind-bashing, gut-exploding, insane migraine pain that only the experienced suffers can understand.
I’d had the damned thing since early yesterday morning.
Took an Imitrex pill.
Four hours later as the thing grew, expanded, and began to affect my eyes, took another. Double the strength.
That was my limit for the day. Too much Imitrex and you set yourself up for a stroke.
I did chores anyway. Shopped. Every time my heels hit the floor it sent head-slamming shock waves through the base of my neck, the left side of my head and into my left eye socket. Migraines teach you to tiptoe.
By the time I got home I was a basket case. I crawled onto to the top of my bed, grabbed my tattered, 35-year-old Teddy bear and willed myself to sleep.
The only escape we have, sometimes.
The damned thing grew like the Black Plague, expanding across my forehead, down the muscles of my neck. Moved in to the left side of my face like an unwanted tenant.
When I woke up I had tears on my face, even while sleeping. My pillow was soaked.
I bloody well wanted to die.
I nearly fell out of bed. Crawled on my knees in the dark to my medicine closet.
I had to administer a shot.
Any of you who have been down this road, and this is my fortieth year of dealing with these bastards, know all too well what this is like.
The handy-dandy packaging made by those adept folks at the pharmaceutical companies is intended to keep the queasy from having to see a needle.
That very packaging has made it impossible for me to get swift relief.
One memorable morning I wasted several hundred dollars’ worth of Imitrex shots on my stove as I struggled over and over again to figure out how to make the system work. Precious healing liquid squirted all over the stove, the floor, into the sink.
In desperation I found a knife, a pair of tweezers, and a long nail. I pulled the whole thing apart, jammed the needle in my leg and used the nail as a plunger. This took me nearly an hour, because I couldn’t see. Couldn’t turn on a light. I had to find my way to the garage for a nail, the bathroom for tweezers. I was blind with the pain.
This reminds me of a Tom and Jerry cartoon wherein the homeowner leaves on vacation and fails to leave food out for the the cat. The cat, starving, struggles to find ways to open the cans, which elude him. He gets more and more hungry, more and more desperate.
I can bloody well relate.
Here’s my take: when those morons who designed this can create a system that works when someone is slamming them in the noggin with a ball peen hammer, shining a stage light right into their eyes both blinding them and exacerbating the pain by a factor of ten thousand, blasting high decibel music an inch from their eardrums, perhaps then they will have the compassion to design something simple, easy and SWIFT.
This morning I left yet another trail of blue plastic pieces, nails and syringes scattered on my kitchen counter.
The headache was so bad it took two full hours for the Imitrex to calm it down. For me to feel safe enough to step into the quiet light of an early morning, much less flick an overhead on.
I am grateful. Grateful for non-headache.
I can get up to twenty of these a month. Just imagine. Two-thirds of the month doing this kind of dance.
And yes of course I have tried everything, researched everything under the sun. Taken every imaginable test. We don’t know what causes them. I wish I did. I’d give a great deal to know how to prevent this kind of pain.
Sometimes people just develop migraines. Just like people get MS, or cancer or anything else. It’s one of the burdens I carry this life. I get to learn how to do a workaround.
The military mustered me out with a substantial disability for migraines, which made me unemployable.
As Jennifer Latson writes, https://medium.com/new-york-times-opinion/migraines-and-me-a-love-story-e7a4091967f4, multiple migraines have a way of defining our lives, what we can and cannot do. Nobody hires someone who is likely to be under the covers with a big bag of frozen peas twenty days out of the month.
You learn to deal. In many ways, you get defined by your disability. That disability is the gauntlet thrown at your feet. Overcome me, it says, or be defeated by me. I can be your excuse for doing nothing this life. Everyone understands.
Latson posits that her disability forced her to find creative go-arounds. Redirect her career. No longer would she be the first female President. My god, can I relate. I was similarly ambitious, hopeful. Nobody signs up to become the pin to a migraine bowling ball. Or for that matter any other disease.
Like Latson, writing and speaking allowed me to work, since I couldn’t launch a full-time career. If necessary, she and I can crawl into the relative safety of our bedsheet pup tent to wait out the storm, then crawl back out into the light to get back to work.
What fascinated me, however, were the times that I chose to step on stage despite a migraine.
The second I began to speak, the migraine dissipated. Happens every time.
As someone who earns her living in part as a speaker, this is a gift. I don’t care what’s at work. All I know is that if I’ve made a commitment, the show must go on. It always does.
For me, that’s grace.
I still work. Write. Produce daily articles. Books. Consult. Do adventure travel.
And I live with migraines, up to twenty a month. On a good month, around five.
The great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the importance of realizing well-being in his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. He uses the example of how when we have a toothache, not having one is happiness. Yet, when we don’t have one, we don’t treasure our non-toothache.
Ask any migraine sufferer, like Janet or me, how much we treasure our non-headache.
How much a cancer survivor treasures non-cancer.
How much those of us saddled with any kind of disability treasures any moment, any hour or day or week, without crippling pain.
For me, these potent seconds, no matter how fleeting, are mini-lessons in mindfulness about how precious any moment is when we can be in full awareness of our bodies, our brains, our thoughts without the invasion of pain, fear, dread.
I am grateful. Grateful for non-headache.
This morning as I write this, clear-eyed and in non-headache, I am beyond grateful. Every single non-pain breath I take in, I celebrate. You have no idea unless you’ve been there.
Like Janet, migraines have, for me, offered the extraordinary opportunity to learn to love our lives. Here’s the key paragraph in her article:
Then again, what if the migraines actually helped me achieve what I have so far? Scott Sonenshein, a professor at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, argues that we can accomplish more when our resources (in my case, health) are scarce than when they’re unlimited. “Constraints can motivate us to be resourceful, act in more creative ways, and solve problems better,” he writes in his book “Stretch.”
Migraines have taught us how to live differently. If anything, to suck the nectar out of those moments when we are in non-headache. To achieve in spite of.
While I am no luminary like Stephen Hawkings, well. Nor am I an achiever such as Kyle Maynard( https://qz.com/761750/a-quadruple-amputee-who-climbed-mount-kilimanjaro-is-the-star-of-nikes-newest-ad/).
Do we enjoy the pain? Hell no.
However, I might posit that learning to celebrate non-headache has taught us survival and thrival skills that others who suffer disabilities share. Without our limitations, we aren’t challenged.
One week from today I am off to Africa to climb Mt. Kenya. Will I have migraines? Probably.
But they don’t define me.
In their own strange way, they have taught me to celebrate headaches. Without them, I’d never have pushed myself so hard. Never have learned to work with the non-headache time I am given.
And I am fucking grateful.