About Kelly Lynn Thomas

I read. I write. Sometimes I sew.

Miss Migraine: Migraine jargon

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 2, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

I
If you have migraines, they call you a “migraineur.” It rhymes with “entrepreneur,” but it’s not in the dictionary. I think it’s an ugly word, that it implies you create migraines or that you organize or manage migraines, usually with considerable risk. Migraines might come with considerable risks: pain, nausea, dizziness, weakness, blurred vision, more pain, depression, anger at circumstances, irritation at loved ones for incessant (but well meaning) “how are yous,” still more pain, inability to function on an adult level, etc., but so far the ability to organize or manage them has escaped me.

I know that’s not how the roots of the words really work. The roots of “entrepreneur” mean “someone with enterprise,” and the roots of “migraineur” just mean “someone with migraine.” I guess that’s me, but I don’t want to be called that. I don’t want to be that.

And, I already have a name.

This isn’t the place I wanted to inhabit. (Photo of the porch roof and street outside an abandoned house about to be torn down on Negley Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA, 12/1/2008. By Kelly Lynn Thomas)

II
They always tell you to avoid your “triggers.” What “triggers” your migraines? they ask. I hate that word, too. It implies a beginning to the pain. A beginning implies an end. But for me there is neither, just an endless line, or a circle, or a constant in an equation that always works out to the same number.

So I tell them everything. Everything triggers my migraines. When they look at me skeptically, I run through the list: weather, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, chocolate, cheese, nuts, not eating enough, stress, not enough sleep, too much sleep, loud noises, bright lights, strong smells. Then they usually ask me if I need glasses.

III
Treatments: There are endless migraine treatments. Medications, vitamin supplements, diets, sleep behavior changes, occipital nerve stimulation, acupuncture, chiropractors, reiki, biofeedback. There is always a new one, and it is always a miracle for some random person on the internet.

The number of these things is exhausting. I read somewhere that it would take 25 years to try every single migraine medication available. I’m 25 now. Maybe if I had started when I was a baby, I could have found the right drug already.

How do you feel about migraine jargon/terms? Does it comfort you or irritate you?

A brave new world

Last month, I quit my job at the library and dropped out of library school. I want to talk about what happened, and I want to talk about it honestly and fairly, without malice.

I’m not sure I can do that yet, because frankly what happened is shitty and unfair, and because I don’t want my words or actions to harm anyone who still works at the library. And I don’t want you, potential library-user, to feel any sort of weird bad feelings toward the library, because you should absolutely not (which reminds me that a few of my books are a day late…)

So instead of detailing the events that led up to me quitting my job, let me talk about what I’m doing now.

First, I am teaching fiction writing classes at the Community College of Allegheny County, in the community education (non-credit) program. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but got scared away by endless adjunct tales of woe and the need for affordable health insurance. Thankfully, I’m in a position now where I don’t have to worry about health insurance quite as much, making part-time teaching a possibility.

And I have to say, it feels good to be sharing the thing I most love doing (writing fiction) with people who are excited to learn. My students range in age from around my age to retirees, from judges to hydro geologists, and I am learning as much from them as they are from me, I’m sure. I’m going to give teaching a trial run for a year, and if I find at the end of the year that I still love it, I’m probably going to apply for PhD programs (creative writing PhD in Hawaii? Yes, please) to up my chances of getting a “real” teaching job (and also because I want to write an ecofeminist dissertation on Star Wars, but that’s a tale for another time).

Second, I am working part-time at Riverstone Books, a new bookstore in the North Hills that will open later this week. In addition to working the floor, I’ll be working on the store’s social media as well. Right now the main focus is on getting the store up and running for the grand opening tomorrow, but I’ve got lots of content ideas percolating, and I’m really excited about the store and this opportunity.

Third, I am freelancing, which is something that had to fall by the wayside while I was working full-time and taking classes. So far I’ve had work published in The Millions, Health.com, and Next Pittsburgh. Where will my name pop up next? Who knows! I missed writing nonfiction, so it feels good to dip my toes back into the business of facts.

Journalism has always felt like an odd side appendage I don’t know what to do with—I know I’m not really interested in hardcore investigative reporting, but getting to write about topics I’m passionate about (food! writing! migraines!) for more than my blog is only a good thing.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m writing more. My writing sessions don’t have to be limited to fifteen- or thirty-minute sprints before I head into the library. My mornings are open, so I can write for one hour. Two hours. Even three hours. I am still giddy with delight at this bounty of time. So I am shopping my short story collection, revising a small collection of flash fiction, and plotting a serial novel for NaNoWriMo next month.

What’s more, my partner’s fears that I would just play Pokemon Go for eight hours a day if I quit my job have not come true! I still only play for a very moderate average of one hour a day!

This is all still new, and still a little scary, but ultimately, I’m hopeful that good things will come of this brave new world.

Miss Migraine: Efficacy vs. side effects

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 30, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

I’m taking 150 mg of Effexor every day. Photo by Kelly Lynn Thomas.

When it became clear that zonisamide (brand name Zonegran), an anti-seizure medication sometimes prescribed for migraine, was doing little more than eliminating my aura, my doctor gave me a choice.

“Are you more worried about side effects or efficacy?” she asked me. “Because you can try Prozac, which is easier to handle but not as effective, or you can try Effexor, which is much harder to handle, but more effective.”

I didn’t want to take an anti-depressant, but my blood pressure is too low for the blood pressure medications that can be prescribed for migraine patients. So I weighed my options. The throbbing in my right temple spoke for me.

“Efficacy,” I said. “Things have been pretty bad.”

She explained the possible side effects: sexual dysfunction, risk of increased depression or anxiety, trouble sleeping. In the past, those would have been unacceptable side effects. But after four years of constant, unending, continuous pain, I was willing to make sacrifices.

I left feeling hopeful.

Three weeks later, all feelings of hope have evaporated. I wake up every hour or half hour during the night. In the morning I feel anxious for no reason. I am lightheaded and dizzy, and sometimes nauseous. The poor sleep is leading to more severe migraines.

I remember why I hate medications, why I hate doctors, that nothing has ever helped. Waves of despair wash over me and I feel like nothing ever will. Taking Effexor is harder than I imagined.

But then I take a deep breath and remember that my doctor told me tapering up is the hard part. I haven’t even been taking the full dose for a week yet. I have to be patient, but that’s not something I’m very good at. It should get better. My body should adjust. And if it doesn’t? We’ll try something different.

I just have to work on being patient.