About Kelly Lynn Thomas

I read. I write. Sometimes I sew.

Miss Migraine: If you visit the Brandywine River Museum

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 15, 2012.

If you plan a trip to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, and you suffer from chronic migraines, do not eat a red velvet cupcake with butter cream icing for breakfast, even if your best friend bought it for you from the Bakers at Buffington in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, even though you love your friend and red velvet is  your favorite cake.

Especially do not eat a red velvet cupcake for breakfast with 16 ounces of Ethiopian blend coffee cut with just enough half and half to turn it from a pleasant brown-black to a pleasant dark tan, even if the coffee is from Wawa and your devotion to your favorite convenience store — which is unavailable in the place you currently live — is fierce and strongly nostalgic.

Brandywine River Museum

Photo credit: Brandywine River Museum

When, upon approaching a red light and flicking on your left turn signal, a flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, even if it means taking it with coffee. The flare, though brief, is a warning sign of things to come, and you should know better.

At the museum, which is filled with the works of famous local artists, specifically those of the Wyeth family, avoid the 40-something man dressed in the carefully styled careless way of art history professors who leads a group of other men, dressed less carefully and more casually, though the exhibit of paintings and sketches done by famous local artists on their vacations in places like Delaware, Maine, Italy, Germany, and Holland, while he explicates loudly on each painting’s deeper meaning.

When, upon nearing the end of this gallery, another flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, as you’ve been smart enough to put one in your wallet although you’ve left your purse in the car, because you don’t want to carry it. The water fountain is located right beyond the gallery you’ve just existed, past the bronze sculptures of three happy pigs in a wallow and a naked woman braiding her hair, and you should know better than to wait.

If it suddenly seems that the security guard has started to follow you and your friend, you may assume that he is doing so because the two of you are the youngest patrons by at least two decades, and your friend is the only person of color. Other possible explanations include multiple middle-aged white male security guards with salt and pepper hair and graying goatees, each wearing his uniform shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearm. This will not directly affect the pain growing in your head, but it will greatly annoy you, as you would like to contemplate Andrew Wyeth‘s painting of a skull by a window without feeling the scrutiny of someone who might assume you either have to be here for a school assignment (you don’t) or will show bad manners and try to touch the paintings (you would never).

Because you did not take the Maxalt pill when you should have, your vision will blur in the middle of the N.C. Wyeth gallery. By the time you leave the museum, driving will be a chore. You will slow down at green lights and forget to start again when you stop at stop signs. You will take a second Maxalt pill two hours after the first one, and you will lay down with your dog for awhile, but it will not lessen the pain or the vague feelings of nausea. You will be forced to cancel plans with your other best friend whom you see only rarely, because you know that driving at night is unsafe when your eyes make it appear that shadows have substance and are jumping out at you.

But you will continue thinking about Andrew Wyeth’s painting of the skull by the window, how it faces away from the window, almost as if it has turned from the beautiful view beyond because it was too painful, because it was unreachable.

Adventures in writing conferences: AWP 2018

Last week I went to Tampa for the 2018 AWP Conference. For those of you who aren’t familiar with AWP, it’s the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and each year they hold a huge conference in a different city (next year is Portland!).

It’s an exhausting three days full of craft talks, discussion panels, many offsite readings and parties, and a huge book fair (almost as big as the exhibit hall at a Star Wars Celebration, if you take out the giant AT-AT and X-Wing models). Writers, publishers, and editors from all over the US and Canada convene to talk books and writing and collectively drink all the alcohol in whatever city we’re visiting.

A stack of books.

My book and literary journal haul from AWP.

In years past, especially when I was an MFA student and felt that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO FIND A PUBLISHER FOR MY BOOK RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, I spent a lot of time wandering the book fair talking up publishers and trying to sell them on my manuscript. Let me just say that is not the best approach to enjoying AWP, not to mention ineffective. But it’s what all the writing advice articles say, so that’s what I did.

Here’s the thing, though: I write weird books, and even selling a normal book is hard. I believe in my work and I believe it will find the perfect home as long as I keep putting in the leg work. So this year I decided to take everything a lot less seriously.

And unsurprisingly, the conference was a lot more enjoyable without all that self-imposed pressure. I stayed with a friend from Chatham, and we may have drank an entire box of wine. Maybe. And we may have also dyed our hair purple (which has sadly mostly washed out already).

Because I stepped up as a coordinator for the VIDA Count, I worked directly with more of our team, and had the pleasure of meeting many of them in person for the first time. I also had a blast catching up with some of my professors and former classmates from Chatham at a private reception with an incredibly serious bartender who was probably wondering if all writers are over-excited alcoholics (we’re not).

I also spent more time in the book fair just talking to people. I discovered a few new journals that I’m excited to submit to, caught up with my friends at various presses and mags, and hopefully made some new friends! My favorite part was meeting the editorial staff at journals who’ve published my work. Plus I came away with a huge haul of journals and a few books that I’m incredibly excited about reading. Look for reviews of those in upcoming posts!

The downside to all this excitement at all is that I’ve had a migraine for the past five days (Pittsburgh weather isn’t helping). I’m starting to feel better today (and perhaps some coffee before work will help), but I haven’t even tried to work on my novel this week. Oh well! It’ll be there next week, and I’m excited to get back to it when my temples aren’t throbbing.

Relaxing and having fun is notoriously hard for me (just ask my partner, who complained to me last night that I always want to do productive things after dinner when he wants to relax and you know, spend time with me). I consider it quite an accomplishment that I had so much fun I triggered a week-long migraine cycle.

And hey—I even learned a few things, too.

Miss Migraine: How to travel in a group if you get frequent migraines

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 8, 2012.

Travel is one of my passions, but before I go anywhere, I have to plan for myself and my migraines.

I’d been planning to write a travel tips post, but Diana Lee beat me to it with her excellent “Traveling with Migraine Disease: Top 5 Tips” article on Migraine.com, as well as with a post on her blog, Somebody Heal Me, so I decided to tackle group travel instead.

When you tour with a group, whether it’s with your school, church, for a medical missions trip, or a guided tour somewhere with people you don’t know, the rules are different. There’s often a set schedule of places you have to be and times you have to be there. Activities and sight-seeing are planned in advance, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Family ancestor temple in Ky La, Vietnam

Members of my Vietnam travel group enter a family ancestor temple in the village of Ky La, outside of Danang, Vietnam.

Group Travel Pros:

  • Unless you’re leading the group, the work of planning and scheduling has been done for you. All you have to do is show up! This equals less stress for you.
  • Your group leader will take care of you. Regardless of your age, the group leader is in charge of making the trip successful, and a good will ensure that her travelers are well taken care of and enjoy the sights. She might be working hard (and getting paid for it), but you’ll be having fun.
  • You’ll likely do things you wouldn’t have thought to do on your own, or do things that are slightly out of your comfort zone. This will help you bond with your group mates and make awesome new friends.

Group Travel Cons:

  • If you’re out in the middle of nowhere (or even just taking a bus tour of a city), it may be difficult or impossible for you to get back to the hotel if a nasty migraine strikes. A good group leader, however, should be prepared for emergencies like this.
  • If meals or restaurants are pre-planned, you may not have a choice in what you eat. This can be a con for anyone, especially if you’re in a foreign country and find you don’t like the cuisine! Talk to the leader about food requirements or allergies you may have BEFORE you go.
  • Someone on the trip is going to get on your nerves, under your skin, and make your head hurt worse. It’s going to happen. There’s no way around it. Deep breathing and polite avoidance are the best strategies.

I’ve been on plenty of group trips, many of them to foreign countries like Vietnam, Mexico, and New Zealand. Despite the inevitable annoying person or two, I think the pros far outweigh the cons. In Mexico, I helped a group of doctors and nurses fix cleft lips and palates by translating for them. That’s not something I would have done on my own. But as migraine patients, we do have to take precautions.

Here are my tips for group travel:

  1. Tell the group leader about your disease and give him/her a list of ALL your medications, even over-the-counter ones and herbal supplements. This allows your group leader to help you when you’re in pain, and help medical professionals help you if there’s an emergency. Do this well in advance of departure. While on the trip, Let your leader know when you feel a migraine coming so she can help you manage it.
  2. Make yourself a “migraine kit” and keep it with you AT ALL TIMES. This should include your medications and anything else you need to prevent or relieve pain. For example, I have a sachet of lavender that I keep with me to avoid triggering smells. Other items might include ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones and your MP3 player, an eye mask, or snacks.
  3. Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and too much caffeine. You may not be able to control everything on the trip, but you can control how much water you drink. Staying hydrated at least reduces one possible trigger. Avoiding excess caffeine and all alcohol also reduce the chances you’ll get an attack. It might be hard when everyone else is toasting and having fun at dinner, or when travel fatigue sets in, but the consequences of missing part of the trip because of blinding pain aren’t worth it.
  4. Get as much sleep as possible. When I went to Vietnam, some nights we were out late and then had to wake up early in the morning, and I had no control over this. The best I could do was take advantage of every opportunity for sleep that came along. Often this meant missing out on evening activities with my friends, but being well-rested and having less pain was a worthy trade off. If there’s a long plane or bus ride during a time you’d normally be sleeping, consider taking something to help you sleep, like Benadryl or an OTC sleep aid. You could even ask your doctor for a few sleeping pills like Lunesta. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you take anything to make sure there are no interactions.
  5. Be flexible! This is travel. You’re probably going somewhere you’ve never been before, and with a bunch of people you may not know. Something’s going to go wrong at some point: a museum will be closed unexpectedly, the bus will break down, someone will get lost or be late and put the whole group behind schedule. It’s important to remember that all of these are out of your control. Don’t stress yourself out about them or think they’ve ruined the whole trip. Expect to have fun, but be willing to let that fun come in whatever form it’s going to come in. You won’t get to do everything you want to do, but enjoy the things you do get to do.