End of year resolutions

At the end of every calendar year, I like to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, any goals I failed to meet (and analyze why), and what my goals and intentions for the upcoming year will be.

For me, 2017 was particularly difficult, between the emotional and mental stress of the current administration, changing careers, dropping out of library school, dealing with my dog’s degenerative disease, and trying, through all of that, to make some progress on my house. I know many of my friends from more marginalized groups feel even worse.

Now, with the very real threat of this awful tax bill, a lot of those worries have come back. The bill is terrible for universities and grad students–my partner works at a university and is currently enrolled in graduate classes. I’m now teaching at a community college. If, as many are predicting, the corporate tax breaks create an investment bubble that bursts in 5 or so years, will I still have a job, any job?

There’s no way for me to predict the future. The bill hasn’t been signed into law yet; it still has to go through reconciliation. I’ve let my reps know how I feel about this bill, and will continue to do so. And certainly there are other actions to take, but ultimately, I can’t control what happens here, and I can’t control what might happen to the economy in a few years.

Instead of letting all this anxiety dictate my actions, I’m attempting to be sensible and to focus on the things I can control. Namely, my own actions. This month, as a sort of pre-New Year’s Resolution, I’m concentrating on the following things that sort of fell by the wayside this year: my health and various creative projects. I’ll also be thinking about ways to increase my financial security in the coming years, and setting goals for 2018. But for now, here’s what December’s all about for me.

My Health

Many years ago, I stopped eating processed food and most sugar. But I’m an emotional eater, and those bad habits have crept back over the past few years. Paired with a medication that exacerbates food cravings, I gained quite a bit of weight. I wish I could say it doesn’t bother me, but it does. More than that, though, is the simple fact that eating crap makes me feel like crap. Excess sugar consumption leads to all sorts of terrible things, from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. That’s right. Eating too much added sugar can increase your risk for and ability to fight Alzheimer’s. Most processed foods contain added sugar, plus migraine-triggering preservatives, and very little in the way of nutrition.

For the rest of December, I’m going to cut out as much processed food as possible (pretty easy considering this just means I need to cook for myself instead of eating out and avoid Trader Joe’s delicious but deadly snack items), and stick to the WHO’s recommended max daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women. I’m also going to go back to eating four smaller meals per day instead of three large ones–this is mostly because a steady flow of energy reduces migraine attacks for me.

I hate to spend the money, but I’m also considering investing in a membership at a yoga studio or gym. I can and do use yoga videos at home, but I think even going to a studio once per week would help with form, posture, and maintaining my motivation. If anyone has any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Creative Projects

Here’s the thing: creativity, whether in the form of writing, gardening, or sewing, is essential to my mental health and emotional well being. Making things makes me happy, and I know the things I create make others happy. Writing fiction always gets tough for me as winter sets in, because the limited daylight and cold make me want to hibernate. And that’s okay! I don’t feel like writing right now, so I’m going to give myself a “vacation” this month and allow myself to focus on other creative projects.

I’ve got a few home decor projects in the works, plus a Rey costume that’s half finished. I’m not going to get all of these things done by the end of the year, but I can probably finish the costume and make a set of fancy curtains for my dining room. And if I only get one of those projects done, that’s okay, too!

Sewing is relaxing to me in a way writing isn’t, probably because it’s so much more physical than writing. I like that as I sew, the thing I’m making takes shapes right in front of me. It’s physical and tangible, and in the case of curtains, very useful and pretty to look at.

 

December is also a time to spend with family and friends, and I’m looking forward to doing that, too. (Not to mention…. STAR WARS.)

Miss Migraine: Migraine jargon

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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?

Miss Migraine: Another way of living

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 3, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

I am currently reading a book of essays on writing fiction called The Half-Known World, written by Robert Boswell. One of the essays examines the use of “alternate universes” in literary fiction–not literal alternate universes like the Bizarro World of Superman, but moments in a text when a character’s “vision expands beyond its usual limits.”

On page 111, there’s a passage that struck me as particularly relevant to those of us living with chronic illnesses, especially invisible ones. The passage is as follows:

There are times when it seems there must be some other way of living, moments when the utterly ordinary takes on a measure of strangeness. Now and again, you may even feel as if you live in two worlds at once, one that is orderly and regular and looks like representations of life you’re accustomed to, and another that is disorderly and irregular and nothing like representations you’ve seen anywhere.

Even though the essay is about fiction, this paragraph speaks directly about people. And I know this feeling exactly.

For a long time I tried not to talk about my headaches, because it always garnered the same responses: do you need glasses, could it be something else, that sucks, I’m sorry, the you-are-faking-it look, the awkward silence. So I lived (or tried to) like a superhero, with two identities. Normal Kelly, who went out and did things and had fun,  and Migraine Kelly, who laid in bed with an icepack on her head. In many ways, that hasn’t changed, except that now I talk about my illness openly (and try not to get too irritated by the canned responses).

And then there are times — a half a day every few months or so — when the pain subsides to the point that I don’t notice it at all. In those moments, I feel wonder and amazement. I search my head for the pain. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s not there, but when it isn’t, truly isn’t, I feel as though I’ve been transported to another universe, maybe another body. I wish I could stay there, but a migraine always brings me back to myself.

Ultimately, I’m not sure which mode of being feels more normal to me, more “orderly and regular,” and which one feels more strange, “more disorderly and irregular.” That scares me a little bit. I’d like to say I’m accustomed to being normal and social and happy, but I fear the truth is that I’m not. I’m accustomed to being in pain, to limping through life, being careful not to do anything to make the pain worse. But I do feel like somehow, some way, there must be another way of living. I just haven’t found it yet.

(The book is, by the way, quite excellent, and I’d recommend it for any writer or avid reader. Click here to order the book. I’m not getting anything to say that, either!)

What’s your “normal” mode of being? How do you envision that other way of living for yourself or anyone else you know who lives with an illness?