Miss Migraine: Another way of living

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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 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?

Miss Migraine: My migraine support team

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 31, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

The necessity of asking for help with a simple, daily task because my head is throbbing and I feel weak and dizzy makes me angry. It makes me feel helpless. It makes me feel useless and worthless.

Unless I’m literally writhing in pain in bed, unable to get up or open my eyes or speak more than a few words at a time, I probably won’t ask for help. Luckily, I have a support team.

My husband

D.J. didn’t want me to take this picture.

D.J. takes care of me without making me feel like I’m putting him out. If I can’t vacuum or buy groceries or pick up our weekly fresh produce subscription, he does it without complaining. I make sure to thank him for doing these tasks, because I am truly grateful for his support.

He also nudges me to take care of myself. It was at his insistence that I finally got an appointment at our local headache clinic. While I haven’t gotten relief yet, I have gotten hope, and a knowledgeable doctor who listens to me and is available by phone during office hours. D.J. also wants me to explore therapy options, and get my eyes checked (which I’m doing tomorrow–I’m kind of nervous about it!).

But perhaps more amazing is that despite the fact that D.J. often winds up doing more of the housework than I do, he makes me feel like I still take care of him, like he still needs me — just not to pick up groceries! This makes it much easier for me to relax and let go of things. He makes me feel valued and useful, and that is his greatest gift to me as his partner.

Lexi

Cater-corgi!

Although I may be slightly biased, I think Lexi is the most beautiful dog in the entire universe. She is also probably the brattiest. Even in her puppy pictures you can see the attitude in her eyes. She doesn’t like to be held, and the only time she likes to cuddle is at night or early in the morning before I get up. But when D.J. or I get sick, she stays with us constantly.

Corgis may not have the power to cure migraines, but they do have the power to cure sadness. There’s nothing like coming home to Lexi’s wagging nubbin and happy barks. She runs around me in circles, and if I wait too long to pet her, she jumps up on my legs and makes a noise at me.

She can sense when I’m feeling depressed or anxious and usually answers by bringing me a rope and asking me to play tug with her. I can’t remember a time when this hasn’t cheered me up considerably. She makes me laugh every day. (Lexi is now 13 and suffering from degenerative myelopathy, but she still makes me laugh every day.)

Jaina

Jaina is waiting for me to get her bone from under the cabinet.

Jaina is an 18-month-old German shepherd dog. Unlike Lexi, she’s more or less oblivious to our moods. But since she’s just about the goofiest German shepherd I’ve ever met, that doesn’t matter much. Her favorite activities include licking D.J. for long periods of time (especially his feet and hands), chasing her bones underneath the furniture and staring pathetically at one of us until we fish them out for her so she can do it again, and chasing her squeaky ball at the dog park.

While Lexi does keep me active, with Jaina I have no choice but to go for long walks every day. GSDs need lots of exercise so they don’t become bored — and therefore destructive, especially when they’re puppies. Regular, low-key exercise keeps me healthy and staying healthy helps keep my migraines in check. Not to mention that Jaina is incredibly lovey and cuddly, and never says no to hugs or squishes.

Family and Friends
So many other people have supported and continue to support me in many ways. My mom is always willing to listen to me complain, and my dad and I often talk about our respective health woes. Friends have driven me to the emergency room, bought me groceries, made me tea, and so much more. Thank you.

Sketch of a Saturday baseball game

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 28, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

Some things at baseball games are awesome, and some make my head hurt even more. Sketch by Kelly Lynn Thomas, July 27, 2012. Click the image for full size.