Friday, September 2, 2011

Sky the Color of Pain

For most of my life migraines have been a constant companion.  While their frequency has increased and decreased I've always gotten them on a fairly regular basis.  Some triggers like particular overcast days were so likely to be migraine days that the color of the sky to me isn't even a color at all, just a shifting, overbright pain that threatens to push me into a downward spiral of a migraine.

Its hard for me to even write about migraines, at times even thinking about them was a potential trigger.  The past couple years have seen a shift for me in the pattern of my migraines, from occasional crippling pain to more frequent but generally less debilitating symptoms.  The former made my life difficult, the latter was becoming a threat to my livelihood.  Because of this change I sought help in treating my migraines. That process, while challenging and sometimes unrewarding, raised my awareness of my condition much more than it had been in all the years prior.

As part of my treatment I had many tests, pretty much all of which came up negative.  The only new thing that I learned was that my eyes are somewhat out of alignment and that I may have aura migraines.  I say may because I'm honestly not sure that's what it really is.  I do know my vision is out of whack and when I'm close to a migraine it get really out of whack.  Solid colors such as white and yellow aren't solid to me they are a combination of colors overlaid on each other, for example yellow/purple for white.  The effect gets worse as I get close to a migraine but I learned that I'm pretty much susceptible all the time.

My susceptibility to migraines was one of the key realizations.  Its hard to explain to family members when they ask for results.  I probably have five to ten different migraine triggers which can work independently to trigger a migraine.  Food, stress, sudden lack of stress, too much caffeine, caffeine withdrawal, thirst, fatigue, too much sleep, eye strain, weather, heat, alcohol, cigarette smoke, certain annoying sounds and the knot in my neck muscles and upper back.  Some things can be treated or avoided, others can't.

The way I've always internalized how my migraines worked is as a feedback loop run out of control.  Normally, there's enough suppression that any negatives get sent right back down to zero and I'm ok.  Even at  the beginning there isn't much pain because there's some balance but then the pain aggravates the migraine and  all the triggers become that much more effective.  Everything spirals out of control rapidly, everything makes the migraine the worse except cold and dark. Light hurts, sound hurts, standing hurts, thinking hurts. Its too painful to sleep because my mind is running in circles. I get earworms stuck in my head, making me tenser and tenser.  Eventually, I'm locked up, completely unable to relax, in intense pain, unable to sleep and turning to whatever remedies I can.  Without some kind of treatment I don't think I can break a migraine anymore, I need painkillers or ice packs to try to break that loop and give me a chance to recover.

This year has been different from the previous years.  The migraines had been shifting in pattern, arriving earlier in the day and becoming more disruptive of my work schedule.  I began seeing a neurologist and started several different courses of treatment.  Not all of them went that well.

 The first medication I was prescribed ended up giving me horrible side effects.  Imagine having a dream like the first 15 minutes or so of War of the Worlds, replete with amazing effects and epic threats of world shaking proportions.  I had vivid, armageddonish dreams every night, every time I went to bed I'd wake up in a panic only to realize that maybe 10-15 minutes had past, take 45 minutes to settle down to sleep and have it happen a second time.  The sleep deprivation and the medicine made me cranky and angry. I didn't last long on it, but I'd been taking it long enough that when I switched to a second medication the withdrawal/unmedicated period was incredibly difficult.  I had been living with regular migraines for so long that going back to that state from a more suppressed condition was a huge shock.

What I've also learned is that medication alone isn't enough.  I have tons of potential migraine triggers so the response is to throw everything but the kitchen sink back.  A significant component of my migraines is due to muscle problems in my neck and shoulder which physical therapy helped with a great deal.  It wasn't a full cure and insurance only provides partial coverage but it was one of those things where I came out of it seeing a real difference.

I get asked by my family and some friends about other treatments like acupuncture.  I had acupuncture for migraines when I was a kid and it helped. I also was in a classroom in direct sunlight and school ended.  Now that I'm an adult I have a great deal of skepticism for holistic alternative medicine.  It doesn't mean I'm against all acupuncture, just the new agey side of it.  Acupuncture used directly on a muscle area as a way to relax it has some appeal to me.  I don't know if it has a real scientific basis or not but its something I can buy into enough to at least have work as a placebo.

This has been sitting unfinished for ages so I'm going to post it and maybe edit it later. Its been something I've been wanting to get out for a long, long time.

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