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Living with Migraines

Living with Migraines

Can I Live a Normal Life?

November 16, 2017

There is a question that all migraneurs, and likely parents of migraneurs, will ask: will I live a normal life? I will answer with a story.

Lately one of my favorite bands put out a new album. Actually, I have to correct that. Last year they put out a new album and my friend recently told me about it.
You may ask “How is it your favorite band if you don’t even keep up with them?” Well, its easy to do that when you thought they disbanded (ha) years ago. So hearing that they in fact did not give up the ghost and are still rocking was a very exciting event.

The band I am talking about is a European Viking Metal band called Slechtvalk. They rock. Shredding guitars, growling lead vocals, and bass choruses that really invoke the image of warriors singing together in a mead hall. I could swear the temperature falls twenty degrees every time I listen to them as the music tears reality apart and remakes it into Scandinavia long ago. 

I love metal music, the style, the tone, the musicality (its more than growls and noise, dad) and yes, even the words once you develop an ear for understanding the singing style. The metal genre, I would say, comes from one premise: a dissatisfaction with life, and seeking a path for its betterment. And with all the genres and subgenres in metal, there is a genre for everyone.

As I got excited about the prospect of new Slechtvalk, my mind went straight where it goes whenever I get excited about metal: the question of “how is it that metal does not give me headaches, when every old person I have met says ‘metal gives me a headache’?”

The practical answer is that I listen to it on low volume, and I gave up on being able to attend a concert long ago. 

But that dovetails (or raventails, since we are talking Viking metal) into a deeper question a lot of migraineurs, or young migraineurs’ parents, have to ask themselves a lot: “will I, or will my child, live a normal life?”

The answer, in short, is No. Migraines prohibit many activities “normal”. But the question should not be “will I live a normal life?” but instead “will I live a fulfilled life?” Sometimes for me that question has to be asked daily, and the answer is always Yes.
Having migraines sets you apart from society. Anything from music being too loud in a friend’s car, a school talent show featuring a surprise laser and strobelight interlude, a flickering lightbulb, and a thousand other things can trigger a migraine. And they are all things that unafflicted people hold to not only be normal but to also be fun.

There are two recourses available to people who make the realization (and most people will likely make this realization sooner rather than later) that they will potentially never live a normal life. Those recourses are either raging, roaring, and hating the world, or accepting it and redefining what you consider a normal life. 

I personally swing between the two, but I would love to say that I am never angry about my headaches. But that would be a lie. I sometimes am angry and upset and moody about my migraines. I consider it natural. 

The anger will be there, but the question is what to do with it. To sit and stew in it does no good; all it does is damage you and ruin your life even more. And besides, the anger alone does no good. What are you angry at? God? Nature? DNA? Fate? Your Body? The wizard that placed a curse on you and turned you into a werewolf? Being angry at any of those things does no good (excepting the wizard, but it only counts if you are partial to wearing loincloths and own a broadsword) Quite frankly, they are all rather cosmic things too big for your anger to directly effect.

I am not saying to ignore the anger. That also does no good. But the anger can be circumvented by seeking to make the thing you are angry about less powerful in your life. Some restructuring has to happen. You have to learn avoidance, how to say no, and how to change your book so that being different is all right by it. You also have to learn to not get angry at the people who are enjoying life without migraines. Sometimes you have to admit that you are the outlander.

I listen to metal on low volume and refrain from headbanging. But I still enjoy metal. In school my migraines made me unathletic even though my pre-migraine days saw me earn a black belt in Taekwondo (I forgot most of it, but it hilariously came back during a college self-defense course. The instructor never again sparred with me as move demonstration after that). I found other ways to enjoy myself so that an inability to run was not a limit to my happiness. Again, it is seeking a path to rectify dissatisfaction with life. Its totally metal.

So to answer the original question: a life with migraines, or any other struggle really, cannot be normal, but it is not hopeless. You may not appear normal, but you can make your life rich and fulfilled despite that.

Living with Migraines

Interruption!

November 2, 2017

I interrupt this program for a special news bulletin.
I was going to talk about some vague concept, but tonight there was an interrupting migraine episode that I felt like sharing while the iron was hot. 
Tonight was a special day for America. It was game seven of the World Series, the Houston Astros versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now I love baseball, its a fun sport to read about, and watch. 

I find it boring on television, but for the world series I make an exception. Because I am a big Dodgers fan and this was something I just could not miss. The Dodgers have not been in the World Series since 1988.
I have no television at home (I watch Netflix and YouTube). So I got in my car and drove to my favorite sports grill to catch my fill of TV baseball. 

It also is the day after Halloween here. Now I have nothing against Halloween, but something I don’t like is restaurants decorating anything beyond the cutesy ghosts, smiley witches, and jack o’ lanterns. Skeletons are right on the edge. 

My favorite restaurant did not follow my ungiven advice. They decorated with blood and guts, so I avoided them for a month. For someone who likes food, that was hard. So I was excited as I pulled into the parking lot aaaaaand…Interruption! They had not taken down their decor. 

So I moved on to my other favorite sports restaurant on my mountain (I love them both equally). This one is a pizza joint, and I was going to get spaghetti. You cannot tell me what to do. 

Now this one had the bonus of sharing a parking lot with the post office. I had recently ordered custom lego bricks in the mail, so I stopped by to see if they had arrived. To my joy, they had. So with my new envelope of bricks in my pocket and joy in my heart I went to get my spaghetti and watch the Dodgers give the Astros what for.

I sat, and opened my bricks. I have a favorite custom brick company (they are called BrickWarriors. I want them to live long and prosper, so I buy a lot from them)

This batch was a bunch of bricks that look very similar to iconic helmets and costumes from my favorite video game, Skyrim. I looked over my new bricks in admiration and glee as I waited for my spaghetti. To be honest, they distracted me from the game. 

Soon I was munching on spaghetti and watching the Dodgers play, until…an interruption.

Then around the fifth inning, the lights began to flicker annoyingly, then begin to flash and dim, like something from Star Trek when the Enterprise takes a turbolaser to its hull and a computer console inexplicably explodes on the bridge. 

I closed my eyes. Flashing and strobing lights are one of the quickest ways to make me have a migraine. 

It soon stopped, and I went back to the game. 

Then it happened again.

This time, it ended in a power outage that lasted for five or so minutes. Then when the power had been on for a moment, the flickering and flashing began again, followed by another outage. 

And then it all happened a third time. If it had happened the day before, I would think it was 3spooky5me (one level higher than too spooky for me). But this was November 1, and it wasn’t fun at all. It also would not have been fun on Halloween.
“I’m done,” I said while fumbling my way to the cash register to ask for a box for my spaghetti. Besides, the Dodgers were doing quite poorly. Being a Dodger fan is a perilous path only for the truest of hearts.

I could feel my body going numb. It is a very disconcerting feeling. I personally refer to it as Fading, because alongside migraines I am afflicted with melodrama. By my experience, I had about thirty minutes to get home before a migraine came.

I went to my car and got home as soon as possible, all the while wondering if the power was out there too.

Luckily they were not, and I went inside and fed my dog and set myself up to prepare for the worst. 

In a great moment of serendipity (one of my favorite words that I am so glad to be able to use) my migraine came softly. Its going to be a slow and long one, with numb hands and a fuzzy mind and partly my fault because I forgot to take my onset medication, but at least I wont be bedridden.
And I have some new heroic legos to play with.  Also, congrats Astros. That was some mighty fine baseball tonight.

Skyrim lego brickwarriors guard dragomborn health migraines

I was going to write an obscure guard quote. But then I took an arrow to the knee.

Living with Migraines

The Lord of the Rings and Illness

October 26, 2017

This last week I received a text message from my sister, asking me to come back to our family home for the weekend.
I thought about it. Then I prayed about it. After that, I thought about it some more.
“Why not?” said I after a while.

So I decided to pack up myself, my puppy, and my car and drive across Southern California. Then a thought came to my head. I should listen to an audiobook on the drive. I can count the number of audiobooks I own on one hand, and it wound not matter how many fingers that hand had.
“If I could have any one travelling book to listen to, what would that be?”

I thought for a moment. There was only one that came to mind, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

Now my migraines and their brain-altering effects have made me more prone to emotional outbursts and weird attachments to mundane things (the color blue, European Starlings, Christmas Trees, and the constellation Orion are each on that list) but let me tell you, The Lord of the Rings is at the top of that list.

It is my very favorite book, and for good reason. It is, in fact, the source of my outlook on life. The Lord of the Rings, and its first book The Hobbit, made a painful life worth living.

Now let me explain.

I will preface my explanation with this: I know that The Lord of the Rings is not for everybody, and that the fans tend to either be bookish outcasts or Led Zeppelin. You either know they involve something little elf-men with big feet or you wear a cape on the daily. There is little middle ground.

The books are massive word blocks with adjectives and adverbs and drama killing phrases like “They set out to the northwest”. Even watching the movies is a twelve hour marathon, and tend to either put people to sleep or turn them into lunatics.

Tolkien’s works have, for the fifty or so years since their publishing, have been thought of as allegorical, either for the World Wars, nuclear power, environmentalism, the hippie movement (Frodo Lives!) or Christianity. Tolkien himself had a strong dislike of allegory, and instead wrote books that were applicable to their readers’ lives.

Hence the unbridled fanaticism his works inspire fans.

As a Tolkienite fanatic, let me summarize the books with one sentence: Tolkien creates cute little happy creatures and sends them off, willingly or otherwise, on a journey that beats them into a pulp, but they carry on because in that moment it is the only choice they have.

The Lord of the Rings features at its core three main themes: the importance of unexpected things, perseverance, and the foolishness of despair.

Unexpected importance is a very crucial thing when one struggles in life, especially with chronic illness. In the story many side characters reveal themselves to be of dire importance, often taking up little more than a page or two. But without them the story would be over.

An example of this is one of my favorites, a farmer named Maggot. The archetypal stoic old farmer, Maggot keeps massive dogs and terrorizes all of the youths in the neighborhood who trespass on his lands with threats of feeding them to his dogs. His reputation is one of terror, but when we actually meet him he is a kindly helper who is far from the crotchety figure he is made out to be.

Farmer Maggot Chronic Pain Encouragement Migraines

My very own Farmer Maggot illustration, complete with one of his dogs.

The unexpected, and its revealing to be good, permeates all of Tolkien’s writings. You cannot know what is coming around the corner, or who the stranger you meet may actually be. Therefore it is foolish to fear what is coming, or strangers just because they are strangers. You never know when something or someone good is coming, and for someone living from migraine to migraine, that is a very encouraging thing to have recited to you.

Perseverance is the second main theme of the book, and its importance to a sickly person is self-evident. Every hero of the book has a task that they are given by destiny, fate, chance, or someone wiser than they are. And they stick to it to see it through even when it is hard, because that is what they have to do.

Each character is torn down and remade stronger. This is done by difficulties they face. Their fears, their homesickness, possessions that are theirs by right that they do not possess, each character has weaknesses, and they work hard to overcome them, or they are forced to.

This is a theme that is near and dear to my heart, as it is the story of my life, and everybody’s life. Sometimes life just gets tough, and you have to keep going, because that is the only option you have at the moment.

And that walks quite nicely into the final theme: the folly of despair. For that, I will just place a quote from the greatest wizard in fiction, Gandalf:

“Despair, or folly? Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”

This bit of wisdom had carried me through many difficult times, and I remind myself of it often.

And so, with these and countless more reasons flashing through my brain like starlight, I downloaded an unabridged, nineteen and a half hour long audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring for my few hour drive home. I, uh, I kinda overdid it.

Living with Migraines

Migraines and Sensory Issues

October 12, 2017

One thing that I have learned to live with as a migraineur is extreme sensitivity, In both the physical and emotional sense. Today I will talk about the physical sensitivity.

For me, the slightest touch always has the chance of giving me a migraine, as well as the wrong lighting or too loud of a noise. This is, of course, a stereotype of migraineurs, especially the loudness of noise. But it is true. For a long time, especially when I was in High School and early college and lacked the necessary independence to be able to fully protect myself, I avoided many social activities because in our time ‘fun’ means sensory overload. Anything less is boring spelled with umlauts. Music blasting, lights strobing, you know what I am talking about.

This did effectively stunt my social life, and I will admit sometimes I am bitter. But I found ways to enjoy myself in the comfort, and dimly lit quiet, of my own home.

Things like sports games, especially my favorite hockey, are virtually impossible for me to attend, as the loudness multiplies and becomes deafening. Ok, for some reason around 2010 some deal was signed between photographers and the LA Kings that made my favorite sport literally impossible for me to attend without vomiting. Well, I know the reason (Green drawings of George Washington). They did this thing where the photographers could sync their flash to the strobe lights in the stadium. This made the entire stadium a non-stop camera flash. I don’t know why nobody has talked about this, but it is one of the great laments in my life, because I really liked going to hockey games. So if you are a migraineur and cannot attend indoor sports games because of camera flashes, let me know. To use a meme, I am still salty after seven years.

This segues into the greatest pain when it comes to migraine prevention: light. Light is everywhere, and it hurts. Especially unnatural light, which also happens to be everywhere. Lightbulbs where the glass is unclouded, spotlights hung from a roof in lieu of normal lights because it is cheap, stage lights, and any bulb that is slightly broken and flickers. The flickering is the worst. It’s a less fun strobelight.

And forget about attending concerts, and movie theaters are generally places I like to avoid, unless the movie is really worth it, as in, worth a migraine the next day. Last movie I saw was Pirates of the Caribbean V. Yeah, that was an especially bitter migraine, since I got it because I saw a terrible movie. I see about one to two movies per year in theaters. It very much limits possible dates.

Beyond things that I can go out with a mind to avoid, there is always a chance that something might happen that will give me a migraine. Today I hit my head going into my car, which I have found either triggers a migraine or a really bad headache (and really, beyond sitting in a neurologist’s office, does it matter?). A sound guy accidently or otherwise turns the volume up too much, a lightbulb is flickering in a room I absolutely cannot leave, there is a very fun looking event that you know will hurt so you have to skip. All these make migraines worse.

But I am not saying that life with migraines is impossible, or even shallow. A very easy fix for most of these is to drop out of college.

Ok that was a joke. What I did in high school and college was to always wear a hat and keep a pair of earplugs on my person at all time. And, I got very good at sneaking. There were a lot of mandatory events that I managed to leave early, if you catch my meaning. The crew from Ocean’s Eleven could have used me…if they could have found me.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

A large part of surviving with migraines is self-sufficiency. I got very good at enjoying things on my own, where I could control the volume and lighting and if it got too much I could stop it. Netflix was a great discovery, as were books, toy soldiers, and single player video games, and just being a total nerd. Fun fact: I have logged 446 hours in the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. 

Essentially, the question about any life, whether or not you have migraines, is what you fill it with, and whether what you fill it with makes your life worthwhile. Some people greatly enjoy work. Props to them, I am not amongst them. I personally really enjoy fantasy video games, books, and music, and of course blogging. What you have to do, migraines or not, is find what you enjoy in life and hold fast to them. Don’t let them consume you (that 446 hours pretending to be a magical elf-man is spread over six years), but don’t let grim seriousness overwhelm you to the point that you are a scowling Puritan. There is so much more to life than that.

Migraines definitely add a foul bend to the mix, but there are methods and ways of dealing with them. It takes a little bit of planning, some resourcefulness, and sometimes sneaking around. But it is far, far from impossible. So if you have migraines, keep trying until you find a way to make it work. It is possible. And if you don’t have migraines, please, turn down the volume.

Living with Migraines

Snap!

October 6, 2017

Today I had a great fall. I was walking my puppy—well trying to walk my puppy. He still has not quite learned the art of walking on a leash. It was the point of the walk. I had a bag of treats in hand and was trying to train him. I was walking down the road with him to varying success; sometimes he led the way, sometimes he walked by my side (which always gained him a treat) and sometimes he locked his legs and dared me to drag him. Which I promptly did.

This road is rocky and bumpy and full of holes where holes ought not to be. I was walking downhill, and I turned to make sure that Finn was there behind me.

SNAP!

I felt a searing pain in my ankle. Before I could react I was on the ground in the middle of the road. The bag of treats went one way and the leash went the other. My heart raced. I can’t outrun a dog, let alone a terrier. I grappled for the leash, scraping my knee.

Grabbing the leash, I looked up—Finn was just standing there, and I swear that there was concern in his eyes. There was a large tree stump on the side of the road, and I struggled to get to it. My ankle screamed, but I could move it. It was not broken. I hobbled to the stump, and sat. A corner of the stump crumbled under me, and my heart skipped a beat thinking that this whole thing was about to fall.

It did not, and suddenly the world was a peaceful forest once again. I sat there with Finn, training him to sit, waiting for my ankle to be walkable again. Looking at the road, I worked out that I had tripped on a pothole, and the snap I had heard was my shoe slapping against it.

I heaved a sigh of relief, and after a while could hobble back to my house.

Raven, tree, mountain, photography, chronic pain management pain coping mechanisms

I really enjoy birds and trees. They are some of my very favorite things, so being able to take a picture of both in a picture is amazing.

As a Migraineur, I am quite familiar with pain, and coping with it. But I am used to a different pain, a pain that is, if you will, all in my head. I’m not saying that migraines are not real, I will be the first to scream (quietly) that they are very real. A migraine can be written off—it is not warning you that your leg is injured and that you should not walk or it may break.

Tripping on a pothole and falling in the middle of a road, makes your body sound an alarm that you are injured. It was a very refreshing kind of pain, in a strange way. It felt like it was accomplishing things and making me rest from a very real injury, as opposed to a migraine, which is, if you think about it, your body playing a cruel joke as your blood vessels expand in your brain and squeeze it.

But now, after I have made sure that my ankle is okay, I now have to just deal with the pain as I would a migraine. Of course, there are the various treatments: medication, food, sleep, ice, leeches, and the hand of a friendly wizard, but after all of that, you have to manage the pain and live with the discomfort.

I am sure I do not have to remind you that life is full of pain. I am not even going to elaborate on the specifics. Everyone has a particular pain in their life. I am going to leave that open-ended. My personal pain is migraines, and that is my experience, and my way of coping with pain is tied with my imagination.

knight, acrylic painting lion chronic pain fantasy pain coping mechanisms

A simple painting that I did one day that I had a migraine.

My blog has made it clear that I enjoy some fantasy. I like escaping into other worlds, as well as enjoying reading and writing and drawing depictions of warriors and wizards and fantastic creatures. Yeah its nerdy, but I don’t really care. It comforts me, and fills my belly with a warm joy. I’m not that big of a science fiction fan, as I know that every sci-fi environment is full of beeping and flashing machinery that will trigger a migraine. Think about it. It makes sense.

Alongside the fantasy, I try to enjoy nature. I watch birds sitting on the branches of trees, or squirrels clamoring about a newly leafless tree that looks hilariously like a dancing man.

Essentially, when life becomes painful, I try my best to embrace and rejoice in the good that life offers.

Living with Migraines

Difficulty and Happiness

September 11, 2017

As much as I try to portray myself as an enigmatic individual from a place ten leagues beyond time, what with my obscure refences and sometimes archaic language and all, I am still quite strictly a child of the 1990s. As such, I have a certain proclivity towards a certain invention of recent years—the Video Game. They divided people the world over, as some say that they are a beneficial pastime or even a form of art, and some say at best that they are a waste of time or at worst the cause of all the violence seen in our society.

I am, of course, in favor of the first one. The conflict over video games directly reflects the conflict over comic books in the 1950s that resulted in the Comics Code Authority which banned the portrayal of both zombies and hugging in comics, among other things.

Anyhow, I hold that certain forms of video games are art. Or, in the very least, a new form of storytelling that belong on a shelf beside books, movies, television, and cartoons. If you have been following my blog, you would have noticed that I am pretty into the use of storytelling to cope with extreme pain. When my migraines first hit, I spent most of my sixth-grade school year at home playing video games in the dark.

Nowadays I cannot focus at a screen when I have a migraine, but still, it worked for young me. As I said before, I consider some video games to be a form of art on par with literature. Some games like Minesweeper are kind of hard to find a story in. But beyond that, I think that the concept of video games, in their modern form beyond story, can be just as powerful as a self-help book or a motivational talk.

To explain this, I am going to talk about the most extreme, demoralizing and upsetting video game I own, the video game Dark Souls.

I recreated the iconic image of the game, a campfire made out of a flaming sword, in Lego to avoid copyright infringement.

Dark Souls is a medieval-gothic fantasy series created by Japanese video game creator Hidetaka Miyazaki. The series is most known for its excruciatingly high difficulty level as your character fights against a backdrop of a shattered medieval world in which a zombie apocalypse has occurred and cursed everyone with zombieness. Including you.

The difficulty of this game series is incredible; the game has fairly and squarely decided that you will lose, and it is up to you to try and try again until you win despite the game. Enemies hide behind corners, and there are traps hidden everywhere. The game even has fake traps just to mess with the player. This has given the game an aura in the gaming community as a “very hard game.” 

I was introduced to the game in college when the dorm directly above my head set up a TV and started playing Dark Souls above me. About every five minutes I would hear them roar with frustration and pound on their floor, which was my ceiling. So naturally I went up there and started playing myself. Then I bought it myself, and now I play it as a form of catharsis when I get too frustrated with life. Humans always need a scapegoat.

The true nature of Dark Souls is debatable and subject to many, many, many hours of YouTube videos. There is no direct story; the plot is Avant Garde and minimalistic. Instead of directly telling the player the story, there are clues hidden throughout the game. You will find a magic rock and the game will tell you:

“The shine of this stone is no ordinary polish, and can only be achieved over a long period. Some in this land are in search of such mystical stones”.

What does that really mean? I dunno. But the rock heals you. It should also be noted that Bandai Namco, the game’s producer, offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who could tell them the series’ story as a celebration of the release of the third game of the series.

That’s right, there are three of these games. It seems that games with an incredible difficulty level that fill the internet with videos of people destroying their controllers in frustration are rather popular. I’d post a link to a reaction video here, but in the full grip of frustration where you are screaming many people lose their filter and say those words that are inappropriate to say.

But this really begs a question: Why? Aren’t video games supposed to be fun? Well, I think this ties into the difference between happiness and having a good life. In our society, you must be happy, or your life is terrible. I have spent years perfecting a way to honestly answer the question “how are you today?” without lying. Because if I honestly answer, “I feel terrible,” people cannot handle it.

So, I nod and say, “I am having a good day”. But ours is also a society where sad movies are blockbusters and everyone has a sad song that they listen to on repeat more often than they would admit. Our cartoons have rough, dark undertones— the fish in SpongeBob are mutants from the radiation of the atom bombs detonated on Bikini Atoll Test Site in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The show even uses stock footage from the testsAnd there is also whatever statement this is.

There is a strange division between the media that entertains us, and the current cultural narrative that you always must be happy. You don’t have to be always happy, but you can still have a fulfilled life. In the case of Dark Souls, there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you win, precisely because the game is so hard. It is much like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, only Sisyphus gets to push his rock all the way to the top and enjoy a nice refreshing beverage while Zeus and Camus weep in the distance. 

How the game feels more often than not.


When you always have to be happy, life becomes a void where only one emotion is allowed, devaluing all experiences into how happy they make you feel. Eventually you are no more than a mindless individual vaguely pursuing happiness, which all too often translates to “what can I impress my social medias with today?”, leading to five seconds of joy and many hours of depression until you can figure out a new stunt to pull. Dark Souls and sad music and movies offer an outlet for the pent-up sadness that we are not allowed to express. Likewise, SpongeBob and other cartoons that feature happy environments with terrible backstories are fulfilling cartoons’ original role—social satire.
Obviously as a migraineer I am not very fond of always having to be happy. But that does not mean I cannot be content, or have a good life. I used Dark Souls as a video game example first because I have a strange fascination with the series for many reasons. (I may write a blog post just about the game itself, because I RUN THIS BLOG). Secondly, I used it because it is extreme and difficult and frustrating, but it is still enjoyable, to the point where it has inspired a multitude of YouTube content, fan theories, and of course the hours and hours of actual time playing. By its mere difficulty it has become unique, famous, and successful. Don’t devalue your life because it is difficult, or feel that you are lesser because of your inability to obtain freakish levels of constant happiness.

Living with Migraines

Calzones, Moving, and Migraine Thoughts

August 29, 2017
Calzone delicious amazing best Italian food

Guten tag! Well, it has been a while since I last posted here. Fifteen days, actually. I moved. That was the distraction. I left Central California for the mountains of Southern California, more specifically the area around Lake Arrowhead. I’m still livin’ under the Grizzly.

I could not bear to live under any other flag. Public Domain.

But however there is one issue that caused me great angst in High School. You cannot run away from your problems if the problems are inside your head.

So I am eating a calzone whilst suffering on the back end of a two day migraine and thinking about migraines. That has to break a fourth wall somehow. Anyways, back to it.

It is a mystery, what actually causes migraines. A mystery that is hotly debated in the migraine and neurological community.

I always thought that it was caused by blood vessels expanding in the brain and squeezing that all important brain tissue and making the nerves go wild.

Largely, I still do. But lately I have encountered people who refute that claim. They dont have their own theory to replace it, but they refute the old one. And I don’t blame them; all learning is, of course, a search for knowledge and requires mad speculation beyond what is commonly believed from time to time.

I personally still go with the blood vessel expansion theory, its easy to understand, visualize, and explains why migraines feel like they are squeezing your head.

I have encountered other theories in unrelated studies, such as Germanic beliefs that neurological disorders are caused by elves, and Classical beliefs attributed to the famous Roman physician Dr. Galen that migraines are caused by vapors in the stomach that were excessive–either too hot, or too cold.

Whilst spirits are much more endearing and attractive a cause to me than “blood vessel expansion”, their work cannot be proven or disproven so they have to be left in the margins of attempts to deal with migraines. Stomach vapors I just flat out ignore, except for one thing that I think Galen got right that I will explain later.

I’d still leave some milk out on the hearth for your home’s elf though. Just to be safe.

Anyways, at some level though, whether its blood vessels or elves it does not matter what the mechanics of a migraine are; the migraine is there whatever the cause.

I have always suspected that stress is a major cause of migraines. Migraines always come after times of great upset, or excitement, or disappointment. Growing up, I’d always get a migraine on Thanksgiving afternoon. I tend to get a migraine whenever I ask a girl on a date. Theres always an almost complete probability that a great life change will always result in a headache for me, like going off to college, or graduating from college. Or, moving.

At least for me, stress seems to be the cause of migraines. Among other things.

I could sit here and say that my key is to “try to relax,” which is not helpful because no matter how relaxed I am, eventually, I am going to get a migraine. It will come. Now relaxation may or may not postpone a migraine, but eventually the time will come to pay my dues.

Now I could also say to strive to live emotionlessly, and by extension, stresslessly. For me, a great deal of stress comes from anxiety about, well, everything. I have always had a fantasy that if I just cut off my emotions all stress would be gone. It has never worked. I still wonder what people think of me, what will become of my choices, and whether that girl is looking at me or looking out the window I am sitting next to.

My recent move was a stressful upheaval. It was a great shock to my system, and I moved from one climate to a completely different one–and hopefully, one that is better for my headaches in the long run. I knew that it would cause me a migraine; big changes in life always do that to me. But I felt in my heart that a change of climate from Fresno to a place with cleaner air and a cooler climate would help in the long run. Fingers crossed, of course.

Besides that, shutting out emotions is, I have found, terribly unhealthy. It only causes more stress, as emotions cannot truly be shut out. They will still be there no matter what you do. And if you stifle negative emotions, they will only fester and get worse, and worst of all, cause more stress. If you squint at it just right, Galen’s theories that migraines are caused by excessive hot air in the stomach may be more accurate than they sound. I have to admit the fact that I get migraines, and that sometimes they will come.

But do not live in fear of a migraine’s coming. Instead, enjoy life. Be emotional. Do things that matter to you. Watch television. Live life fully. And when a migraine comes, still try to live fully with the half of the brain it leaves you with. Its hard, and you don’t have to if you do not feel up to the challenge. I don’t just roll over and accept them; I make lifestyle choices that I think will change my health for the better.

Today’s migraine saw me watch a lot of my favorite political thriller television show, Parks and Rec, and then go get myself a calzone after I had taken a nap, a shower, and played tic-tac-toe with myself on the steamy shower-glass. I won. It was a simple day, I will admit, but it was a day I made enjoyable.

What I am saying is that migraine’s presence or impending presence does not have to end your life.

Living with Migraines

The Heat is too Much

July 8, 2017
It is too hot in Fresno

The heat of the morning was a shock. It should not have been, as I live in California and it is the dog days of July when heat rules supreme. I jolted out of bed; already covered in sweat and, courtesy of the stifling air, feeling feverish. As my brain fully woke up and I sorted out my place and made sure that I was not, in fact ill and was only hot, I checked my phone. It was ten o’clock; I had overslept.

Well, I deserved that; I had stayed up quite late the night before, and the night before that. My sleep had been broken, and soon I would need to reset it.

I fumbled for my water bottle and ibuprofen. For as long as I remember I can be sure of two things—I will always wake up thirsty and I will always wake up with a splitting headache. The first one, I assume is normal. The second, I hope, is more unique to my certain situation.

I rolled out of bed in the sweltering air, and looked at my roaring ceiling fan. I kind of felt the air being moved by the fan, but not as much as it could. Sighing I fumbled through my closet, looking for my coolest shirt, hoping that it was not inside my dirty laundry basket.

My heart leaped as I found it. It is one of my favorite shirts. It is dark green, my favorite color, with massively baggy sleeves for some reason—I have often wondered if it is the result of a mistake. I think of it as my Roman shirt, as the sleeves resemble the sleeves that Roman soldiers are commonly portrayed as wearing.

Romans knew how to deal with heat.

Such sleeves. Much wow. Public Domain.

I am certain that the sleeves are the secret to the shirt, as it is incredibly airy and keeps me cool when the shirt should not do so, as it is made of rough cloth. It is a Gildan, in case you are a t shirt connoisseur. I am told that they are of lesser quality than other shirts. I don’t know; I cannot complain. I got the shirt for free back in my college days.

I pulled the shirt over myself, and set about my day, albeit with a three-hour disadvantage.

Life is full of little disadvantages, a thousand hindrances so diverse that it would be impossible to name them all—here let, me try: illness, time, weather, other people, you. There. I have named the Phyla of hardships. Now I will name the Class of each: for illness we have infections, viruses, parasites. Ok, I don’t feel like playing a Linnaeus right now, so let’s just leave it at there are almost infinite amounts of hindrances and problems.

At my current place and position, the biggest hindrance that I face is of course my headaches, and the heat. I do live in Fresno. If there is a nice, cold center of the universe Fresno is on a rock that is farthest from. It was 102 degrees in the evening. Evening. 102 degrees. I am a majestic polar bear, and I am not suited for this heat. It makes my fur turn a sickly green color. I just do not like it.

It is made worse by the unfortunate circumstance that the heat makes my headaches worse. Or is that just a symptom of being a polar bear in the Fresno zoo?

Hot weather makes my headaches worse. It is not fun, and really takes the excitement out of destination vacations, and instead makes me dream of wandering in cold places like the Yukon, Siberia, and Greenland. I am at my worst in the summertime, and my very best in the depths of winter.

Stalemate, heat, chess, fresno

You are not going to think your way out of this one.

So whilst I am in a stalemate with the weather, I have to at some point call the game and get away to places where I can survive. Air conditioned bookstores, air conditioned restaurants, air conditioned arts and crafts stores. Anywhere air conditioned, really. Oh, and the mountains.

Ah yes. In reality, the mountains are why I live in the Fresno area. Its an hour and a half to Yosemite, an hour or so to the Giant Sequoias, and an hour or so to Huntington Lake, which gets honorable mention but is not world famous. Full disclosure, I have never been to Huntington Lake. The Sequoias are the place for me.

So when the days get too hot and unbearable and I am free, I will scoot up into the hills to be free of the heat. Its pretty nice.

But in the meantime, when the heat is too much, the mountains are far away, and you are about to collapse (again, polar bear locked in Fresno problems) drink all the water you can, get to an air conditioned place, and wait it out. The weather cannot be unbearable forever.

Well, I am off to the mountains to play with the ravens and my toy soldiers in the cold, so catch you all later.

Living with Migraines

Sasquatch, Migraines, and Identity

June 20, 2017

Last weekend, I had am experience with Sasquatch. It was not in the forest; nor am I sharing a sighting story. Regrettably. Having a Bigfoot sighting is a dream of mine, to tell the truth.

I was sitting inside a large auditorium. It was a church, and the pastor was preaching a Sasquatch sermon. It was something about having faith in the unseen; I was distracted from the finer scriptural points by the Bigfoot.

I was trying out a new church on a whim. A Bigfoot whim. I’d been told that a pastor was preaching about Sasquatch, and my first thought was “this is why I eat carrots: so I can have good eyesight and see wild things like this”. I woke up late, but by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin I was not going to miss the sermon. I sat in an empty pew, and I did not see a soul that I recognized in the entire room. The stage was decorated like a forest.

Sasquatch

You gotta respect the classics, man.

Anticipation is straight up boiling within me at this point. The preacher gets up, and plays a video from Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, a TV show that has at least 103 episodes of a team of scientists traveling America looking for Bigfoot. They have visited every state in the U.S. of A. They practically live in the forest, and are likely far braver than most people. Would you play hide and seek with a wild gorilla in the dark? The congregation laughs at the fools on the screen, and I purse my lips.

I want to believe in Sasquatch. During my day to day, I treat the hairy man like he’s real. Honestly, is it too outlandish for a big furry creature to live in the wilds of America? Bears do it. Moose do it. To me it feels like the folly of man to declare an entire continent’s worth of wilderness as ‘fully explored’.

Besides, its not like thousands people for hundreds of years now have been reporting these critters or anything.

If you want to take away my science card for wanting Bigfoot to be real you can. I never had one to begin with, as I am a humanities student and a Medievalist. Believing in elves and trolls and whatever the Squatch-like medieval Woodwoses is what I do.

Drawn by Lucas Cranach the Younger in 1550.

They sure don’t mess with Sasquatch the way they used to.

Anyways after the video the pastor gets up on stage and asks “Show of hands, who here believes in Bigfoot?”

The audience was dead silent.

“Why not?” said I, and up shot my hand.

“All right,” said the pastor, “Who does not believe in Sasquatch?”

Everyone else in the auditorium raised their paws.

And the rest of the sermon is, by all honesty, a blur.

Bigfoot is, for all intents and purposes, a fantasy. I will admit that. In this world of science, physical evidence must be there. And Bigfoot is the hide and seek champ. But there are people who are devoted to finding him. And that is just in America. Don’t forget international Squatches like Yetis, Yowies, Wampas, and Orang Pendeks. Big hairy apes are supposedly all over our planet, and people are hell bent on finding them.

Like the search for wild-men, the search for Identity is a large portion of the human experience. Identity can be a great struggle for someone who is blessed with migraines.

For me, the identity struggle lies inside finding which parts of my personality and life are truly mine, or whether they are just my way of coping with having so many migraines.

I enjoy finding intriguing vintage-style caps (My favorite hat company is a Polish outfit called Sterkowski) and I wear them each every day until I am forced to remove them, which will make me angry and resentful. I wear hats because the sunlight hurts my eyes and the heat on my head doesn’t help. Its a major part of my personality and image, and it is directly from migraines.

I play mandolin. It is calm, and mellow, and quiet. Even the fast paced stuff that resembles what rockers term ‘shredding’ (and I can shred on an electric guitar) is calm and mellow, in its own way, when played on my mandolin.

I enjoy it all, the calm, the mellow, the fast pace, and the slow pace. I also play mandolin as a way to cope with migraines. Being forced to focus on individual notes and timing distracts me from the migraine, as there is no room in my occupied mind for the headache. Unless, of course, it is a disaster migraine where even the soft notes of a mandolin hurt. I do not like talking about those times.

So do I like playing mandolin because I enjoy the sound and feel of it, or do I like it strictly because it comforts me during my migraines?

Do I decide what I like, or is everything in my life just a reaction to my migraines?

That question permeates my entire life, and each and every one of my interests. It leads to a great deal of self-doubt, as I surely do not want to be defined by the trait that I hate most about myself. I don’t think anybody does. After many years, I have come to the conclusion that it really is all in the mindset.

Advertising companies have mindset down. Watch a commercial, and you will find that 90% of the advertisement is non verbal, and in many cases subliminal. They convey certain things designed to make you think what they want you to think. Similarly, it is beneficial to do the same to yourself.

If there is something that is so integral to your life and very being, and that something cannot be removed, then you must find a way to live with it. Focus not on the negative, but instead on the positives that the negative brings with it. For example, in my life I discovered that playing mandolin has a soothing effect on migraines, and in the process became (at least I think became) a somewhat good mandolin player. The circumstances were not ideal by any means, but the outcome was still good.

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The blessing of calamity, whatever it is, is to be found in the growth that the calamity causes. When the calamity is health based, however, it becomes rather insidious as the calamity is not a foreign threat–its a domestic one. The calamity is a part of you. But they don’t have to be your identity: you can claim the calamity, but you can also claim the fruits of the calamity.

I do not fool myself; I admit the truth. Migraines are a part of my identity. However, I cannot ignore the bridge between them and the benefits that they have given me.

Living with Migraines

Lego and Headaches

June 13, 2017

I enjoy me some Lego bricks. Before we go on, the proper plural is Lego. Not Legos. Thank you, Denmark, for your amazing toys and non-English language. Anyways, I love my Lego. I think that they are one of the greatest toys ever created, and is one of those few toys that can be said to have un-subjectively made the world a better place, improving children’s minds and motor skills. Subjectively, Legos allow me to relax, and function as a vastly suitable distraction when I have a headache.

I was started on Lego early. You could say that they run in the family; my grandparents bought Lego for my dad back when Lego were new back in the late sixties and early seventies. Lego bricks were invented by a Danish toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1949, who originally called them Automatic Binding Bricks. That name was replaced by a more efficient term Lego, which was simply the name of Christiansen’s toy company. The name was derived from the Danish phrase Leg Godt, or Play Well in English.

It took years for Christiansen to perfect his contribution to the world; it was not until 1959 that the bricks we all know and love were developed. And that brings us to my grandparents, who bought the new toys when they only came in red, white, and blue. When, in turn, it was my dad’s turn to raise me, he ensured that I had access to Legos.

Is this a corner of a long shallow Lego box, or is it the top of a tall and skinny Lego box? The world may never know. Its still a myyyyystery. Well, its my box so I know the answer. But you don’t.

The greatest power of Lego is that they are fun–this is, of course, their primary employment. Any other emphasis means you are being charged extra for un-useful bricks. Secondly, they are a toy that requires storytelling and creativity to be enjoyed. I don’t wish to sound like an old man complaining about ‘kids these days’, (although as a millennial, I am no longer the hip generation; millennials are getting old, and this is exemplified by millennials’ hatred of fidget spinners, Gen Z’s newest fad), but most toys nowadays do not allow for creativity; instead the toy makers, usually video game programmers, are the ones with creativity. Please note: I do not knock video games in any way. I view video games as literature, but that is a topic for another time.

Of course, one can go out and buy Lego bricks; they sell them in vast tubs. But that is incredibly boring. Knowing this, Lego sells its product in kits that assemble into particular models. This has been the norm, according to Wikipedia, since the early seventies when Lego sold boats that actually floated in water. In 1978 Lego created the first Lego minifigure, and from there the Lego kit that is sold in stores everywhere was born. My first memories of Lego involve a Wild West covered wagon and a black biplane. Those, I believe, were definitively my first sets. However, years later, I would find my true Lego calling.

I was in Middle School. I was just becoming interested in history; it was also, if you have been following my blog, the time when I was just starting to learn how to deal with migraines. It was, in retrospect, a very dark time, and I have little memories of my inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations. However, I do remember the things I became interested in, and I cannot help but draw certain conclusions. One of those things that I became greatly enamored by were the Vikings. I still am enamored by the Vikings; in fact they are my favorite.

They are just my favorite; I wish I could explain more, but that’s just what they are. If it has a Viking on it, or in the commercial, I will look more favorably upon it. Should it be a product directly related to Vikings? I will very likely purchase it. And For a very brief period of time, 2005 to 2007, actually, Lego offered a lineup of Viking kits. They were awesome. I received a Viking fortress for my birthday and I purchased a couple of small boats to go with it. I had a little Viking kingdom on my shelf, complete with houses and a dock that I made out of the other parts of my, by then, massive collection of Lego that every boy my age seemed to have.

This was not just me building houses either. I did research for my project. I read my first history book, the aptly titled A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones, during this time, and whilst the Lego did not start my interest in the Vikings they certainly helped kindle it. After the Vikings were discontinued (a regrettable business practice of Lego in my opinion) I found the next best thing, a series called Lego Castle. One of the first Lego kit series was a medieval series, which ran in various forms from 1978 to 2014.

Coincidentally, I was beginning to research medieval history at this same time–I think that at the time I was furiously trying to find my niche, as most children in middle school have a sport or some sort of thing that is given to them as a goal, figuratively or literally. I found mine in history, as I had certain ailments holding me back from the more physical activities, and delved deep into it. Fortunately for me, but unfortunate for my parents’ shelf space nowadays, Lego was there to help me with the delving. I started to purchase and build the Lego Castle sets, and soon I had a medieval kingdom alongside my Viking kingdom. The two did not always get along, but at the same time, they did not always fight. Think of it as an image of today’s geopolitical politics.

To this day my collection of Vikings and Knights (well, a few knights and their peasant servants. They may be Lego, but Feudalism is still alive and well) has a very special place in my heart, and though I moved far from home I took a few of them with me, where they stand guard on my desk as I type. This brings us back to one of Lego’s greatest uses for me. I greatly enjoy Lego, and they have spurred my creativity on many occasions (which, coincidentally, are goals included on the Lego Group’s mission statement, so, well done guys!), but also as a coping mechanism for dealing with chronic pain. Lego provides an easy thing to do when I have a migraine headache. There is a popular belief that migraines completely remove any cognitive ability–this is, in my experience, greatly incorrect. My mind is incredibly active when I have a migraine; instead it is that my body does not respond well; my fine motor skills are decreased, and my eyes cannot cope with the harshness of a computer screen. As a thinking person this is particularly upsetting, as nothing is more annoying than having so many ideas and at the same time having those ideas be impossible to grasp. Truly an existential crisis.

But I have one thing that Kierkegaard and Sartre do not have–access to Lego knights. Which philosophically seems to be leaving Existentialism and branching into Absurdism but that is getting off-topic, so let us leave it alone, shall we?

Lego provide a nice pasttime to undertake during a migraine, and keep the mind occupied–and as with many cases of difficulty, keeping your mind occupied and creating is a necessity for enduring and thriving without descending into self loathing.

Beyond, or more accurately in addition to, Lego are therapeutic. Paying attention to individual small details can distract one from the bigger pain one is dealing with. For problems that will eventually go away in a few hours to a few days, micromanagement is a perfect way to outlast. Pain is all in your head (well, nervous system) and functions to tell your body that something is wrong–its there to tell you that your leg hurts because a tiger has absconded with your foot, or that your hand hurts because it has been bitten by the wolf you are trying to tame and breed into a cutting edge bird retrieving device. However in the case of a migraine, usually the pain is nothing but pain, the best thing to do is ignore it. Somehow.