Browsing Tag

happiness

Living with Migraines

A Candle in the Dark Christmas 

December 28, 2017

We are in the middle of one of my favorite times of the year—the Christmas season (Day three to be precise) and it would be hardly sporting to let it pass without a post.
That’s right—It’s a Candle in the Dark Christmas!
Now, first and foremost, my very favorite thing about Christmas is how it ceremonially marks the birth of Christ*. My blog is greatly informed by Christian teachings, and Jesus’ example has helped me cope and thrive despite my migraines. As the very beginning of Christ’s work on Earth, His Binary Sunset moment, Christmas is very special to me.

Now there is another reason that I like Christmas, It is associated with Elves, my favorite fairy tale creature. The classic Christmas Elf only came about in 19th century America, but the elves have a background far deeper than that, and variants such as the Tomte and Nisse have been part of Scandinavian Christmas traditions for centuries. 

This is Dain, my Swedish Christmas Elf I bought years ago at a Home Goods.

Elf folk stories feature beings that are both magical and independent. They are their own persons, and will help or hinder people as they please. That is not to say there are not rules they follow. They guard things, and they help people as long as those people follow unspoken stipulations that, if broken, will see a helpful elf gone.

There are also nature elves, who guard the natural features in which they live. A hill, a tree, a rose pedal, a stone—anything an elf wants to call home. They tend to not cause problems until a human messes with their home. Then it’s War.

This is still a major thing in Iceland

Should an elf be suitably upset by a human, or often because they just want to, the elf would do…things. They would play pranks, sabotage the person’s work, or inflict sickness on the person. Folk belief saw elves as responsible for many health problems, especially those of the nervous system. They inflict unsuspecting people with anxiety, insanity, depression, seizures, and migraines.

It is curious to note that a large amount of what we know about elves come from Old English medical texts.

Elves are therefore a help or a hinder, as they see fit. They are neither good or bad. They just are. This is largely how I view migraines. They just happen. Sometimes its my fault—I was stressed, ate the wrong food, I listened to music too loudly. Sometimes it is not, and my day is ruined for no reason besides capricious chemicals.

The actual causes for migraines are up for debate. There are as many theories as there are migraineers and researchers. I’m going to re-submit the elf theory, simply because the only way to prove that elves don’t exist is to have an elf show up and say so. And then where would you be?
Whether or not elves are real the outcome is the same. You are facing mischief in your life, and all you may do is observe the tiny little things that help you get through your day, which is all that you can do. 
Then you start to realize that your troubles have actually been helping you all along to mature, to organize yourself, and to strengthen you, to the point where you start to wonder what you would do if you didn’t have your little elf with you, for better or worse.

*I know all about Christmas’ pagan origins, that Jesus was born in spring (probably) and that this is contentious for some. I hold that celebrating something called ‘Christmas’ is to celebrate Christ. For those concerned all Elf information is taken from fairy tales from Christian eras, specifically Anglo-Saxon texts, Hans Christian Andersen, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Living with Migraines

Regarding the Painlessness of Others

December 15, 2017

There is a book that I read in college called Regarding the Pain of Others. Written by American philosopher Susan Sontag, it explored the repercussions of viewing images of other people in pain, especially in the surreal real-but-not world of photographs. Sontag says that there can be no we when dealing with another’s pain, as one cannot experience another’s’ experience.

A question that I often ask myself, especially in seasons in which I find myself sick more often than not sick, is how to deal not with seeing others in pain (there is of course the old adage “misery loves company), but how to deal with seeing health in others. 

For someone with chronic pain seeing another individual living carefree and in good health with their four humors sloshing about in perfect harmony can easily become in itself a form of pain. That pain can even more easily slide into bitterness, coldness and hatred, which leads only to more pain as the only person that coldness, hated, and bitterness is guaranteed to harm is the person doing it, and those harms are doubled because the chronic pain that started the shenanigan is still there.  

Or, and I have found this to be most common, you sink into a deep sadness as the pipes drone the tune of Spancil Hill in the back of your mind and you watch your dreams and happy songs sail away.

But how can one with chronic pain avoid all these bad things? 

Apart from becoming a hermit, you will still have to encounter people in life. And since you are reading this online, you also get to encounter people’s peppy facades that they put up online.

So what is there to do, since the only person who stands to get hurt by your reaction is yourself?

One thing to do is to reverse roles. Put yourself in their shoes. Everyone has pains and problems in their life. Everyone. Those pains and problems will be different from person to person, but they are still in pain. I would argue that almost everything done by people is done out of pain or fear of pain. If not, why would anyone do anything? You ask out a girl because the pain of being without her is too great to bear. You get a job because of the pain of being able to afford food. You train your puppy not to bite because the pain of the bites are too much. 

Believe that last bit or not, my point is that everyone on earth has an acute sense of fear and pain. If we are all suffering, ought we to give some slack to those around us? That’s what I advocate at least. Not doing so just makes everything worse, and by everything I mean it makes you worse and the other people just keep on living.

I have never met a happy person who sits in the dark hating the world. And I would know; for many years I was that person. Of course I did not put my hand on a Bible and say “I Quaid, hold myself in contempt of the world”, but I still didn’t like it one bit.

The lights are too bright.

The music is too loud. 

Yes I can hear you through the earplugs.

No I will not take off my hat for your wedding. *

It definitely takes work when your own body is fundamentally unequipped to exist in the artificial world in which we live, and the people in that world seem to be working to force you out. It is very easy to retreat into yourself, cut yourself off, and contact filthy outsiders only when you need them to sell you food. 

But the problem with that is that it assumes that others are fundamentally against you. This is incorrect, as more often than not, they don’t care about you. 

And beyond that, how could they know that you are suffering? You don’t even know their name, they don’t know yours. How could they know what you are going through? And, what if they too are going through pain, or even more chillingly, the very same pain as you? Unless you talk to each other, you would never know. They will be like the soldiers who crucified Christ—they know not what they do. Or you both will know not what you do, and hurt each other. And in that case, who is in the wrong?

And sometimes, some people who do know about your pains will continue to hurt you, accidentally or otherwise. For those times, there is the classic solution. Take a sock, fill it with a generous handful of pebbles, and invite them down to the lake for a midnight stroll just the two of you. Then talk about your problems with them while skipping the stones across the calm nighttime water.

Sometimes so many problems can be solved by talking. 

Finally, there is the grease that helps all this run smoother, and that is forgiveness. Sometimes you will just have to forgive people, whether they apologize or not, whether they know what they do or not. Grudge-holding is of course a time honored tradition, but it is certainly not the best way to live a healthy life. Again, it will only hurt you. Or if its a special, rare, and magical kind of grudge that is mutual, it will hurt you and the other person. It won’t be good, is what I am saying.

And yes, I recognize that this is painting a picture of myself as a growling hater of the world, and I do not deny it. A dream of mine that recurs whenever the sound guy at church equates loudness with God’s presence is to acquire an island between Ireland and Scotland (please don’t tell the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, thank you kindly) build a castle there, and vanish. But I hope that by writing this I have proven that I have vowed to repent.

So then, what of the original statement of Sontag’s, that there can be no we when dealing with pain in others? I agree with it, but with this caveat: since we do not know each others’ pain, we ought to recognize that we all are in different kinds of pain, and cut each other slack because of that. 

*If I do agree to take off my hat for your wedding, consider yourself loved.

Happiness

Pop!

December 2, 2017

I like to think of myself as a rather robust individual. Excepting my migraines, of course, but that is hardly sporting. Beyond my faulty brain, I like to imagine myself as a man who can take a punch, stumble, and get back up and give them what for.The kind of fish that eats a bowl of nails for breakfast without any milk. 

But then life happens and reminds me that I am not, in fact, a pinnacle of health.

It happened one day, yesterday in fact. I had come home from lunch, and as I do every time I leave the house, my puppy Little Sir Finn (he’ll cease being ‘little’ when he stops chewing on the furniture) was locked inside his kennel. So naturally I wanted to let him out, and I decided to do something that I had not done in an age.

Run.

I am not a runner, and have not been for a long time. I have not been a runner ever since a wayward migraine medication made me balloon up like a stuck pig (and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth). 

Well, I ran that day, not wanting to leave Finn waiting. I had my eyes fixed on the prize—my dog in his crate, and he was watching me too with eagerness in his tiny frame.

Pop!

I was on the ground, one leg forward, the other bent behind me. Then there was searing pain.

I had failed to see Finn’s mat on the ground before me, and I had paid the price. I had slipped and fallen, and done something heinous to my ankle.

I’d like to say I took it like a mountain man who had just clawed his way out of his own grave—silent, with a dour face and clenched fists.

But no. I was hysterical, nauseous, and crying. I think I was screaming God’s name and asking for strength. (As an aside, it is at the moment of pain that faith is most real, with the least amount of trumpets on corners and showiness) 

Finn was upset, he was crying too, and I composed myself and reassured him that I was all right, even though I wasn’t sure myself. I scooted across the floor, and with a sound that was almost a laugh I twisted my leg to see my ankle. With the amount of messages that the little theoretical men who run my ankle’s branch of the Office of Nervous System Telecommunications were sending to my brain, I figured it at least had to be broken. 

My ankle’s Office of Nervous System Telecommunications may need to fire a few key members down there, because it was decidedly not hanging limp, turned purple, or showing any of the other signs of a break. 

I still was not comforted, so I called my dad, who despite being an engineer has an extensive first aid knowledge. He assured me that it was not broken, but that it needed ice. 

Finn looked at me with concern as I grabbed a nearby walking stick—I fell merely a few feet from where I kept it leaned against the wall. I reassured him that I would be back, and he calmly laid down his head.

I am certain that he understands my words when I talk to him. 

Anyways I inched my way to the kitchen, and appraised myself of ice and a plastic baggie, and began the work of trying to fix my hurt ankle. I am certain that it was a sprain.

This hurting ankle has made me feel quite unlike myself. I cannot move as I wish, and I cannot play with my dog. I barely slept last night because I could not get comfortable. It was a new pain of a sort I am wholly unused to (except the last time Finn indirectly caused me to fall).

It is a great lesson in humility, and a reminder that migraines are not the only pain in the world, and that people the world over all have similar or different troubles and pains. In being forced, quite against my will, to taste of a new sort of pain, I have been reminded of the great value of empathy.

It is also a grand start to the Christmas season as I hobble about like Tiny Tim. 

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

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.

Happiness

A Brand New Puppy

September 26, 2017

I must announce something cool that has happened in the week since my last post. I am raising a puppy. I have waited for a while to get my hands on a puppy of my own, because I have loved dogs for as long as I can remember, as well as hearing things about pets helping with chronic pain (which is, you know, kind of my thing).

Now I have a very conflicted outlook towards animals. I love all animals except for a few exceptions like cats, spiders and guinea pigs. The spiders are because spiders are just plain creepy to me, and the cats and guinea pigs are because I am terribly allergic to them. In fact, I am allergic to most fur-bearing creatures. They make my eyes water and my nose get both stuffy and runny at the same time. The greatest offenders for me are guinea pigs and cats, but dogs are on the list too.

So I like to look at the animals, I like to watch the animals, sometimes even touch the animals, but I have to keep my distance. I tend to make friends with the neighborhood cats wherever I live, generally because they sense that I don’t want them touching me and naturally they flock to me. I’m less so with dogs, but they still flock to me likely because they are dogs and that is the way they are.

A mean ol’ tomcat that wandered by my old apartment and became my buddy until the rest of the neighborhood cats ganged up on him and chased him away. Nature is harsh.

Now a lot of people in my position tend to get a poodle mix, as poodles do not shed or cause allergies. As an aside: dog allergies are caused by their dandruff, and cat allergies are caused by the cat’s saliva. And when a poodle is bred with any other breed the resulting puppy has the poodle’s hypoallergenic coat, which traps dandruff inside its thick curls.

Now there is an obvious choice here: that I get a poodle, which is a storied and old breed that was bred for hunting waterfowl in Germany whilst being the national dog of France. But, I did not really want a poodle. I don’t like the look of poodle fur. It just looks too…I don’t honestly know. But I don’t like how it looks. Maybe it looks too human to me.

Moreover a poodle mix was not really up my alley either, because poodle mixes have that poodle hair that bugs me. No knocks against the creatures or their owners, because all dogs are grand. It is just one of my personal flaws. Besides, they are too new for a history nerd like me. I want a breed that has a story.

For years, the dog that I really liked was the Irish Wolfhound, a massive breed bred to hunt wolves. Just a quick Google search will turn up pictures of Wolfhounds towering over their masters. But I was turned away when I learned that they tend to have short lives (the bigger the dog, the shorter they live) and have a two-year puppy stage.

My family had an English bulldog when I was growing up, and we raised him from puppyhood. Two years of puppyness really scared me. So I scrapped that plan.

I also have wanted a big bouncy sheepdog for years. You know the breed—hair covering the eyes, a big friendly smile, and a look of shaggy quaintness that hearkens back to simple times lost in the mist of folksiness and old cartoons.

So I looked into getting one. But I found out that not only are they not hypoallergenic, but they also require a large space of grass to exercise on, as concrete and asphalt can severely damage their paws. Who would have thought a dog bred for herding sheep would not be that suitable for a place without sheep? So there went that option.

Then I looked into various small breeds—terriers, dachschunds, and a Belgian breed called a Schipperke that has pointy ears, insane eyes, and a temperament that has them nicknamed “Little Black Devils”.

But then I found the perfect breed. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. They are one of the four terrier breeds of Ireland (the other three being the Kerry Blue, the Glen of Imaal, and the Irish), named for the color of their adult coat, which is the color of ripened wheat. As puppies, however, they are born dark brown and lighten with age.

There are historical references to Irish peasants keeping dogs that fit the Wheaten’s description going way back to the eighteenth century, when they were known as “the Poor Man’s Wolfhound” and served as a companion, a vermin-hunter, a sheepdog, and a guard dog. Just a general, multipurpose dog. In England, where a harsh set of laws called the Game Laws began to deeply affect the lower classes, Wheaten Terriers were used as hunting dogs to help hungry peasants put food on their tables.

And, adult Wheaten Terriers look like miniature English Sheepdogs, only their long flowing hair is hypoallergenic. These boys were all the breeds that I wanted, combined into one hypoallergenic terrier-sized package.

Plus these pups fit the general hobbit-like image that I try to present myself with. All the world’s a stage.

So I pooled birthday money and savings and skipped buying books for a while, and with help from my dad (he is a good problem solver) found a good Wheaten breeder and a while later, I was bringing a Wheaten puppy into my home.

The pup in all his fluffy glory.

I named him Finnegan MacCool—partly after the Irish hero Finn MacCool, but mostly after the Irish folk song “Finnegan’s Wake”, and after Irish author James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake, which has always intrigued me, being essentially a book of puns and being the one book that English majors fear. Besides, what kind of English major would I be if I did not name my dog after a book?

I also figured that ‘Finn’ would be an easy name to call a dog.

Nerdy mythical, literary, and musical references aside, I brought little Finn into my house and oh man, is he a little adventure. These critters are definitely wolves bred to look less scary. Training him has been rough, as it has only been a week. He has already tried to become the head of the house, put holes in a few of my clothes, and has screamed through many nights.

Its been rough, but he now knows not to pee inside, and he is getting used to being on a leash. But there are some silver linings. He has shown an interest in, of all things, the instrumental sea songs from Spongebob.

Scurvy sea dog indeed.

His current favorite game is a terrier trademark, according to forums: latching onto my arm with his fangs and enjoy watching me figure out a way to make him let go. But, what would life be without some difficulty? It would be a cooked pepperoncini—a tasteless, rubbery thing that tastes like steamed broccoli and nothing that you would like near your sandwich.

 

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.