Browsing Tag



How You Expect it to Go

January 19, 2018

“This is just not our day” growled Titus to himself as he spurred his horse, making the beast leap forward. The man grit his teeth as wispy branches whipped his face, and the horse let out an indignant bellow when the ground became rough.

“They swore. They swore before Jupiter Elicius himself,” the Roman repeated to himself. Behind him was a sight of horror that had curdled his blood and chilled his bones. King Mettius, sworn servant of Rome, had ordered his men to retreat in the face of battle. Retreat, and allow the barbarians a straight path to the flanks of the Roman host.

Treason! Might as well have handed away the keys of Rome herself! Titus would have sworn vengeful oaths and called down curses on Mettius in the name of Jove himself had he the chance, but he was too angry for such complex thought. Besides, the enemy was fast advancing. He could hear them crashing behind him. If his horse did not hurry, he would only be racing to view the carnage of defeat.

The olive branches did not let up, even their smaller twigs struck fast and hard, and it was a miracle that the horse could maintain his footing through the thickets that grew at their roots!

Titus crashed through the chaparral and sighed a sigh of relief when brought his horse to a champing halt before the Roman ranks, and the retinue of Tullus Hostilius, King of Rome.

“What news?” asked the king hurriedly, calming his own horse from the surprise of Titus’ arrival.

“King Mettius retreats!” Titus gasped. He meant to say more, to rage and to roar, but those were the words that came.

The look on Tullus’ face was a thousand auguries. The stern face became lashed with concern, and the dark eyes that gazed impassively as he sentenced judgments and punishments became tinted with fear.

“Very good, very good,” said the king in a confident voice that auspiciously echoed into the olive groves and hills for miles around. “This is no cause for concern, for King Mettius is doing as I commanded. Soon,” and with this he turned his head directly towards the front, “Rome’s enemies will find themselves quite surrounded, by Tullus at the front, and Mettius at the rear!”

* * *

I read the story of Tullus Hostilius the other day. I just got over a week-long migraine; It was decidedly not fun, in fact it was the polar opposite. I was lost and directionless, momentarily of course, and I decided to grab a book off of my shelf, eat pizza, and read whatever that book may say. So I grabbed a book of Roman history, Livy’s first-cenury masterpiece The Early History of Rome, and headed off to my favorite pizza parlor.

My migraines usually last one to three days, and a week is almost unheard of for me. I emphasize the almost, because it has happened before. The last time was back in 2016 I think, around August. So I was rather in the mood to read of conquering heroes and daring adventures. They wrote history books differently back then, that is to be sure. Probably to compete with gladiator fights and chariot races.

The story of Tullus, who ruled Rome in the seventh century before Christ (about 100 years after its founding in 753 BC) struck a chord with me.

It is especially difficult when a migraine breaks the normal rules that migraines tend to follow. I have routines, procedures, and methods of controlling and dealing with migraines; music, certain food, mechanical meditation with Legos, and essentially living life on standby until the blessed day the migraine breaks. An unusual migraine throws all that out.

You see, Tullus had ordered Mettius to guard his flank, nothing fancy.

Mettius was king of Albans, Rome’s very first conquered city, and even that is debatable, because Rome owned Albans because Mettius had made a bad bet on a good fight. Mettius was king, but he was king under Rome, and his people were not happy with their king’s foolishness. So he intended to undermine Rome by letting King Tullus die in battle with a neighboring Italian tribe, Veii.

When Tullus made his declaration, he said it loud enough to comfort his men, but also loud enough for the men of Veii to hear. His off-the-cuff tactic worked. The men of Veii, not happy with the whole ‘being surrounded’ thing, fled and Tullus won the day.

Tullus dealt with a situation that went the opposite of how he expected it to go. And in desperation, he found a way that worked. Sometimes migraneurs will find themselves in similar situations. Not as drastic or decidedly Roman as Tullus, but times will come where they find themselves outside of their comfort zone (and I certainly love my comfort zone. In fact, I think that shall be my next post topic)

This time I accepted that I was going to be less productive, that I would have to accept lesser work from myself until my migraine subsided. That is how I dealt with it at least. Was it the best way? I don’t know. But it worked for me and got the job done. But I am reminded now that these things can happen, and that is of course a good reminder.

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.



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.


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.


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


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.


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.


To the Ending of the World

July 28, 2017
King Henry V Coat of Arms

You don’t need a portrait. Identify King Henry V the knightly way. (Wikipedia)

In 1421 King Henry V of England was one of Europe’s great men. He was young, energetic, athletic, and a keen tactician hellbent on securing his family’s very legitimate claim to the throne of France. Henry was king in the line of William of Normandy, and his family once owned much of France under Richard the Lionheart two centuries before. Now Henry V wanted France back.

Henry was helped by the unhealthiness of his French rival, King Charles VI. King Charles suffered from paranoia, delusion, schizophrenia, and depression, with episodes that would last for months at a time. The nature of medieval politics (actually, politics in general) requires sane leadership, and a council of lords and regents was started in France to cover for Charles’ debilitating mental illnesses.

Naturally the council, as councils tend to do, tore itself apart. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and Louis, Duke of Orléans, who were two of the council’s most powerful members, began to feud. This quarrel erupted into war when Louis was murdered by fifteen of Philip’s men. Things escalated, words were swapped for swords, and France was split into halves.

Across the English Channel King Henry played both sides off each other, making and breaking alliances until he ruled a third of France. Only when the northern region of Normandy refused to turn to Henry’s side (irony of ironies) did he invade from across the channel, taking the port city of Harfleur and defeating a large French army at the Battle of Agincourt.

And that is the story of the font you used for your princess party invitations.

Henry fought to great success in France, signing the Treaty of Troyes and marrying Catherine, Princess of France which legally made him heir of France once Charles died. He even got famous enough that Shakespeare wrote multiple plays about him, giving him Western culture’s greatest motivational speech. However, when living the rough and tumble life of a medieval king, sometimes it can take a turn.

In autumn of 1421 King Henry led a siege against Meaux, a castle a few miles from Paris. During the siege Henry contracted the Bloody Flux, a disease common to medieval military camps that is related to dysentery. It causes diarrhea, severe intestinal damage and dehydration, and has yet to actually be featured in any medieval fantasy franchise as I am aware.

King Henry V died of the disease in August of 1422, leaving his wife Catherine and making their nine-month old son Henry into Henry VI, the official King of England.

Now a baby cannot really be king, so Henry V’s old knights formed council, to rule on behalf of the baby. It worked. Henry VI grew up and took the throne himself at an appropriate age (He was Eight.)

All the men

Crying Emoji, Sad, Comfort

So comforting. (Twitter, Hotemoji)

there knew what happened when a council doesn’t work. They had just helped Henry V tear apart France after their council broke down. They would work together, and (likely) with a stiff British upper lip and a Keepeth Calm and Ramble On tapestry, they did.

Aside from being an example of kings destroyed by illness, this story is an example of the necessity of support in life. In our fractured age exactly six hundred years later it can seem like a very lonely time. Social media surely contributes to this, degenerating friendship to a system of likes. A friend is now merely a follower, there to give likes. The result (of this, and other things) is that our lives have become lonely and anxiety-ridden, with little support and real relationships, and no amount of heart or crying reacts can help it.

This is not the way it ought to be. So if you are given the chance to be on the support council for a friend in need, don’t be like King Charles’ council. Be like King Henry’s. I have my support groups and individuals. Find your council, and if you have the good fortune to be on a friend’s council, don’t tear it apart like the French dukes.


The Hero’s Journey that I had Last Wednesday

May 30, 2017

In which our Hero (me) went to refill my medication, met with extraordinary figures, met with magic and mystery, and descending through my greatest Phobias descended into the Underworld and emerged with newfound wisdom and my medication.

Part One: The Call

It was one of the worst feelings possible, a thing of stark horror and long-lingering fear. I had gone to the shelf where I keep my medicine, and discovered that I was out. Not, mind you, of everything. I still had a score of my preventative medications. But I was out of what I consider the most important medications: the emergency onset ones, the ones that you take when a migraine stands on your doorstep and knocks. Being out of those is an emergency all of its own, and I suppose that you could very well guess why. So, I logged onto my computer to purchase another box of Rizatriptan, my onset migraine medication of choice. It is by far the best that I have used, and I have used a lot of onset medications.

Being a young adult grappling for independence and yet still living in the shadow of your family does have its particular perks, such as inclusion on your family’s health insurance plan until the age of twenty-six. This greatly streamlines the process of the acquisition of vital medications. Until, of course, it doesn’t. Like this tale that I am about to tell you.I tried to order my Rizatriptan, but the website flagged it. It needed a doctor’s approval. I shot a text message to my dad, who is more versed in these sort of things, on the virtue of having negotiated with doctors from long before I was born. Hopefully, I would not have to go see a doctor.

My phone rang. It was my father, and I answered.

“It looks like you need to schedule a doctor’s appointment,” said he over the phone.

I grunted my agreement. There are three sorts of people I greatly dislike seeing in a professional setting: the first is a dentist, the second is a mathematics teacher, and the third is a doctor. But, as I needed my medicine lest anything bad happen, I called the insurance company’s hotline to schedule an appointment. The very next day, at two-thirty in the afternoon. “Arrive fifteen minutes early,” said the phone operator, “parking can be difficult.”

Part Two: Crossing the Threshold

Two-fifteen on the next day arrived, and I found myself in a full parking lot. Half of it was designated Staff Parking, and they were all the spots in the shade. “Typical” I said, and negotiated the ways and byways of the parking lot to find a place that I could park my car and enter the office. I had been to doctor’s offices before, and I knew the drill. A building full of a myriad of offices, all housing doctors of differing degrees. An ophthalmologist may share a wall with a pediatrician, and a dermatologist with a gynecologist, and there is bound to be a neurologist and an oncologist in there too. In short, a vast, labyrinthine complex forming a patchwork nation of doctors.

I needed to find myself a directory so that I may find my doctor in less than fifteen minutes. There was no directory. There was a receptionist.

“Hello,” I said to her, hoping to make it to the appointment that I knew I was likely now going to be late to. “Where is the office called “Medical Two?”

“It is on floor two,” she said in a quite droll voice that indicated she had answered this query to a thousand faces.

“Thank you,” I said.

Now I had to find the stairs. I walked up and down the hallway, and I could not find them. All I could find was an elevator. I looked at the time. I prefer stairs. Something about them is fun. Elevators, especially hospital elevators, have a sense of foreboding doom about them. My anxiety picks up inside them, especially the windowless ones, as there is always an off chance that those doors won’t open again. Think of it like the “You put faith in a chair every time you sit in it” parable every motivational speaker thinks constitutes the wisdom of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kierkegaard combined, but only in this case you are trusting a strange automated steel box you just met to let you out.

The two steel doors opened, and I, having no other choice, stepped over the threshold. The controls had two choices. One, or two. Since I was on floor one, I only truly had one choice.

“Easy to use the elevator in this hospital,” said a cheery voice that gave me a right good start.

“Yep,” said I to the smiling middle-aged woman and pressed “Two” for us both.

The doors opened, and I found myself looking down yet another hallway with five hundred doors. At least these were easily labelled, and I found my destination.

Part Three: The Maze of Trials

The interior of that office was, to say the least, a menagerie of people of all shapes and sizes and ages. There, once again, was the woman from the elevator. She’d found her way faster than me. With a smile, she pointed me to the front desk.

I guess I looked that lost.

I gratefully smiled back at the kind middle aged woman, and made my way to the desk.

“Insurance member number,” said the checker kindly. I proudly handed her my insurance card and ID. It was like my golden coin letting me into the Ferryman’s boat. “Is this a Southern California number?” she asked. My golden coin turned out to be but a bewitched leaf.

“I am from SoCal, but I have a NorCal visitor’s number,” I replied.

“I need that,” said she.

“Hold on,” said I.

I was ready for this. I’d saved my number for just this occasion. I fumbled through my phone’s notes, and read out the numerals. A few clicks later and I was checked in.

“First time visitors need their picture taken in case you need to come back” she added, and I smiled into her backwards-mounted webcam.

I sat down in the waiting room’s chairs, marveling that I was not late. So much had happened in fifteen minutes.

“Ens, Quaid?” called out the Practitioner.

I got up and followed her deeper into the office, which was a maze of corridors and alcoves, all filled with baroque medical equipment. “Stand there, I need to take your weight; sit there, I need to take your blood pressure” she said, and I dutifully obeyed, taking off my sandals and presenting my arm. “Take off your hat, please,” said the Practitioner, producing a strange wand. She quickly waved it about my forehead three times over, until the thing let out a thermometer’s beep. She might as well have said some word in the language of angels and fairies. Magic like that I had never seen before.

Then she led me further into the maze to the actual room where I was to meet with the Doctor. She left me there, and I sat alone in contemplation.

“I need medicines refilled,” I reminded myself.

NO CELLPHONES ALLOWED cried a flyer printed on yellow that was paper magic-taped to the door.

“I need to ask him about something else, I think,” I said to myself, taking out my phone to snapchat the cellphone flyer.

DISPOSE OF SHARPS AND BIOLOGICAL WASTE HERE screamed the label on a trash can. I quivered.

Anything involving sharp objects in a medical setting is a nightmarish affair, the work of vampires, ghouls, hobgoblins, and other members of the Unseelie Court. I felt a tinge of anxiety run through my heart, making my blood run cold and my skin to perspire, my stomach become nauseous and my ears to go numb. It is all on account of myself being accursed with of haemophobia and trypanophobia–fear of blood and fear of needles respectively. It should be added that these two fears greatly hinder any possible employment in the medical industry.

HERE BE MONSTERS writes the cartographer when labelling the spot just before the edge of the world.

To distract myself I quickly went back to my SnapChat. I’d forgotten to even take the photo. My thumb stretched towards the button when the door flew open.

Part Four: The King of Trials

In strode the Doctor. He was tall, wrapped in a flowing labcoat belying his wisdom in the medical arts. He carried himself with a sort of imperium, the authoritative manner of one who knows he is, at the moment, the most powerful personage in the room.

He sat down, and as this was our first meeting, began to ask his riddles with a smile that revealed a kind individual who was simply getting his work done by acting imperious. The best kind of doctor, in my opinion.

“Quaid A. Ens, answer me these questions three,” said he. I nodded, and waited.

“Why are you here to see me?”

“I am here to get medications refilled,” I said.

He nodded, and produced a small book that was a catalog of medications. The cover caught my eye, as it was an old woodcut of a pair of renaissance doctors and their dog. He thumbed through the book, scrying for the unusual European medications an eccentric Neurologist put me on years ago.

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Feeling well is a relative term, I have chronic headaches, but I feel good when I don’t have them.”

The Doctor looked at me, and then looked at his screen, and back to his tome.

“Have you had Labwork done lately?”

My head began to spin.

“I just sent a refill order to the pharmacy. Your medications will be filled and delivered to your address. All I need is to go downstairs and get your labwork done.”

The Doctor’s printer whirred, and he handed me a warm summary of our visit, the ink still drying. And with that he was gone with a handshake and a swoosh of his labcoat.

I found my way out of the Doctor’s Maze alone, doing my very best to remember the way the Practitioner had led me in. Soon I was back in the long hallway, and I sank into a bench, trembling with fear. I sent a text message to my father, and waited for a reply.

Part Five: Temptation and Atonement

“How can I get out of this one?” I said to myself. “I could go home. He refilled my prescription. What bad can be in my blood anyways?”

The dread beast diabetes said my mind. Man-slaying cancer helpfully added my memory.

These two cast their gnarled shadows on the wall behind me, and joined in the tempest of fear that circled about my head. There was still no reply to my text message. Images of medical equipment, horrendous tubes ending in points and beeping machinery flooded my mind. “I cannot do this. I’d rather die” I said, and walked down the hallway. There before me, were the stairs. “Finally found them,” I said.

I was in my car, fumbling to get my non-working hands to place my key in the ignition when my phone rang. It was my father.

“Blood test, eh?” He said.

“Y-yes,” I stammered.

“Bummer. You going to do it?”

“I don’t want to.”

“If you wait, it will only get worse. This is the best time to do it, or you will be destroyed by knowing you have to take one.”

Cancer, diabetes, blood, and syringes swirled in my head. Nevertheless, I knew he was right.

“I’ll do it.” I declared, reaching for a book of poetry I had brought along in case anything like this happened.

“Slay the dragon,” he said. “I will pray for you.”

Part Six: Apostasis and Winning the Prize

The lab was dreadfully easy to find. It was on the first floor, just below the Doctor’s Maze, and mindful of each of my footfalls I entered that underworld. It was crowded with people, all waiting, and none of them smiling. With no Virgil to guide me through this limbo I found my way to a great red wheel that produced numbers on tags. I reached out and plucked one—number ninety-five. I smiled. Having that high of a number meant something. Maybe a longer wait? Was that good, or was that bad?

“Ninety-three!” called the lab’s Receptionist.

Turns out it wasn’t really that high of a number. I sat down, struggling not to abandon all hope.

I thumbed through my book to distract myself, and found “Sir Lionel”, and began to read as I waited. Sir Lionel was a Knight of the Round Table who fought a monstrous wild pig that had itself killed forty knights.

“Sir Lionel would not be fearful in this situation,” I said, looking about with a watery eye.


I took a deep breath, and walked up to the receptionist, who pointed to a doorway. With a churning stomach and a swirling head, I entered that dungeon well-lit and cold.

“Hello,” said the Practitioner sweetly. She was another middle-aged woman, the kindest face I had seen that day.

“Take a seat right here,” she said, motioning to an empty cubicle.

“I must be honest, I am terribly afraid,” I said.

“This will be over quick,” she said, and I looked away as my unfairly sensitive arm began to be lashed with pain.

“All over!” she said, and I waited five seconds so I would not see anything. Then I turning saw my bandaged elbow, and looked away again.

“Have a nice day!” she said, and I got up to leave.

My arm was weak, but I had done it. I hurt, but it was all over. Fast, just as my father said was best. I sighed, and clicked the seat belt in my car and drove away, still unsettled. But nevertheless, I had faced my fears, and better yet, I had made it out of the Doctors’ Maze with my intended prize, my Rizatriptan prescription refilled.

Part Seven: The Return Home

The next day I found a voicemail on my phone. It was the Doctor, informing me that my blood had nothing wrong in it. I sighed a sigh of relief, and watched my fears die away.

“But,” said he, “Your white blood cell count is a little high.”

Understandable, I thought. I had a cold recently, and that’s what white blood cells are for.

“So, in a month or so I’d like another test to check on that.”

“Oh, come on,” I said aloud as my Roommate handed me my prescriptions, which he had found in the mailbox.

“What?” he said.

“Oh nothing,” I said, putting my phone away.

And now as I sit here, reflecting upon and typing up my story, it makes me think of many things. The value of bravery, sure, with myself as the bravest man at last, the cruelty of modern medicine (my arm is still sore, my sensitivity is a complicated medical issue all its own) as well as the virtues of modern telecommunications, but I think the most important moral of this story is the value of kindness. Everyone involved, from the Middle-Aged Woman to the Doctor, and even the dour Receptionist, was the pinnacle of kindness. And that, I think, is one of the most important pinnacles to be.

As I conclude this tale, and to finish any disputes, I will vouch that ninety-five percent of this is true. Direct conversations were paraphrased as per my memory, but all of these people are real and interactions happened. I omitted the doctor’s name for privacy reasons, and used titles for others to maintain the Fairy Tale vibe. Only cred I will give is my roommate Blake. He is a good deliverer of already delivered medications.


Enjoying the Venture

May 6, 2017

“Ye gods,” I said with the exasperation of a man who had not only realized that he was driving on the wrong freeway, but also that was three exits past the interchange he was supposed to take. I clenched my teeth and pursed my lips in an expression that was two-parts scowl, one-part grin, and one part whatever expression a cormorant makes when it dives and misses a fish. I slapped my right turn signal on, causing the arrow to flash on my dashboard and my car to tick like a clock. An annoying clock. “If I must be on the wrong freeway, I might as well get off as soon as I can,” I said.

I am a professional out-of-towner. I went to high school outside of my hometown; in fact, there was an entire mountain between my home and my high school. It wasn’t very big in the catalog of topography, but it was in the catalog. Even though modern infrastructure has done much to nullify the effects geography has on people nowadays, that mountain served as a barrier between my hometown and my other hometown. I of course overcame it having to drive it every day, but for others a ten-minute jaunt “up the grade” was a day-trip, all because the freeway clambered over a one-thousand eight-hundred and fourteen-foot-tall hill. The freeway made it merely a mental barrier, but for the people in my home county, by Jove did it work!

After High School, I went to college even farther away, leaving the rolling and craggy hills of Southern California for the extensive and featureless flat (save for the occasional cow) of California’s Central Valley. In college, I exemplified the “He’s…not from around here” trope. I didn’t get the things that only locally-grown people would get. They didn’t get the things that only people whom the road had dragged in from far away would get. My manner of speaking, like my propensity to use the word ‘scrub’ when expressing dislike (where I come from, ‘scrub’ means something that you don’t want to be and that’s all you need to know) singled me out audibly. My dress, my mannerisms, my language (or for the more linguistic amongst you, my dialect) all separated me from my peers. In college, I was just unusual enough to always feel like an outsider, a wanderer, without being too alone. It’s a precarious perch, no doubt. Yet I balanced it all the same. These, in addition to shall we say, my infirmities and indispositions, did much in building little mountain ranges between me and, well, everything. I like my little mountains, you see. It gives me my personal space. Gives me thinking room. I see nothing wrong with that. Besides. community can be oh so stifling to personal growth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about community, and it is necessary for a healthy life, but there is a problem with relying on that community. It can lead you to at least ten bad places, each more painful than the last, if it all goes to any point on the compass that you don’t want it to go. (the first being denying the fact that you think Spongebob Squarepants is the most intelligent and philosophical cartoon series of our time, then there’s going on the late-night run when you are exhausted, and so on and so forth, leading up to the worst of the worst of interpersonal conundrums, a total existential breakdown as you realize that nothing you do for yourself matters and you are stuck deep inside Plato’s Cave with an acute sense of claustrophobia, nyctophobia, chiroptophobia, and probably arachnophobia. Take this, friends. Arm yourselves with knowledge.) What I am trying to say is a little thinking for yourself solves so, so many problems.

“Another one” I said. I glanced at the street signs, although I remembered the way that I had driven. “These things are everywhere,” I added, and I noted where I found another Jersey Mike’s Subs, this time even closer to my house. I smiled. If my town was going to have two of every sandwich shop, at least they had two of the best sandwich shops. I made a mental note on the parchment map in my head and kept driving. The Stench of Discovery beckoned me onward. When I graduated from college and decided that I would stay in the Central Valley I decided that there was only one thing for me to do. I would have to adopt the streets of my new town as my new streets, and that meant I had to know them. Sure, I sort of knew the streets from living in the area for four years as I went to school, but that was only in short distances to go to a few restaurants when the cafeteria got boring. Besides, there was little reason to leave the college’s small campus—they had everything you could possibly need. But I was graduated. I had gone to the great beyond. My spirit had found its way to the halls of the alumni. I had been carried through the doors of Valhalla. They’d weighed my heart against the golden feather of truth, and found that I was worthy of graduation. I was out of the community, and now I found that I had to learn how to live in a town I had lived in for four years. Chalk it up to the stifling shadow of community–its virtues, and its vices. To live in a town, I had to know where things were. So I took to driving in my free time. I put on my navy blue Breton cap, and drove off the edge of my mental map, going nowhere in particular, just driving up and down streets to see what was there, like an urban A.B. Stormalong. It was, in fact, quite fun, and a very entertaining summer activity. I miss having a city to explore.

As a habitual outsider, by choice or otherwise, I have observed that a great problem people face in their lives is that they cannot relax. Always stressing, always anxious about something (and anxiety is a whole ‘nother thing that I will undoubtedly get to another day) and never ever stopping to have fun. Oh, people have ‘fun’, but it’s not real fun unless it is posted on social media and gets at least twenty Facebook likes, fifty Instagram hearts, and at least a few SnapChat replays. In reality, that is not fun. That is just more stress in fun’s dashing uniform, sash and saber and all. And it is a waste of the $20 you spent on whatever new thing you purchased to feature in that post. Our people, it seems, have lost the ability to have fun, and instead exchanged it for trying to impress your peers.

To that I say: “Be yourself!”

Some things are trite and overworn, but they have to be said anyway. If being yourself means that you paid twelve whole dollars plus shipping and handling on a box of little blue toy soldiers so that you could have some fun and set up a little army in your garden, then you buy a box of blue toy soldiers and you plant a garden. You are also to make drum rolls out of the side of your mouth and make musket sounds with your lips. One could say that you are being childish. But what is the alternative? Being a stressed-out adult all for looks? I say no to that nonsense.

Pictured: Not Stress

I’m not going to get scientific here–I am a man of literature and history, not a man of science–but I think I can say that we all accept that relaxation is a good and healthy thing. I have noticed a great many health benefits in my life the more I relax, at least. Everyone gets tired and needs to rest, especially if you are living with headaches or some other chronic illness. Sometimes it gets to a point where I have gone too far and then three days later it’s dear Neptune, that migraine lasted for three days. Now I know there is a lot of debate over whether stress causes migraine headaches, and I know that “you should be less stressed” is a thing most migraine sufferers hear regularly, along with “you should try this new treatment that involves drilling into your skull and electroshocking your brain”, but I have noticed a correlation between stress and migraines. I think there is a connection. Or not. Correlation does not equal cause. It’s just that the more fun I have, the less stressed I am, and the less stressed I am the less headaches I get.

Fun as a means of stress control, then, is something that I have become a minor expert in. My key is rather simple: find a way to enjoy life. Find a way to enjoy it on your terms, not on anyone else’s. Not your friends, as they will likely change, not your boy/girlfriend, as they very likely will leave, and especially not Social Media (seriously, social media is not real. How many times have you thought someone was romantically interested in with you just because they liked your posts, only to reveal that no, they do not? Why do you think the rest of the internet is any different?)

Instead, find a way to live and enjoy life on your own terms. Find what you like, what fills you with that little pilot flame of joy that ignites your life’s stream of fuel into a flamethrower of happiness to deal with the killer bees of unhappiness, and embrace it. (Outlandish metaphors make me happy). I like many things, such as reading and writing and playing with toy soldiers and Lego, interesting hats, looking at boats, and playing mandolin. So unashamedly I embrace those things, and I don’t quite care who knows. If I didn’t do such, then in the very least my life would be somewhat empty as I went about saying “important business, no time to talk” and living in constant misery.

Ensuring that I stay unstressed is crucial to my personal doctrine of headache combat, as I am sure it is for many others. A few years ago, I started to notice something. If I was relaxed enough, I could still have a good day whilst still having a headache. Of course, there are the really nasty ones where all you can do is turn off the lights and pray, but excepting those, I have found ways to enjoy myself when I have a migraine. It is, in fact, one of the reasons I like toy soldiers and Legos. For me, playing with little bits of plastic is very therapeutic. I’m trying to remember a term a doctor gave my parents when I was little and starting out the headache business. Mechanical Medication? Mechanical Meditation? One of those two, probably. But whatever the case, the big thing is that it relaxes me when I don’t have a headache, and it takes my mind off the pain when I do. To me it works, and that is enough for me.

I sighed. I was on the wrong freeway, but I knew these roads like the back of my hand. Or, more accurately, I knew what was on these roads like the back of my hand. My city is on a grid pattern, so it’s generally all straight lines. It’s the freeways that crisscross everything that makes the grid pattern difficult. I was on the wrong freeway yes, but I knew what roads this freeway passed, and how I could easily get home. I was an urban Captain Cook, after all. I found my right road, and I pulled my car off the freeway and made for home. “I’ll sing you a good song, a good song of the sea” I began to sing merrily in a gravelly folk singer’s voice that I picked up from listening to the likes of Ewan MacColl, various ‘pirate’ musicians, and the Dubliners, and set off happily on the long way home. I may have taken the wrong road, but when you know your way there is no wrong road, only roads that take longer or shorter depending on the route. It was then, like so many other times, that I realized the things I had done for fun, games, and entertainment had better prepared me for life’s difficulties.