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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.

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

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Happiness

My Magic Green Hat

June 29, 2017

It was a misty December evening on the wharves of San Francisco. I walked slowly behind my parents, padding along and doing my best to make my unathletic body keep the rigid pace. We were in San Francisco to celebrate my grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, and between family gatherings and dinners we were exploring the Golden City. The sun began to set, and fog rolled in from the vast expanse of the Pacific to the sweeping west.
We walked along Fisherman’s Wharf, looking at shops and stalls and going from business to business to pass away the time until we were to meet with the rest of the family at a seafood restaurant. We were about to turn back, when a shop down the row caught my eye.

Its sign was inscribed with green uncials, and its walls were covered in a veneer of river-stones arranged to suggest a rustic drywall. I pointed it out, and in I went.

It was an Irish-American store. There is no better word to describe it. The construction crew had used a little bit of green paint on the sign, and then dumped the rest on the walls. There was a shamrock on every hand, a portrait of St. Patrick behind the counter, and every shelf was laden with little silver trinkets in the shape of Celtic crosses and Celtic knots and Celtic-knotted-Celtic-crosses. There was a speaker system that was playing appropriate music; at the time, I did not know Irish music and airs, but in retrospect I swear that one of the tunes being played was Molly Malone.

I looked around this store, unaware that destiny awaited. I looked from corner to corner, and then something caught my interest. It too, like the rest of the inventory, was green. It called across the aisle to me.

“Good evening,” I said to the green tweed cap.

“And the same to you, sir,” the hat did reply.

I reached up and plucked the hat from the shelf, and took off the olive-green stocking cap that covered my cropped hair. I slid the hat over my scalp, and found that it fit perfectly and snugly, but not too snug, gently complementing my head—scalp, cranium and all.

“I like the look of that,” said my mom when I looked at her with the hat crowning my brow.

“How much is it?” asked my dad.

I took off the hat and found the price-tag right beneath the labels that read ‘handmade in Ireland’ and ‘one-hundred percent wool laine’ in both English and French. The price boggled my eyes and shot my connection with the cap.

“Ninety-two dollars and fifty cents,” I intoned.

“I’ll buy it for you if you’ll wear it,” said my dad. “It looks better than your Alaska beanie.”

“Name’s Kerry, by the way,” said the hat as we walked to the cashier.

And together we lived in prosperity for the rest of our days.

I put the cap on and stepped into the cold San Francisco night. I looked at the shadow I cast on the wharf’s brick walls. My heart soared. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had style.

Besides that, there was a comforting feeling that came with wearing that Irish flat cap; something about it put me at ease. Maybe it was the combination of warmth (“it’s like having a sheep on your head,” as my dad says) and shade for my eyes. Maybe it was the smell of the wool. Or maybe its just that it was different from what everyone else was wearing. Whatever the case, it quickly ascended to being my hat (if you get my meaning), and trademark look.

Come rain or winter weather, summer weather, or even the weather on the other side of the world and back again, I have gone everywhere with my favorite green cap.

I even wore this hat on my ill-fated journey into Narnia.

I half-jokingly refer to it as my magic cap. Half-jokingly. All right, I don’t attribute actual powers to the thing, nor can it talk. It had a tag that said it was made in the Irish county of Kerry. Its just green tweed stitched together. But please, just don’t tell him I said this.

Nevertheless, I cannot get comfortable without my hat on. It has become a thing of comfort for me, protecting me and, in a strange way that only myself and God can fully understand, giving me confidence to step out a little farther out of my greater comfort zone by keeping my head firmly in my one-hundred percent wool comfort zone.

Its a very important thing to me, so much so that when a particularly rainy time came and my hat shrank I not only purchased a hat stretcher but traveled many miles to have it mended. I can and do wear other hats, but the thought of losing this particular hat was simply too much to bear.

The wearing of a hat was, before I discovered my green cap, a prerogative for me. My headaches made covering my head a necessity; hats shaded my eyes, and kept the sun from beating down upon and overheating my scalp. (Robinson Crusoe had the same problem in his classic adventure novel, its why he wears that hat he is associated with)

But with the discovery of my cap, I was able to turn my misfortune into a blessing, and in the end, that is worth much more than ninety-two dollars and fifty cents. Especially since I was not the one paying.

Living with Migraines

Sasquatch, Migraines, and Identity

June 20, 2017

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

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

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

Sasquatch

You gotta respect the classics, man.

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

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

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

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

Drawn by Lucas Cranach the Younger in 1550.

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

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

The audience was dead silent.

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

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

Everyone else in the auditorium raised their paws.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with Migraines

Lego and Headaches

June 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medicine

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.