11 January, 2008

Thinking about Migraines and a Wonderful Evening

Today was the first day in months I can say I had moments of being completely migraine symptom free. Several times today, I actually felt like I could exert myself without bringing on the dreaded aura. What a glorious, free, happy feeling.

My heart goes out to people who don't have days like this.

I've always had great sympathy for you, and I've always tried to be one of the voices saying, "I believe you, and I'm sorry." I know there are so many people who doubt that anyone can really be in serious pain for years. I know they can. And this last three months have been just a teeny, bitter taste of your lives. I love you, and I never take the effort you put into even being sociable for granted. Thank you.

Those of you with Chronic Fatigue, Fiber Myalgia, Lupus, and other autoimmune diseases will almost certainly find that what is working for me is not an option for you. I understand, and again, my heart goes out to you. I'll give away the ending, because I don't want you guys to be disappointed when you find out it's just exercise that's helping me. I know, understand, and completely believe that exercise becomes a non-option at some point in those disease cycles, and I have the deepest respect for the way you keep your heads up when so many things you'd be delighted to try are just impossible for you. May the Lord bless your spirits beyond the degree the fall ravages your bodies.

In my case, on a scale of 1-10 I'd rate my migraine pain at a constant 3 with occasional runs up to 4. I'm a complete wimp to be talking about it at all, but I'm going to anyway. They are real migraines. I know, because when I describe them, people who suffer the big bangers nod their heads.

They feel like this. Imagine putting a rubber band tightly around your wrist. Now leave it there for half a day. At first you don't notice it, but then it begins to kind of feel funny, then your hand just feels so engorged with blood everything you do with it hurts. And then it doesn't get better. It just keeps being engorged. Very quickly you cannot do needlepoint, and eventually you can't really write. Before it's over, it hurts just to sit there and do nothing, but it hurts worse to not do nothing, and the very worst is that even if you decide you will accept the pain, you can't do anything well. And when you take off the rubber band, the symptoms continue for a long, long time. It doesn't get better just because it's better. In my case, it's about 8 hours ramping up and 30 hours ramping back down.

Except it's your brain. The aura is always the first thing I notice. The words I'm looking at vanish. Words about an inch away I can see fine, but I cannot read words I'm not looking at without concentrating really hard, and concentrating is just what I cannot do when the migraine is going. Soon, there are little rainbows in a circle around the center of my vision. The little rainbows get wider and wider, and soon, I can see what I'm looking at, but I can no longer see the words an inch away.

It's like there's doughnut hole of white erasing the ink on the page. Then it slowly changes into a doughnut, and I can see into hole, but not around it any more. Then the doughnut gets bigger and after a half-hour or so I can see again with my whole vision. But by then I'm pretty blue, because I know my brain is not going to be working for the next day and half. I can make it do stuff, but the more complex it is, the harder it is. Interacting with people is the hardest, because it's hard to really engage in the dance of conversation with them. I keep having to simplify the discussion, and that's frustrating, and I cannot sail to extremes of emotion with them. My range is limited, just like that engorged hand.

And I'm going to tell you something odd. As I type these words, there's a deep gnawing fear working at me that merely remembering the sensations will bring on the migraine. I REALLY don't want to be describing it, even though my mind says it's safe to do so. For three months, the most random things have brought the symptoms forward. And like I said, they've been in the background the whole time. Even now, as I type, I feel an unpleasant sense of pressure at the back of my head that lets me know it might be back tomorrow. And about every other second as I've been typing thus far, I irresistibly, mentally probed my vision to see whether the doughnut hole of white is creeping up on me.

But tonight, I actually played tennis with a slight degree of abandon. Twice, I felt like I might be getting too intense, and reeled myself back in, but that's a remarkable improvement over the last 3 months. And it was such a delightful night of tennis too! I hit with two guys that were better than me, and I worked them both. They beat me soundly, but not easily. And by the end of the night, I was holding my own with the one, and holding my serve against the guy who's actually played in challenger tournaments in London. I was HITTING with people much, much better than me.

Please read this next sentence with all the pathos and joy you can muster.

It was so much fun.

What a night. :-)

So, why do I tell you all that about migraines?

Mostly because I want to tell where I am in my fight against them. I'm going to tell you why I think I'm on top today, and I'm going to warn you immediately - even I know there's zero reason to believe this going to work for me for long, and definitely not that it will work for anyone else. I just want to put my thinking out there, half for me and half for anyone who has an interest.

I think the migraines are stress induced. Plain and simple. Long ago I said that they were emotion-induced, and especially unacknowledged emotions. Now, I think unacknowledged emotions were just one more stress, and that's really been stress the whole time. Over the past 12 months, I have had a completely new stress in my life that I had no clue how to handle. I still don't, really, but I'm doing what we all do, and moving forward. And over the last 6 months, my primary refuge has transformed itself into another huge stress. I frankly love working, and love my job, but for the last 6 months it has been one kick in the teeth after another. And they have done the world's absolute worst thing in the world to me - they've bored me.

Some people don't like to be bored. That's not me, because I usually cannot be bored. When I'm bored I break things, and then I'm not bored any more. Really. No exaggeration there. I could tell you stories about things I've done for sheer boredom that have made me a quite a desirable reputation. That's because when I break things, I can usually put them back together better than they were before. That's why I don't get fired. But for the last 6 months, I have been in a position in which there was nothing for me to break. I didn't think that could happen to me, but it happened, and in the silence I've been slowly consuming my own mind.

On top of that, I have obsessed about tennis. Tennis, when done obsessively, can be quite time-consuming, and quite energy consuming. It's a joy, but after a certain point, it becomes a stress, too. Especially when you're trying to improve your game in an unheard of way, and you're doing it with the raw energy of Codepoke trying to find something to offset the things that are eating him alive. And then, of course, it's stressful because I really don't like to lose. I'm truly, deeply, competitive. The marrow in my bones creates as many competition cells as it does blood cells. And playing above my level results in a lot of losing, and a lot of not hitting as well as I did in practice. And that's hard to swallow.

Here, I want to say again that I deeply respect people who are actually suffering. I have not yet resisted unto blood in striving against sin, and my body has really been very good to me over the years. It's really held up pretty well considering how stupidly I've treated it for the 12 months. My pains do not compare to those of some of you who are reading this, and I know it. I'm just telling my little story.

Now, tennis is not aerobic. You may think it is, but it's not. It's more like weight-lifting. You can get your heart rate and breathing up by lifting weights, but it's not going to strengthen your heart. And when I train for tennis, I train anaerobically. I do resistance training with rubber bands, and a lot of body-weight squats. And I've been doing that for over a year now.

I did not realize how aerobically weak I had become.

I've recently become pre-hypertensive, and I'm breathing just a little harder going up stairs than I used to. It's almost unnoticeable, because I can play for 4 hours and I'm one of the most fit people in a fitness game. But when I got on the exercise bike, I noticed my migraine symptoms asserting themselves immediately, and worse for two days thereafter.

My motto is, "If it hurts, I've got to get me some of that!"

I dove in.

When I put the constellation of symptoms together, it made sense to me. A migraine feels like a blood pressure issue. I have the beginnings of a blood pressure issue. Increasing my heart rate for a long period of time brings up my blood pressure and my symptoms. If I increase my aerobic strength, I should increase my ability to handle stress, and should increase my body's ability to throw off migraine symptoms.

So, I did what all good Codepokes do.

Yep, you guessed it.

I should never be a doctor.

I looked up my max heart rate for my age - 153, and got on the bike. I sustained 163 for 5 minutes to see what that would do. Dude. What that did was really, really hurt. It took me a full week to recover from that. But that encouraged me all the more. If I can directly cause my symptoms, then I can do something to cure them. Every mechanic knows that. If you can make the engine act bad, then you can make it quit acting bad.

I pegged out my brain last Friday, so this Wednesday was 5 days later. I got back on the bike and didn't let my heart rate go over 130 for 20 minutes. I was shooting for 40 minutes, but I could last that long. I backed down to 120 for another 8 minutes, then I surrendered. It was the right move. I felt truly, measurably better the next day. I took that day off and just rested. Then, of course, today was Friday and I played tennis at nearly full throttle for the first time in a long, long time. It was so encouraging.

I will tell anyone who's interested whether things fall back to my old, steady migraine after a while, or whether upping my aerobic capacity gives me back the ability to resist stress. I actually started down this path of reducing stress + increasing aerobic capacity about 3 weeks ago, and things have been getting steadily (but not surprisingly, slowly) better. That gives me some degree of confidence that things will continue to get better - or I wouldn't risk typing these optimistic words. But I've been wrong about too many things too many times to be anything like certain.

And some day exercise may not work for me any more, even if it works today. And "reducing my stress" is some doctor's evil fantasy suggestion. That's just not possible. If/when those days come, I'll try to live up to grace of those I know who are truly hurting, the great cloud of witnesses I've known to be such blessings and testimonies to me over the years.

There comes a time when death comes for us all, and the last three months have given me insight into how it sometimes comes in little doses. It's to the Lord's glory when He enables us to praise during those little deaths. May the Lord be glorified in His children, and may they be comforted to remember His mercy and how He suffers alongside them, every one.

But tonight was too wonderful, and I had to share my joy. I hit the ball with joy and without pain, and whatever the reason, I thank the Lord.


Milly said...

It’s cool if you can find out what your triggers are. I had them as a child and I know a few of the triggers but have never been able to find all. I also know my BP is up. Darn and I had it down to normal at the surgeon’s office. Your BP is something to keep an eye on. Sorry about the job. I hate being bored myself, I almost liked catching the guy trying to steal way too much tonight. Sorry about the extra stress.

pearlie said...

I had not realise that your migraine is almost a daily thing. I pray and hope for you more migraine symptom free days. Stress is really unavoidable - need to keep it at bay. But would you agree that in a way, stress comes with personalities? I am wondering.

codepoke said...

Thanks, Milly.

I finally Wikipedia'd migraine. I seem to have correctly figured out most of the causes and preventions. The funny thing is that guys with aural migraines are very rare. Wouldn't you know. We'll see if increased aerobics chill out the whole "watch for triggers."

codepoke said...

Thank you, Pearlie.

> But would you agree that in a way, stress comes with personalities?

Wow. What a question. And here I am with all my years of diesel mechanicking experience to answer it. :-)

I'm pretty tightly wound. When I'm up I'm up and when I'm down I'm down, but at one point I learned to project stoicism - even to myself. So I guess I'd be a prime candidate for handling stress poorly. I pretty much need to have a 'plan a' and a 'plan b' before I can put a problem to rest in my mind. But usually, once I have those my stress levels fall quickly.

In the case of the two big stressors going on now, due to factors beyond my control, I simply cannot form a plan. I cannot reasonably address either of them, so I'm having to work around them rather than put them to rest. It's a new thing for me, and I don't know how well I'm doing.

Other people might address such things more naturally than me, and thus react better to stress. It's a good question, and you can tell my length of my answer that I have no clue about it. I'll read other's opinions with interest.

Milly said...

I've heard that men have more pain. I don't know how true that is, it could be that the ability to take the pain is less.

For me the light flashes are more like waterfalls. I once went blind in church. It was like standing behind a waterfall. I had a scan to be sure that I wasn't having a stroke. That's a big fear. My grandmother had a few, it was hard to see.

A note for you from Miss Littles
Hi I hope you are having a good day Kevin.

Hand typed by Miss Littles.

codepoke said...

Thank you, Miss Littles. :-) I'm having a very productive day, and that feels good. I hope you are too.

codepoke said...

Waterfalls. That must have scared the stew out of you the first time. I'm sorry Milly.

You are definitely one of the people I think of when I think about people suffering. I'm sorry.

karen said...

I have had migraines...they start with the aura and progess to Milly's waterfall...then comes the headache. You are feeling some major pain, dude!!
I was wondering if some of your headache was because of blood pressure. I'm having to watch mine...it's considered hi-normal by my docs--but for someone who has had BP's of 110/60 most of their life...125/70-130/72 seems really high to me...aging will do that, too.
You're right about the exercise. My lupus and fibromyalgia are much worse without it. I missed my walk yesterday..could feel my mood plummeting this a.m. so off I went. Happy again. We can control so much with our attitude! Thanks for the great post...and your comment on mine.

Missy said...

CP - I'm losing my voice, so I'll just say I enjoyed this post and I am glad you had one of those days. :)

codepoke said...

Uh, Missy, I know I'm all sympathetic and stuff in this post, but that's GOT to be the lamest excuse for typing a short comment I've heard all day. ;-P

Thanks for toughing it out, though. I appreciate the kind wishes as much as the smile you've put on my face. I do hope your voice returns - you know we'd all miss it. :-)

codepoke said...

Thanks for the confirmation, Karen.

I really need to gather information about the BP. I know almost nothing about what it really should be. I don't trust any numbers created by big insurance companies. I realize they're probably actuarial, and therefore trustworthy, but they are also undoubtedly slanted.

Some night when I've got nothing better to do. :-)

steggy said...

A little advice..

BP, breathing issues, stress and migraines go hand-in-hand, as you've noticed.

I discovered, to my luck, that my main BP trigger is caffein. Five Hershey's dark kisses and my BP rises 10-15 points on each end of the scale. Coffee knocks it off the charts. So watch what you drink. Stress just makes it all the worse, I've noticed.

Is there any way you can go to your employers and tell them what is going on, so that they can ease things or perhaps change the situation for the better?

Patchouli said...

How about yoga?

Stress settles in an old neck injury and suddenly I can't turn my head for a week or so--yoga is working miracles for me.

Kansas Bob said...

"It was so much fun."

I am still smiling for you CP. Thanks so much for sharing about your struggles.. it is encouraging.

Blessings, Bob

codepoke said...

Thanks, all.

First the amusement. I'm now in Wash DC for some training, and sick as a dog. I don't know what my fever is, but I've got one. Fortunately, the thermostat goes higher in here than it does at my house. I ought to rest warmly. Some day I might tell ya'll about having a fever and stomach flu when I was living out in a child's playhouse during a Feb freeze. Yippee.

For now, I'm just up for dinner, and back to bed to get ready for tomorrow. I'll probably be settled back in by then with all the rest I'm gonna get.


I quit the caffiene in 1983 when it put me flat on my butt for a week. You'd not believe all the stuff I don't eat any more, so I completely agree with you. And as for work, thanks for checking. It turns out that something big is going to change in the next week. No one knows which way it's going to go yet, but I'll either be a manager going forward (and hopefully happy) or a techie again (and probably happy enough for government work.) It ought to be good.


You'd be surprised how much losing a wife to yoga causes a bad taste in one's mouth on the subject. But yeah, I do believe in breathing and stretching, so I'll try to do that as soon as I can stay awake long enough. It will be a better warm-back into things than hopping on an exer-bike. ;-)

It's great to see you out again, and posting such real gems! (If you're reading this, you should click through for her.)


Thank you very much. 3 days, and still no symptoms. I can easily see things getting better going forward. We'll see, because it might really just be the knowledge that the job should let up that's helping chill out.

But, since you asked so kindly, I'll keep whining as time goes on.

(code verification is mpgkb. That's pretty funny.)

Anonymous said...

My wife has migraines, has had them since she was 4. Our older two have shown signs of them.

Maria's in day 3 or 4 of a duesey right now. She's about exhausted her month's supply of Imitrex and it's only been a week.

My heart goes out to her, at the same time knowing I have no idea what she's going through.

I told her of your auras and she commented it was pretty rare for men, which I guess you found out.

She's been to a real good neurologist in Westerville that has helped her some. I can get you a name, email me if you want it.

My word verification is 'bnkrzs'. Really.

Danny Kaye said...

Wow, CP. This was a fantastic post!

You've helped me understand more clearly what a brother in the SNH ministry goes through. He's had them for years, and sometimes they stick around for months at a time. I never understood what he meant. I thought it was just dort of a nagging headache in the back of his head. But now that you mentioned it, he has talked about the aura. He has talked about the blindness. He has talked about the extreme pain.

He's a body-builder. So I always figured that he was overworking himself. (Of course, that could just as easily have been my way of rationalizing why I did'nt have to do more of what he does! DOH!)

Anyway, I don't think I'll be looking at him the same way from now on.

Thanks. And now if you will excuse me, I need to go and show some compassion to my brother...from the heart.

tari said...

Well, I knew that you had blogged about your migraines, but I didn't realize how regularly you were/are suffering. I'm sorry to read that, codepoke...but so happy to hear that you had a great evening. Hope you're able to continue to kick this thing.