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.