Pooped & Proud

Hart’s mom left on Saturday, I spent Sunday in bed with a migraine and my dad arrived on Monday. He came up wanting to work, which is exactly what we’ve done. From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday — after which we went to dinner with my aunt and uncle, who are in town from Kansas — and 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. yesterday (with a three-hour break to watch the Diamondbacks game), we’ve been working in the yard.

It’s been in an overhaul stage since last summer and we’ve finally added new plants. We planted 51 new plants and transplanted about 15 others. It looks great and I’m thrilled that I stood up to two solid days of physical labor. Of course, the only time I touched a shovel was when I carried it to my dad, but I still did a lot.

The big news: I did it all without a single bad headache! Not even during the night; although I could have had one but was so tired that I didn’t wake up to notice it. I’ve got a history of pushing myself too hard and then collapsing when I finish, so I’m not in the clear yet. But I’m still proud of how much I was able to accomplish. And it was a lot of fun.

I love days that remind me that my headaches aren’t the forefront of my life. This is the second time I’ve used the word in a week, but it really is empowering. I figure it’s OK to use an annoying buzzword if it’s the perfect word to fit the situation. This one definitely qualifies.

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Finding My Mind

My older sister, M, took a modeling class when she was 12 or 13, which commenced with a fashion show. On the way to the final event, my sister realized that she left her belt at home. Exasperated, our mom said, “M, where’s your head?” “On the floor in the closet,” M said, assuming that she was asking about the belt. That phrase is now part of our family lexicon. When one of us feels forgetful or spacey, we say, “My head must be on the floor in the closet.”

And I’m saying this a lot lately. I can’t seem to keep a thought in my head. I’m distracted easily and then can’t remember what I was talking about, the “right” word seems forever elusive, and I just don’t feel as sharp as I used to be.

The inability to think and find words are little-discussed symptoms of migraine. People with episodic migraines are likely to notice this during the peak and hangover (postdrome) stages of an episode. I see this pattern in myself during a “bad headache,” as I refer to my own migraine attacks. But I feel it the rest of the time too.

Is this a symptom of chronic daily headache/transformed migraine? Does the pain just distract my mind from other pursuits? Or is it simply that I’m not using my mind as intensely as I once did (like during grad school)? Maybe the answer is all of the above.

Last week I turned to Hart’s Nintendo DS for a solution. There’s Super Mario Brothers once in a while (I was a champ in middle and high school!), but mostly I play Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, which are designed for mental exercise. Both games have a series of tasks from different types of mental activity. Based on your performance, Brain Age assigns an age to your current mental level (my mind is currently 61) and Big Brain Academy gives you a brain weight and letter grade (I’m a C- student for the first time in my life). The idea is to practice regularly to reduce your score.

Once I was no longer demoralized by my age and grade, I totally got into it. (Is that video game parlance or what? Totally.) I haven’t tested myself in a few days, but have gotten progressively better on the practice exercises.

Already my self-confidence is boosted. I’ll probably never be as smart as a 22-year-old who is ensconced in academic journals and writing 25-page papers regularly, but I should be able to read something other than chick lit.

Knowing that there’s a part of my headaches that I can exert some control over is empowering. Trouble thinking is a symptom of migraine, but I don’t have to dig for my head among the shoes on the closet floor.

Posted in Coping. 3 Comments »

A Nerve Stimulatoree’s Positive Experience

My feelings about nerve stimulation has obviously changed over time and I have often wished that I wrote about the process as I went along. Mary Gustafson, a journalist in her mid-20s, has done exactly that on her blog That Headache Girl.

Mary, who is insightful and hilarious, describes the personal and technical aspects of the surgery and the device. During all this, she’s been interviewed by some TV stations that were writing about the procedure.

Be sure to check it out for another — and positive — view from a nerve stimulatoree or just for a great blog on life with headache. Here are some nerve stimulator-specific posts to get you started.

[9/21/06: Mary’s blog is not currently available.]

Good Stuff From ChronicBabe

ChronicBabe is always an awesome site; recently it’s been overflowing with terrific articles and links.

Illness and Empathy for Others
In her latest contribution to ChronicBabe, Laurie Edwards (whose articles I love) describes how her illness influences her interactions with loved ones when they have a passing illness — both positively and negatively.

Work and Illness
Lily Thomas, who has CDH and migraine, writes about working with people who don’t really understand what your illness is like. And her experience sorting it out when her boss was the one who didn’t understand.

Emotions in Patient-Doctor Communication
“Emotional patients” have trouble remembering what their doctors tell them, according to findings of a recent study. The “emotional” participants in the study latched onto frightening or worrying information.

Keeping Cool
Heat and dehydration are big headache triggers. ChronicBabe gave this link for ways to cool off.

Acceptance
In an essay on NPR‘s This I Believe, Kay Redfield Jamison writes about accepting the role of bipolar disorder in her life: “It is not a gentle or easy disease. And, yet, from it I have come to see how important a certain restlessness and discontent can be in one’s life; how important the jagged edges and pain can be in determining the course and force of one’s life.”

Invisible Chronic Illness
Next week is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. During the week, people who live with invisible illnesses are encouraged to educate the “general public, churches, healthcare professionals and government officials” about the frustrations of having an illness that others can’t see.

Thanks to Jenni and all ChronicBabe contributors for sharing coping strategies and great resources.

Legumes a Migraine Trigger

Legume_1In response to Trigger-Happy, Christina pointed out that she saw a pattern in my triggers. Peanuts aren’t actually nuts, they are legumes. Beans are also legumes, so it may follow that legumes are the culprit.

Epicurious defines legumes as:

Any of thousands of plant species that have seed pods that split along both sides when ripe. Some of the more common legumes used for human consumption are beans, lentils, peanuts, peas and soybeans. Others, such as clover and alfalfa, are used as animal fodder. When the seeds of a legume are dried, they’re referred to as pulses. The high-protein legumes are a staple throughout the world. They contain some vitamin B, carbohydrates, fats and minerals.

Many common foods are categorized as legumes. The links provide lists of the foods included in each of the subcategories. Some foods that I never think of as legumes include green beans (they’re a green vegetable, not a bean!), split peas and miso.

I am, of course, reluctant to test different legumes to see if they are triggers. Not only because I don’t want to have a migraine, I don’t want to learn that I have to stop eating them. And because I’m still working on housewifing and Hart’s picky about fruits and vegetables. It figures that two vegetables that he actually likes would trigger my headaches.

*sigh*

Patient Consumer Parade, Volume 6

Six Until Me hosts this week’s patient consumer parade, entitled The Fabric of Our Lives. Kerri has a terrific round up of 13 patient blogs covering topics from dealing with insurance companies to coping skills to managing illness. And I don’t only say this because my post Headon Retraction? is included.

Staged Recovery

As I type, I’m on the couch in my third stage of migraine recovery. I’ve moved beyond lying in bed (stage one) and lying on the couch (stage two) to sitting up on the couch. I’m actually bordering on stage four, where I get up and do small things around the house then sit down to regenerate. I’ve made oatmeal and taken some papers upstairs.

I never realized that there was a steady progression to my recovery. Hart’s mom is in town, so I’m more aware of what I’m doing when. Not that she’s an evil mother-in-law, I actually adore her. It’s just that I pay more attention to my movements, wondering if I’ll be able to walk down and rent a movie or get coffee — anything that’s more entertaining than sitting around.

It’s strange to recognize the rituals that accompany chronic illness. I wonder what else I do regularly without realizing it. There’s the nap, then caffeine, then meds process for treatment. The advancement from acknowledging that a headache is coming to trying to ignore the headache to reading on the sofa to moving to bed to nap. And that I put on a happy face every time I’m in public, whether it’s for a barista, friends or a doctor.

We’re creatures of habit, I suppose. But I have to wonder if mixing up the steps sometimes, or even skipping them, would change my pain. Now the question is if I have the guts to make a change.