Miss Migraine: Being a woman obsessed with Star Wars is kind of like having migraines

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 21, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

If you hadn’t guessed, I am obsessed with Star Wars. Obsessed to the point that I have it permanently inked on my body and spend inordinate amounts of money to dress up and go to conventions. My office is practically a shrine to it: Posters and action figures everywhere. Even my filing cabinet is covered in Star Wars magnets and hilariously bizarre phrases constructed from Star Wars magnetic poetry (“Have a slimy Skywalker scum?” and “Solo may do or do not this nerf herder.”). The cake topper at my wedding featured Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade (whom Luke marries in the expanded universe books and comics).

My mother knows the expanded universe well enough that on a visit to Toys R Us, she heard someone ask a sales clerk about action figures of “the twins” and knew immediately that this person must be talking about Jaina and Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s twin children (and then she bought them for me, knowing they are two of my favorite characters). My mother also named her German shepherd Mara Jade, not because she had read any of the comics, but because she was familiar with the character (from my incessant ramblings) and liked the name.

To put it simply, Star Wars permeates every aspect of my life, and by extension, the lives of my family members.

Millenium Falcon replica, R2-D2

Me sitting in a replica of the Millenium Falcon at Star Wars Celebration Europe in London, in 2007.

And yet, many people have had difficulty believing I could be a Star Wars geek/nerd/fangirl/whatever they’re calling it these days. After all, you can find Star Wars t-shirts at Kohl’s and Target and Hot Topic, and it’s cool to wear a pseudo-nerdy old movie t-shirt. When I say, “I love Star Wars,” most people assume that I mean “Star Wars is an awesome movie.” If I say, “I’m obsessed with Star Wars,” most people still assume that I mean “Star Wars is awesome.” At least until I show them the giant X-Wing tattoo on my leg.

At conventions, when people would see me sitting with my dad in the food court, they’d come up and make a joke about how he’d dragged me to the con. My dad would always laugh and say it was the other way around, and the person — always a man — would look a little surprised, but pleasantly so. That has never made me feel better about the assumption.

Like my obsession with Star Wars, my migraines affect every facet of my life, and the lives of my family members. I have yet to get a migraine-related tattoo, but that’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. With 33 million migraine sufferers in the United States alone, I think it’s safe to say there are as many migraine sufferers as there are Star Wars fans.

I miss school and work because of the intense throbbing in my temple. My family has learned to identify when I’m in pain and they know what they can do to help me get through it, the same way they know how to make my month by picking up an action figure of my favorite Star Wars character as a surprise present.

And yet… People sometimes interpret, “I’m in excruciating pain, I’m sorry I have to cancel our plans,” as, “I don’t want to hang out with you.” Or, sometimes, “I have a migraine every single day,” as “That’s utterly impossible, she’s lying.”

X-Wing tattoo close up

A close up of my X-Wing tattoo. The colors are much brighter in person — this is the best I could do with my camera phone.

Professors have refused to give me extensions on papers, even when I have multiple doctors notes and discussed my condition with them at the beginning of the semester. Other professors have told me they will give me an extension on a workshop piece (which goes out to the entire class, not just the professor) only if I agree to letting the professor tell the class my piece is late because of an illness.

In these situations, my X-Wing tattoo equivalent is my paperwork from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that my professors must accommodate me. Once they realize I’m not faking or trying to get out of my homework, their entire attitudes toward me change drastically. I understand that many students do fake illnesses, just as some Star Wars fans wish to appear more into it than they are to impress someone. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about the assumption.

On the bright side, my many years of practice as a semi-marginalized Star Wars fan have prepared me beautifully for the challenges of navigating life with an invisible chronic illness. And I’m happy to say that as time has progressed, the disbelief at a hardcore lady Star Wars fan has pretty much vanished. So I have a feeling — call it a premonition from the Force, if you will — that things will only get better for migraine sufferers, too.

Do you have an “X-Wing tattoo equivalent?” Have you ever felt marginalized for something other than your migraines?

 

End of year resolutions

At the end of every calendar year, I like to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, any goals I failed to meet (and analyze why), and what my goals and intentions for the upcoming year will be.

For me, 2017 was particularly difficult, between the emotional and mental stress of the current administration, changing careers, dropping out of library school, dealing with my dog’s degenerative disease, and trying, through all of that, to make some progress on my house. I know many of my friends from more marginalized groups feel even worse.

Now, with the very real threat of this awful tax bill, a lot of those worries have come back. The bill is terrible for universities and grad students–my partner works at a university and is currently enrolled in graduate classes. I’m now teaching at a community college. If, as many are predicting, the corporate tax breaks create an investment bubble that bursts in 5 or so years, will I still have a job, any job?

There’s no way for me to predict the future. The bill hasn’t been signed into law yet; it still has to go through reconciliation. I’ve let my reps know how I feel about this bill, and will continue to do so. And certainly there are other actions to take, but ultimately, I can’t control what happens here, and I can’t control what might happen to the economy in a few years.

Instead of letting all this anxiety dictate my actions, I’m attempting to be sensible and to focus on the things I can control. Namely, my own actions. This month, as a sort of pre-New Year’s Resolution, I’m concentrating on the following things that sort of fell by the wayside this year: my health and various creative projects. I’ll also be thinking about ways to increase my financial security in the coming years, and setting goals for 2018. But for now, here’s what December’s all about for me.

My Health

Many years ago, I stopped eating processed food and most sugar. But I’m an emotional eater, and those bad habits have crept back over the past few years. Paired with a medication that exacerbates food cravings, I gained quite a bit of weight. I wish I could say it doesn’t bother me, but it does. More than that, though, is the simple fact that eating crap makes me feel like crap. Excess sugar consumption leads to all sorts of terrible things, from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s. That’s right. Eating too much added sugar can increase your risk for and ability to fight Alzheimer’s. Most processed foods contain added sugar, plus migraine-triggering preservatives, and very little in the way of nutrition.

For the rest of December, I’m going to cut out as much processed food as possible (pretty easy considering this just means I need to cook for myself instead of eating out and avoid Trader Joe’s delicious but deadly snack items), and stick to the WHO’s recommended max daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women. I’m also going to go back to eating four smaller meals per day instead of three large ones–this is mostly because a steady flow of energy reduces migraine attacks for me.

I hate to spend the money, but I’m also considering investing in a membership at a yoga studio or gym. I can and do use yoga videos at home, but I think even going to a studio once per week would help with form, posture, and maintaining my motivation. If anyone has any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Creative Projects

Here’s the thing: creativity, whether in the form of writing, gardening, or sewing, is essential to my mental health and emotional well being. Making things makes me happy, and I know the things I create make others happy. Writing fiction always gets tough for me as winter sets in, because the limited daylight and cold make me want to hibernate. And that’s okay! I don’t feel like writing right now, so I’m going to give myself a “vacation” this month and allow myself to focus on other creative projects.

I’ve got a few home decor projects in the works, plus a Rey costume that’s half finished. I’m not going to get all of these things done by the end of the year, but I can probably finish the costume and make a set of fancy curtains for my dining room. And if I only get one of those projects done, that’s okay, too!

Sewing is relaxing to me in a way writing isn’t, probably because it’s so much more physical than writing. I like that as I sew, the thing I’m making takes shapes right in front of me. It’s physical and tangible, and in the case of curtains, very useful and pretty to look at.

 

December is also a time to spend with family and friends, and I’m looking forward to doing that, too. (Not to mention…. STAR WARS.)

Miss Migraine: My migraine support team

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 31, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

The necessity of asking for help with a simple, daily task because my head is throbbing and I feel weak and dizzy makes me angry. It makes me feel helpless. It makes me feel useless and worthless.

Unless I’m literally writhing in pain in bed, unable to get up or open my eyes or speak more than a few words at a time, I probably won’t ask for help. Luckily, I have a support team.

My husband

D.J. didn’t want me to take this picture.

D.J. takes care of me without making me feel like I’m putting him out. If I can’t vacuum or buy groceries or pick up our weekly fresh produce subscription, he does it without complaining. I make sure to thank him for doing these tasks, because I am truly grateful for his support.

He also nudges me to take care of myself. It was at his insistence that I finally got an appointment at our local headache clinic. While I haven’t gotten relief yet, I have gotten hope, and a knowledgeable doctor who listens to me and is available by phone during office hours. D.J. also wants me to explore therapy options, and get my eyes checked (which I’m doing tomorrow–I’m kind of nervous about it!).

But perhaps more amazing is that despite the fact that D.J. often winds up doing more of the housework than I do, he makes me feel like I still take care of him, like he still needs me — just not to pick up groceries! This makes it much easier for me to relax and let go of things. He makes me feel valued and useful, and that is his greatest gift to me as his partner.

Lexi

Cater-corgi!

Although I may be slightly biased, I think Lexi is the most beautiful dog in the entire universe. She is also probably the brattiest. Even in her puppy pictures you can see the attitude in her eyes. She doesn’t like to be held, and the only time she likes to cuddle is at night or early in the morning before I get up. But when D.J. or I get sick, she stays with us constantly.

Corgis may not have the power to cure migraines, but they do have the power to cure sadness. There’s nothing like coming home to Lexi’s wagging nubbin and happy barks. She runs around me in circles, and if I wait too long to pet her, she jumps up on my legs and makes a noise at me.

She can sense when I’m feeling depressed or anxious and usually answers by bringing me a rope and asking me to play tug with her. I can’t remember a time when this hasn’t cheered me up considerably. She makes me laugh every day. (Lexi is now 13 and suffering from degenerative myelopathy, but she still makes me laugh every day.)

Jaina

Jaina is waiting for me to get her bone from under the cabinet.

Jaina is an 18-month-old German shepherd dog. Unlike Lexi, she’s more or less oblivious to our moods. But since she’s just about the goofiest German shepherd I’ve ever met, that doesn’t matter much. Her favorite activities include licking D.J. for long periods of time (especially his feet and hands), chasing her bones underneath the furniture and staring pathetically at one of us until we fish them out for her so she can do it again, and chasing her squeaky ball at the dog park.

While Lexi does keep me active, with Jaina I have no choice but to go for long walks every day. GSDs need lots of exercise so they don’t become bored — and therefore destructive, especially when they’re puppies. Regular, low-key exercise keeps me healthy and staying healthy helps keep my migraines in check. Not to mention that Jaina is incredibly lovey and cuddly, and never says no to hugs or squishes.

Family and Friends
So many other people have supported and continue to support me in many ways. My mom is always willing to listen to me complain, and my dad and I often talk about our respective health woes. Friends have driven me to the emergency room, bought me groceries, made me tea, and so much more. Thank you.