Miss Migraine Gets Angry

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

When my husband got laid off in September 2012, we had to purchase our own health insurance (Note: This was pre-ACA). This was not an easy task. I had to make sure to get a plan that had reasonable specialist co-pays, that covered all of our medications, that included chiropractic and behavioral services, AND that didn’t cost a million dollars. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the insurance. It’s not cheap and it’s not as good as what we had under my husband’s job, but it does what we need it to do.

Except when it comes to my abortive medication, namely, Maxlt.

Oh, sure, the insurance company says, we’ll let you refill that–but you only get nine pills (yes, we know your doctor prescribed you twelve pills per month) and we’re going to charge you $280! But wouldn’t you rather just take Imitrex? I mean, we’d really like you to take Imitrex. We think it’s way better than Maxlt. And you can trust us, even though we aren’t doctors or nurses. We’re an insurance company! We know what we’re doing!

(In case it wasn’t clear, the above paragraph was sarcasm.)

I knew that when I started this blog, and decided to sub-title it “A Girl’s Adventures in the United States of Pain,” that I was eventually going to have to talk about how ridiculous and (pardon my French) fucked up our healthcare situation is.

The Affordable Care Act is making things better for a lot of people, me included. Making insurance companies provide birth control with no copay is a huge thing. But what the Affordable Care Act does NOT do is force insurance companies to cover non-birth control prescriptions at a reasonable co-pay.

Let’s just say I’m furious.

I was even more furious when I called the insurance company and asked for the reason for the quantity limit. FDA regulation, they told me. Well, that’s blatantly false! Teri Robert covers this issue in her book Living Well With Migraine Disease, but basically, the FDA suggests a max of 3 pills per week to avoid rebound headaches. That works out to 12 pills per month.

My doctor’s office has clearly run into this problem many times. When I called them, they said they would send a form over asking for coverage and a quantity increase, and that it was almost always granted. This is definitely good news, but just because I will probably get the medication I need doesn’t mean I’m going to stop fighting this.

Living with migraines is a kind of hell. No one should have to suffer through more hoops and stupid red tape because an insurer wants to save a few bucks. On Monday, I’m going to be making a few phone calls.

Post script: This has since happened to me many more times. Now my co-pay for my abortive medication is $80 for 12 pills, and my new insurance company also tried to limit me to 9, citing the same “FDA regulation” as the previous one. Sigh.

Miss Migraine: Freeing Yourself From Anxiety by Tamar E. Chansky

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 4, 2012.

Freeing Yourself From Anxiety, Tamar ChanskyTitle: Freeing Yourself From Anxiety
Author: Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.
Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0738214832
List Price: $16.00

Freeing Yourself From Anxiety isn’t the kind of book I look for (as the possibility of it featuring explosions in space is right around zero). But my library, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, recently released a smart phone app that lets you download and listen to electronic audio books on your phone, among other cool features. As an unabashed book junkie, I have been, pardon my French, using the shit out of this app.

The app’s only flaw is that it presents you with a list of every audio book currently available for check out and download (2018 update: This is now fixed). You can search for a specific book, but can’t, say, browse for science fiction books. So one day, Dr. Tamar E. Chansky‘s book came up on the first page of the long list of books available for download, and I thought, what the hell, stress is a huge migraine trigger for me, maybe this will help.

Although I felt the book could have been organized better, the information and strategies for dealing with anxiety, stress, and “negative” emotions more than made up for that shortcoming. At the book’s heart are four steps to help the reader overcome anxiety. These steps work both in the moment of anxiety and as a daily practice to help reduce the overall incidence of anxiety.

And here is the book’s real strength: Chansky doesn’t simply provide direction for calming the mind and body down when anxiety grips both, but direction and ideas for daily practice to train the body not to overreact to ordinary stressors and stimuli. Examples include instituting a time for regular, deep breathing to calm the body, keeping a gratitude journal to remind us of good things, and creating positive moments of joy (like playing with a pet) instead of waiting for them to simply happen.

Throughout the book, Chansky focuses on “possible thinking.” She actually advocates against false positive thinking, because studies have shown that telling yourself things are okay when they are not is just as bad as thinking negatively. Instead, she suggests re-focusing on reality: What is the actual situation? What do you truly believe will happen? Then, we can prepare ourselves for that situation instead of becoming stressed about out unlikely possibilities.

Admittedly, I haven’t been as dedicated in applying these strategies to my life as I should be (again, because stress is a huge migraine trigger for me), but even in my casual application I’ve seen a reduction in my stress and anxiety levels, at least in the moment. Just making myself pause and ask, “Kelly, do you really think that will happen?” is enough to calm me down. This book is overflowing with strategies, so I imagine almost every reader could find several that would work for him or her.

If you suffer from migraine or another chronic illness, and stress or anxiety trigger symptoms — or if you suffer from an anxiety disorder or simple depression — this book will provide you with something to fall back on when it feels like the world is slipping away from you, fast. I would, however, suggest reading a paper copy, because I often found myself wishing I could go back and re-read sections that I liked, and that’s a little more difficult with an audio book. This is an unpaid, unsponsored review.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety?

Miss Migraine: Bleeding for Star Wars (literally) and unavoidable convention migraine triggers

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 28, 2012.

After four days of nonstop Star Wars awesomeness at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, I’m not even remotely ready to resume “normal” life or start classes (which happens tonight — I’ve even got a little bit of homework I need to do…). This was my fifth Star Wars Celebration convention, and like all the others before this one, the warm, open fan community inspired me creatively and personally.

The Star Wars fan community isn’t just about watching movies, reading books, and collecting action figures. We build life-size snow speeders, make movie- and comic- accurate costumes, build amazing LEGO sculptures of our favorite characters, create giant dioramas, write radio plays, make up new story lines, and so, so much more. We are active, engaged, and talented, and we have fun.

Celebration VI Jawa tattooine

Tattooine is hot and bright!

Although my head pain never went away completely, and I did have to take a painkiller the first day of the convention, I believe being engaged, active, and inspired is an incredible migraine analgesic. My brain was releasing so many endorphins that the pain, while present, seemed almost irrelevant. Either that, or being at Star Wars conventions gives me Force powers and I was able to temporarily heal myself.

Although the celebrity panel with actor Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine / the Emperor) was easily my favorite panel, waiting for anything at the main stage was somewhat of a trial. During the panel pre-shows, they played incredibly loud music and shone incredibly bright lights into the audience. I didn’t bring earplugs, because I’ve never needed them at a convention before, and normally the lighting is so poor as to eliminate any possibility of decent photography. I basically had to put my jacket over my face and plug my ears with my fingers to avoid an instantaneous migraine, but seeing the actual panels made it worth the effort. Still, I will probably send an email to the convention organizers mentioning the problem this caused me. I imagine it’s something they never thought about.

Star Wars bantha tattoo

I got this bantha tattoo on Sunday at the convention. Art by Jason Leigh. It hurt like a bitch, but at least it distracted me from my head!

This was Ian McDiarmid’s first convention appearance, and he shared a wealth of behind the scenes stories about filming Return of the Jedi (it took four to five hours to put his makeup on, and he got the part because the original actor couldn’t wear the yellow contacts). He was witty and smart (in response to an attendee’s wish that he be knighted, he responded, “You don’t need the knighthood when you have an Imperial crown.”).

At one panel, I also had to switch seats with my husband, because the person I sat next to had on enough cologne on to stun a gundark. And it was that heavy musky perfumey stuff that I can’t stand the smell of to begin with, not to mention the fact that any strong smells will give me a headache after about one minute.

Airplanes also give me migraines. It’s something about the cabin pressure, or the recycled air. I’m not sure. I can feel the pressure in my sinuses start to build up, which makes my face hurt, and before I know it, one of my temples starts throbbing. The flight home was fine, thankfully, but the flights to Orlando were incredibly painful. My husband got a migraine on the plane, too. But, unfortunately, there’s really nothing we could do about it except take drugs, use our aromatherapy products, cover our eyes and wait it out. Thankfully once we landed we both felt much better.

This was the first convention or Star Wars event where I’ve injured myself, and I must say I’m proud of my “battle wounds.” I fell and scraped up both my knees during the Bounty Hunt, a scavenger hunt where participants solve clues and search for “targets.” I wasn’t the only person who fell, but at least I had the excuse of running in a dress — no easy task.

Now I’m going to see if those Force powers will extend to homework and/or the errands I need to run today…