Miss Migraine: If you visit the Brandywine River Museum

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

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 15, 2012.

If you plan a trip to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, and you suffer from chronic migraines, do not eat a red velvet cupcake with butter cream icing for breakfast, even if your best friend bought it for you from the Bakers at Buffington in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, even though you love your friend and red velvet is  your favorite cake.

Especially do not eat a red velvet cupcake for breakfast with 16 ounces of Ethiopian blend coffee cut with just enough half and half to turn it from a pleasant brown-black to a pleasant dark tan, even if the coffee is from Wawa and your devotion to your favorite convenience store — which is unavailable in the place you currently live — is fierce and strongly nostalgic.

Brandywine River Museum

Photo credit: Brandywine River Museum

When, upon approaching a red light and flicking on your left turn signal, a flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, even if it means taking it with coffee. The flare, though brief, is a warning sign of things to come, and you should know better.

At the museum, which is filled with the works of famous local artists, specifically those of the Wyeth family, avoid the 40-something man dressed in the carefully styled careless way of art history professors who leads a group of other men, dressed less carefully and more casually, though the exhibit of paintings and sketches done by famous local artists on their vacations in places like Delaware, Maine, Italy, Germany, and Holland, while he explicates loudly on each painting’s deeper meaning.

When, upon nearing the end of this gallery, another flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, as you’ve been smart enough to put one in your wallet although you’ve left your purse in the car, because you don’t want to carry it. The water fountain is located right beyond the gallery you’ve just existed, past the bronze sculptures of three happy pigs in a wallow and a naked woman braiding her hair, and you should know better than to wait.

If it suddenly seems that the security guard has started to follow you and your friend, you may assume that he is doing so because the two of you are the youngest patrons by at least two decades, and your friend is the only person of color. Other possible explanations include multiple middle-aged white male security guards with salt and pepper hair and graying goatees, each wearing his uniform shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearm. This will not directly affect the pain growing in your head, but it will greatly annoy you, as you would like to contemplate Andrew Wyeth‘s painting of a skull by a window without feeling the scrutiny of someone who might assume you either have to be here for a school assignment (you don’t) or will show bad manners and try to touch the paintings (you would never).

Because you did not take the Maxalt pill when you should have, your vision will blur in the middle of the N.C. Wyeth gallery. By the time you leave the museum, driving will be a chore. You will slow down at green lights and forget to start again when you stop at stop signs. You will take a second Maxalt pill two hours after the first one, and you will lay down with your dog for awhile, but it will not lessen the pain or the vague feelings of nausea. You will be forced to cancel plans with your other best friend whom you see only rarely, because you know that driving at night is unsafe when your eyes make it appear that shadows have substance and are jumping out at you.

But you will continue thinking about Andrew Wyeth’s painting of the skull by the window, how it faces away from the window, almost as if it has turned from the beautiful view beyond because it was too painful, because it was unreachable.

Adventures in writing conferences: AWP 2018

Last week I went to Tampa for the 2018 AWP Conference. For those of you who aren’t familiar with AWP, it’s the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and each year they hold a huge conference in a different city (next year is Portland!).

It’s an exhausting three days full of craft talks, discussion panels, many offsite readings and parties, and a huge book fair (almost as big as the exhibit hall at a Star Wars Celebration, if you take out the giant AT-AT and X-Wing models). Writers, publishers, and editors from all over the US and Canada convene to talk books and writing and collectively drink all the alcohol in whatever city we’re visiting.

A stack of books.

My book and literary journal haul from AWP.

In years past, especially when I was an MFA student and felt that I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO FIND A PUBLISHER FOR MY BOOK RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, I spent a lot of time wandering the book fair talking up publishers and trying to sell them on my manuscript. Let me just say that is not the best approach to enjoying AWP, not to mention ineffective. But it’s what all the writing advice articles say, so that’s what I did.

Here’s the thing, though: I write weird books, and even selling a normal book is hard. I believe in my work and I believe it will find the perfect home as long as I keep putting in the leg work. So this year I decided to take everything a lot less seriously.

And unsurprisingly, the conference was a lot more enjoyable without all that self-imposed pressure. I stayed with a friend from Chatham, and we may have drank an entire box of wine. Maybe. And we may have also dyed our hair purple (which has sadly mostly washed out already).

Because I stepped up as a coordinator for the VIDA Count, I worked directly with more of our team, and had the pleasure of meeting many of them in person for the first time. I also had a blast catching up with some of my professors and former classmates from Chatham at a private reception with an incredibly serious bartender who was probably wondering if all writers are over-excited alcoholics (we’re not).

I also spent more time in the book fair just talking to people. I discovered a few new journals that I’m excited to submit to, caught up with my friends at various presses and mags, and hopefully made some new friends! My favorite part was meeting the editorial staff at journals who’ve published my work. Plus I came away with a huge haul of journals and a few books that I’m incredibly excited about reading. Look for reviews of those in upcoming posts!

The downside to all this excitement at all is that I’ve had a migraine for the past five days (Pittsburgh weather isn’t helping). I’m starting to feel better today (and perhaps some coffee before work will help), but I haven’t even tried to work on my novel this week. Oh well! It’ll be there next week, and I’m excited to get back to it when my temples aren’t throbbing.

Relaxing and having fun is notoriously hard for me (just ask my partner, who complained to me last night that I always want to do productive things after dinner when he wants to relax and you know, spend time with me). I consider it quite an accomplishment that I had so much fun I triggered a week-long migraine cycle.

And hey—I even learned a few things, too.

Miss Migraine: Emergency room averse

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine (and other crap).

Saturday I had to go to the emergency room. I’m fine now, but I experienced a sudden and extreme pain in my lower right abdomen that was anything but normal. In this situation you’d think my biggest concern would be OH GODDESS AM I GOING TO DIE THIS FUCKING HURTS, but no. My biggest fear was that they’d tell me there was nothing wrong and I was “exaggerating” my pain or something like that.

I knew something was wrong. The pain started out like a bad menstrual cramp but quickly escalated to “I cannot stand up straight my insides are on fire what is happening.” The pain was definitely in my right ovary, and I thought perhaps a cyst had burst (nope–endometriosis, but I was right about the ovary part). Probably something you should go see a doctor about, right?

But so many times I’ve seen a doctor, or gone to the ER with a severe migraine that’s lasted five days, and they’ve said “Oh, it’s just stress, here are some muscle relaxers/Vicodin.” (Muscle relaxers and narcotics, by the way, don’t help migraines. At all.).

Or I’ve gone and said, “Hey, you can look this up on your fancy computer because we live in the future and all my medical records are digital, but my migraine specialist said I should go to the ER if X happens, and X has happened, and she’d like me to get an MRI,” only to be told “Whatever, it’s just stress, but we’ll do a CT scan just to be sure!” Real helpful, doc.

Once, before I was diagnosed with chronic migraine, an ER doctor pressed so hard into the back of my neck I started crying. I went in because I’d had a headache for a month straight, and none of my regular doctors had any ideas. Urgent care wasn’t a thing yet. He was trying to “prove” I had a tension headache and just needed to “relax.” Nevermind that neck pain and soreness is often a symptom of migraine, AND ALSO he pressed so hard it would have hurt even if I didn’t have a migraine!

ER doctors, especially male ER doctors, have a history of dismissing my pain and not listening to what I say about my own body. So, you can understand why I was hesitant to go to the ER despite the awful stabby pain in my right ovary.

Thankfully, and to the credit of the staff at UPMC Shadyside, the doctors who treated me listened, were kind, and even *gasp* got me a diagnosis. So, bad news–I have endometriosis. But good news–my ER experience didn’t lead me to murder anyone! The next step is to follow up with my lady parts doctor. In the meantime, I’m still in some pain, but no where near the level I was on Saturday.

Onward, I guess?