Miss Migraine: Understanding limitations

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on June 2, 2015. I wanted to share this again now because I’ve been in a bad migraine cycle on top of having a full-to-bursting schedule. This go-round, though, I’m making sure to fit dog walks in no matter what, because they really DO make me feel better.

“You jump into things without thinking about how much work they’ll be.”

That’s what my partner said to me one morning. “Give me an example,” I said.

“I do most of the dog walking.”

Okay, stop. What? I’ve had dogs my entire life. I have been walking them for almost as long.

My partner’s statement made me feel like he thinks I’m not willing to do the work required to take care of our dogs. Like bringing these animals into our lives was some whim, because I saw a cute puppy in the pet store window and thought it would make me more attractive or something.

(Just to be clear, our dogs are not from pet stores. Pet store dogs often come from puppy mills, where the mothers are bred over and over again until they die. The people who run puppy mills don’t pay attention to things like the suitability of the dog for breeding, they just want to make money. My corgi is from a responsible breeder and our German shepherd is a sort-of rescue.)

My corgi Lexi sniffing the air.

Lexi is sniffing the air at the dog park (Dec. 5, 2012).

I adore my dogs. Every day I look forward to coming home to their excited greeting and unwinding from the day by taking them for a good long walk. With one rather large caveat.

Enter chronic migraine land.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), I have a horrible migraine, and walking becomes incredibly painful. Each step is like a hammer blow to my head. So yes, my partner does a lot of solo dog walking.

To be fair, ninety-nine percent of the time he understands my limitations and gladly takes on extra work so I can rest. But when he gets tired or has a headache himself, he sometimes lashes out at me–because my migraines are just as frustrating to him as they are to me.

When he says things like that, even if he doesn’t really mean it, it plays directly into my guilt and self-doubt over the fact that I can’t do any kind of physical anything without getting a migraine (thankfully, this has changed in recent years, thanks to a change in medications and a lot of hard work on my part).

I often feel like I don’t deserve to have dogs. Or own a home. Or be a writer. I feel like I’m not good enough, because there’s a brick wall (migraines) between me and the thing that prevents me from engaging fully.

Intellectually, I know it’s silly to think about things in terms of deserving them or not. I can only do what I can do. My partner knows that. And a majority of the time, he respects that.

But it’s hard and frustrating for both of us when we feel that I’m not able to pull my own weight.

How do you react when family members accuse you of not doing enough?

Miss Migraine: Learning to be kind to myself

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 17, 2012. While I’m maybe a little better at being kind to myself, let’s just say there’s still room for improvement…

“It’s not your fault,” my partner, D.J., said.

The night air chilled my fingers. I reached out for D.J.’s hand, but it was as cold as mine.

“I said I’d get the work done by tomorrow, and I didn’t,” I said.

We stopped at an intersection and waited for the light to turn. Our dogs strained at the end of their leashes.

“Were you in pain all weekend?” he asked.

I said nothing. The walk light flicked on, and we started across the street. It wasn’t just the pain. It was the fatigue, the vertigo, the nausea, the confusion and inability to think straight. It was the way the glare from the computer screen cut through my eyes, through my skull. It was the crushing depression, the despair that rose up from somewhere deep inside of me and engulfed me in darkness.

“You can’t blame yourself,” he said.

“I know.” But I do. I should have sucked it up and done the work anyway, I thought. Was the pain really that bad? Were the other symptoms really that bad? Aren’t I just overreacting? Just procrastinating?

Even as I asked these questions, I knew the answer: Yes. Yes, it is really that bad. Yes, I really did need to turn the computer off and lie down. No, I was not procrastinating.

Being kind to myself is not something I excel at. I always want to push myself, to fulfill my potential, to challenge my skills. I’m happiest when I’m working, when I’m accomplishing something. Too much idle time makes me feel useless and lazy.

But being kind to myself is something I desperately need to learn. I need to forgive myself for the things I miss so that I can move on and enjoy the things I don’t miss. Otherwise, I stress myself out thinking about everything I have to catch up on, my cluttered, dirty house, words unwritten, and finished pieces  not yet submitted to literary journals. I live in the past, and can’t move forward into the future.

Change rarely comes easy. It’s always a process, a journey made of failures and successes. Today, I’m taking the first step into that journey.

Miss Migraine: Couch days — When migraines try to get the best of me

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 7, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

Yesterday, after floundering around most of the day and accomplishing little, I sent my husband a text message to warn him that I felt restless, unfocused, depressed, tired, and totally zoned out.

By that point I had given up trying to tackle any of my freelance work or the short story I’m working on. My vision had blurred slightly, and the entire left side of my head was lighting up every couple of seconds like a beacon on top of cell phone tower: fade in, fade out, fade in, fade out.

I took a book and a pen down to the couch with me, but as soon as my head sunk into the suede pillow I knew I couldn’t tackle David Foster Wallace just then. My corgi came over and gave me her “Don’t be sad, Mom” look and rolled over so I could pet her belly.

That gave me an idea about cheering myself up. I pulled up YouTube on my phone and found plenty of videos of cute corgi puppies and German shepherd dogs. And they did make me laugh and feel better–for awhile.

It IS a comfortable couch, but I don’t want to live on it.

The moment I stopped watching puppies on unsteady feet stumble around and bark at ice cubes, the overwhelming feelings of depression returned. I felt useless; I hadn’t even been able to pick up my migraine prescriptions from the pharmacy, let alone make a much-needed trip to the grocery store. So I dreaded my husband coming home from work, even though I knew he would gladly do those things and anything else he could to make me feel better.

When he did come home, he told me (for the second time in as many days) to stop being silly and worrying about him getting mad or frustrated with me. With him sitting next to me on the couch, I drifted to sleep. When I woke up, the pain hadn’t gone anywhere, and neither had the depression.

My husband was setting out for the grocery store, and laying on the couch in the dark for the rest of the evening, wallowing in misery, didn’t seem very appealing. So instead of getting more depressed, I recognized that it was only the migraine talking, made myself a cup of green tea and sat down in front of the computer, determined to make something–however little–of the rest of my day.

I managed to do an hour of freelance work before the computer screen began to wear on me and I had to switch to something else, but an hour is an hour, and I’m proud of it. Because some days, it feels impossible to even exist. It’s hard to focus, hard to think, hard to move.

But I have goals that I want to accomplish: finish graduate school; find a publisher for all the books I have written, am writing, and will write; run an awesome blog; continue my small, independent literary press; and contribute to my communities through advocacy and volunteer work. Migraines aren’t going to stop me from doing those things, even if they limit what I can do in one day, week, or month.

It sometimes feels like migraines run my life, but they don’t. I run my life. Migraines are only an intrusion, a setback, an obstacle to overcome. So today, now that I’m feeling better, I’m going to sketch a representation of that fact and hang it by my desk to remind myself of that every day. I’ll share it with you all this Saturday.

How do you overcome the depression and feelings of hopelessness brought on by a migraine attack?