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…

Miss Migraine: If you visit the Brandywine River Museum

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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 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.

Miss Migraine: My eyes are fine! (Mostly)

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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 1, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

Upon finding out I have chronic migraines, people almost always ask me, “Do you need glasses?”

My answer has always been a (probably somewhat snippy) “No, my eyes are fine.” But there’s always been that shred of doubt. Well, what IF I do need glasses? I’ve always had 20/20 vision, but what if years of hunching over books, reading in low light and staring at computer screens has caused my eyes to degenerate?

Today, I saw an optometrist. At the end of my appointment, while I attempted to blink away retinal burn from the blinding lights he’d been shining into the back of my eyes, he told me what I had known all along: My vision wasn’t causing my migraines. In fact, he said, the two (in my case) were unrelated. I should have asked him to write me a short note that I could laminate and pull out of my purse when asked the glasses question:

Kelly’s chronic migraines are not caused by her vision.

Signed,

Dr. H.

My right eye squeaked by with 20/20, and my left with 20/25. I was prepared to brag to my husband that actually, dear, my eyes are FINE, thank you very much (it was he who insisted I make this appointment–I would have lived with the doubt). Of course, there was a caveat. There’s always a caveat.

Dr. H. flipped lens after lens in front of my right and then left eye, asking each time if the change made the letters on the wall blurrier or clearer. When he removed the viewfinder from in front of me, he jotted a quick note on my chart.

“Well, you’ve got a bit of astigmatism,” he pronounced.

He asked if I knew what astigmatism was. I did: Basically, your cornea is shaped funny, more like an oval than a circle. My father has it. So along with my flat feet and asthma, I can now count astigmatism among the ailments he’s given me. I think I need to ask him again if he ever gets migraines.

As children, our brains have an easy time adapting to the misshapen cornea, but as we get older, focusing gets more difficult. So it’s likely that my vision will deteriorate as I age. Dr. H. suggested I get glasses to wear as-needed, like when I’m using the computer or driving at night, to reduce eye strain.

Wearing them a little bit or all the time apparently won’t make my eyes better or worse, but I will have to adapt to them. With astigmatism, you also see the world at a slight tilt, but your brain corrects for it. These glasses will also correct for it, so when I get them, it will seem like I’m looking through a fishbowl for a few days, and I can expect a headache.

But then again, I always expect a headache.

What annoying questions do people ask you about your migraines? Do vision problems contribute to your pain?