The names of my puppet masters are Headache and Exhaustion. They work together, a dynamic sadistic duo. They allow or deny day to day like a game of “Mother May I,” only you can’t sneak forward in this game. Sneaking is the only certain way of losing.
In the beginning, I declined medication. I’ve heard horror stories and my neighbor advised, with an odd look in her eyes, “Try not to take any pain medication. They can be extremely, extremely difficult to get off of.” That’s okay, I said, I have soaring fear of pain medication and addiction. Addiction doesn’t appear to be a natural part of my nature and it’s scary stuff.
Caffeine is possibly my worst addiction and the dependency annoys and insults me. If I miss my singular cup of green tea, it triggers a headache. Even before this TBI stuff, I’d go off coffee and black tea from time to time because I hate the tether, always figuring out the next cup. And the punishment if I don’t take it when it wants to be taken is for my head to be placed inside a bass drum while the high school band marches the entire length of Texas.
Now my headaches, or migraines, or whatever they are, come of their own accord. I try to appease the headache gods, keeping the light level just so, and the noises off. And not overdoing. Still, life careens at me like a drunken bullet train, volatile and violent, pushing through my world and unless I am utterly conscientious of every moment, my needs and my limitations, I will end up with a migraine. Attending to my own needs and limitations is very hard for my sort of person, a people-pleaser by both nature and nurture. These nearly two years of self-care boot camp, of learning to care for Sarajoy over and over and over again, have probably been good for me. But I’m annoyed by it and fail constantly, still.
Recently, there was a trip to Seattle, driving, for the first time again in nearly two years. I drove for a bit at night so the distractions were darkened, but the oncoming lights were painful as a welder’s arc. And the reflectors on blacktop sent my head spinning. Despite that, I enjoyed the psychological challenge of driving, of pushing myself past known limits. Curiosity overtook me: how would it feel if I drove more? How can I talk myself in to pushing past this limit? How fast can I recover from the wicked eye-pain of oncoming halogen lights? However much fun I may have had watching my brain do what it needed to, it was probably a bad idea to start an intense weekend with such a drain.
Saturday was filled with walks, travel, 43 meals, and stress. Sunday held the greatest dichotomy of states: a serene sailboat ride from Lake Washington to Ballard that raised all of Seattle’s bridges and found us trapped in an all-ages crew race. That was followed by a funeral for Huck’s aunt who committed suicide, being the fourth one in our combined families to do so in the past few years. It was difficult, even though we were not too close. We loved her and she hosted every holiday and had a signature love for fall colors, and gold.
Again, we had that talk with our kids about depression, bipolar, and how if you are thinking about suicide you needed to have seen a therapist a while ago, but it’s better late than never. If you are sad or anxious or crazy for over 4 weeks, you need to see a therapist. There is a giant army of well-trained professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping people in these situations. They are standing by, eager to assist. Therapy does not mean something is wrong with you, necessarily. What it means is that life has given you a challenge greater than your current skill set and a therapist will help you develop the skills you now need to approach this new challenge in new ways we can’t always figure out on our own. Suicide is literally not a viable option, however many people we know may seem to think so.
Coyote’s response: “Suicide is the only way to guarantee that you’ll never be happy again.”
Blue: “AUGH! Not this conversation again!”
Honestly, I’m sick of the conversation too and would just prefer for people to stop doing it. I’m normally very compassionate about it because life provides a lot of shit in a variety of shapes and sizes, internal and external, and it’s hard for everyone. But It’s hard for everyone! Don’t make it more difficult for others, you asshole! But I’m pretty sure that’s not the officially sanctioned line.
By the end of that long weekend, I was loopy and exhausted and couldn’t have told you if my eyes were crossed or not, everything was about the same level of focus.
I still sometimes go-along-to-get-along and this weekend was full of that. I always want to avoid any dissatisfaction that may happen if I say I can’t do something. It usually only lasts a few minutes until the others get going with their new exciting thing and I am left in peace. But I get tired of resisting the constant siren song to join the crew of life livers. The price is always paid later, by me alone.
When I got home, I had an aircraft carrier sized headache. I seriously doubt anyone else spent three days in bed because they went a little too far on that walk. I’m sure no one would have resented my stepping out of the crowd for a few minutes here and there. And I’m sure no one’s day was made, or life saved, or weekend perfected by my NOT taking a rest.
And on day two of my migraine, arose the dreaded question: to medicate or not to medicate.
With a strange smile from the doctor, I was prescribed a morphine based drug (we’ll call Mr. T) for an internal rupturing issue, “You are really going to like this and it should help with your headaches too.” Where other pain medication just put me to sleep, still in pain, with dreams to illustrate the amount of pain I am still in, Mr. T makes the pain mostly go away. And once the pain is away, there is a feeling of ecstasy that supplants it. I feel so incredibly good, a half asleep, half orgasming state, where I don’t want to eat, or have sex, or sleep for real because I already feel utterly fulfilled in every possible way. I can function fine during this time. I couldn’t at first. But with some acclimation, I became able to drive and cook and do all of the other inane tasks of daily living. But it’s a sad waste of Mr. T when I have things to do because Mr. T is best when lying in a dark room. To the outside world, I function like I still have a migraine, but up in my head, I have the exact opposite, whatever that’s called.
|crew race beneath SR 99|
With increased tolerance, came withdrawals. The next day I feel sick to my stomach. I have an average headache that can be dealt with through ibuprofen but I’m angry. I’m bitter. And I hate the world as I cling to the toilet.
Mr. T stops the migraine, but at a cost of two days. One to enjoy on credit and one to pay with shark interest.
Then I took Mr. T after an argument with Huck because, dammit!, I deserve to feel good. And then I took it because I was bored. I’m still not even done with the first bottle, that’s how fast this happened.
I realized this was headed into the abyss. Each time I crave relief, I began to ask myself if I would like a day of withdrawals. The answer eventually made its way to “no.” My fear of suffering seems to be greater than my need for ecstasy. That and Mr. T has become weaker. He only seems to mute the migraine for a day. That’s why we aren’t friends anymore, we are more like estranged lovers who angrily stash old love letters out of sight but can’t seem to forget where we hid them.
This solves nothing of my migraine problems. I still must take Mr. T, the only proven remedy, as mediocre as he’s become at it and I can’t bring myself to up the dose. I tremble in fear at the withdrawals that would create.
With emotional pain, I’m becoming better and better at working with it. I’ve learned how to feel and let it go, how to go emotional ragdoll and let it tumble me, how to use it to understand myself without trying to control it. And sometimes I can even manage to dive into the waves, rather than let them crash me. But I can’t find a similar path through physical pain that stops my breath, robs me of light and sounds and makes me a below-bridge troll; this is harder. If I simply try to breathe through it like a difficult emotion, I can’t do anything else. But life has its demands. Kids count on me. Bills must be paid. People got to eat. Life goes on like a bullet train.
This isn’t some strange problem no one’s ever seen before. The numbers in the newspaper are clear on that. We need pain relief, but all our options are dangerous. It’s common, this pain reliever addiction. Has there ever been any other kind? At the heart of every addiction, there’s pain, internal and/or external, being pushed away, saved for another day, never convenient pain. And it’s not pain like childbirth, pain that nearly rips you in half, but at the end of it there’s the most perfect kernel of a miracle squalling in your arms. There’s no reward at the end of a migraine.
Mr. T makes me feel ordinary, a drop in the ocean of humanity. I’m no one special, just looking for relief from life’s inevitables, just like the next person. I haven’t risen above my humanity or found the turbo-human switch. I haven’t found another way to migraine. No amount of meditation, no herbs can slide me through the pain. As far as I can tell, it’s migraine until the end of the world unless Mr. T comes to help.
I wouldn’t say Mr. T is an addiction as I’m not even done with the first bottle and it’s been over a year. But he’s a hint of it, a flirtation. But maybe I have other addictions: reading, people pleasing, adventures and activities, the word “yes.” The battle that rages inside all day and every day is this: me vs. me. It’s a war between the best interests of my essential self vs the best interests of my real, physical self. Mr. T is one day of icky consequences, my inability to refuse activities is a week.
Maybe there’s a spectrum of addiction and we’re all somewhere on it, all of us, making the same choices over and over again, despite their damage. Maybe it’s just a regular old conflict of self-interest: which self and which interest wins today? Maybe it’s not even a conflict, just a teeter-totter and sometimes one side cherry-bombs the other.
But before the navel-gazing pity party rager spills out of the house and onto the front lawn, you should know that my headache was finally healed in what felt like a miracle, the laying on of hands. I decided to go ahead and give my regularly scheduled Craniosacral Therapy a try and if it didn’t take, the ER was close by. Shauna, my Craniosacral Therapist, has been working effectively with my exquisitely sensitive brain for nearly a year. It’s slow going as I feel everything so intensely she can only shift my bashed cranium a teeny bit at a time. And although it’s been quite effective for me, I wasn’t sure she could take my 12 out of 10 pain points headache. But she did. She took it down to a 2/10.
Mr. T, there’s a new game in town; watch your back, fool