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Plunging Into Memories of the Worst Year of My Life

“My migraines are a bit more severe than yours.”

I got this as part of a distressing email exchange with someone about what it’s like to have non-stop migraine attacks for years (it’s not a direct quote, but the gist is the same). The implication was that I can have a positive attitude because my attacks are less severe than what they experience. Before you get your hackles up in my defense, know that this person apologized after I responded to this ridiculousness, pointing out that they have no idea what I’ve been through and that my migraines have been less severe this year because I have worked my ass off to make them so.

But the statement wasn’t without harm. It plunged me into memories of the worst year of my life — a year that was already on my mind following Robin Williams’ suicide. I barely wrote during that time and have only alluded to how terrible it was. It is hard for me to even find the words to describe what those days were like. And I’m not going to try now. I’m just too raw.

Several months ago, my therapist wanted to do some trauma work around my memories from that year. I kept trying, but couldn’t connect. I could describe it objectively, but there was no emotion. I found that emotion these past couple weeks and it has been overwhelming. I saw my therapist today and we finally were able to do some trauma work. We didn’t go very deep and it was still a lot, though I’m doing better this evening.

So that’s why I’ve been quiet this week. I’ll be taking the next two weeks off to spend some time with my sweetie. I have a couple posts scheduled — and I’ll be hosting the Headache Disorders & Migraine Blog Carnival on Sept. 8 — but won’t be on social media or responding to comments or email until the week of Sept. 8. I was already in need of a break. With the memories the last two weeks have churned up, I really need some time to recharge. Take care of yourselves.

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Use Migraine as an Excuse, Recommends Advice Columnist

An advice columnist recommends using migraine as an excuse to avoid the potentially awkward conversation that would ensue if a female employee told her male bosses that she has to work from home one day each month due to menstrual cramps. And he does so in a remarkably insensitive manner:

I suggest, at the risk of overkill, concocting a migraine headache. Migraines can last for hours or for days; they’re famously disruptive to work schedules and social calendars. Also, it seems somehow permissible to use a migraine as an excuse because—well, I hear they’re awful, but—they’re not contagious and they don’t generally snowball into anything fatal, right? There’s no special worry about the mortality of the migraineur. Further, some back-on-the-envelope cultural analysis suggests some mystery and glamour to the ailment. It’s a serious person’s malady, with a Didion tinge of thoughtful drama.

Glamorous is not the word I’d use to describe the illness that has caused me to be housebound and even bedridden. I should start wearing silk pajamas and calling everyone “dahling.” I may not be able to work a steady job or form coherent thoughts, but at least I have a “serious person’s malady” — too bad few people take migraine seriously enough to recognize it is a potentially disabling neurological disorder. Perhaps if I play up the “thoughtful drama” people will understand how migraine has gutted my life. At least a woman can be spared the embarrassment of admitting that she menstruates by trivializing the severity of an illness that wreaks havoc on millions of lives.

Think I’m over-reacting? Here’s an explanation of the harm of using migraine as an excuse.

Want to leave a comment for the advice columnist? Following this link to the article on Slate. I have left a comment and expect people will soon respond that I’m too thin-skinned and need a sense of humor. Funny how people say that so readily until they encounter a topic that pushes their buttons.

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Robin Williams

When I saw that Robin Williams had died, I was sad for the death of someone whose work had touched my life, but I did not cry. Then I saw it was suicide and — as twisted as this may sound — hoped it was to avoid the painful decline of a chronic illness. When I saw he’d been severely depressed, I stood in my kitchen and sobbed. Depression was that illness and he’d already experienced its painful decline.

I remember what it felt like when death seemed like my best option and am crying for everyone who feels the same way. That the world has lost someone who brought great joy to so many lives, that a woman lost her beloved husband, that children have lost their father to a cruel yet (usually) treatable illness is tremendously sad. That he is only one of the thousands of people who took their own lives today… I cannot find the words.

1-800-273-TALK. Put that number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your phone right now. Whether you need it for yourself someday or for someone you love, have it available and, more importantly, use it. If you have had suicidal thoughts in the past, please put together a suicide safety plan. (The link is to guidance in the context of migraine, but it is best to put a plan together with the help of a mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can also help with a suicide safety plan.) I hope you’ll never need to use it, but planning ahead could literally save your life.

Take care of yourselves.

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Blog Dedicated to Chronic Illness and Marriage

Chronic Marriage is a fabulous blog on chronic illness and marriage that I’ve just stumbled upon. The blogger, Helena Madsen, not only discusses issues that relationships face when one partner has a chronic illness, but gives concrete suggestions for coping with them. Some that have caught my eye:

The posts are directed toward married heterosexual women, but much of the advice seems like it could be applicable to all romantic relationships. I highly recommend check out this blog!

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Migraine Mood Changes: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It’s been a long time since a migraine destroyed my mood like it did Tuesday. It was a scary reminder of the dark thoughts that accompany migraine mood changes.

I was fiddling with a picture for a post and minor frustrations had me nearly in tears. Hart fixed the problem while I sat beside him, closed my eyes and took deep breaths. My mind jumped from Photoshop to “Why can’t I get this diet figured out. What am I supposed to do when a food is OK on one day and then not the next time in the rotation? How am I supposed to eat anything? What if I don’t get it sorted out and the migraines come back full force? I don’t want to do that again.”

As my mind spiraled in fear, I reminded myself to not believe everything I think. Those thoughts I was having? They aren’t Truth, nor do they represent what I believe most of the time. I told myself, “This is migraine. This is migraine. This is migraine. This is not me.” Within minutes of remembering the critical distinction between me and migraine, all the anxiety and frustration melted away.

Then I was amazed at how far I’ve come. When a migraine hijacked my mood even a couple years ago, I’d respond by dwelling on every dark thought that crossed my mind. Now I know to shut down those ruminations because they hurt far more than they help. Realizing I’ve learned to pay diligent attention and respond to all the minute migraine-induced changes (mood and otherwise) fills me with gratitude and pride.

Through much research and work, I’ve made tremendous strides in my physical health. I have worked just as hard at changing the way I react to and cope with migraine. As proud as I am of the first achievement, the latter may be even more meaningful. While my physical improvements may not last (in fact, I’m having all sorts of food issues and averaging two migraines a day right now), I can always rely on the strategies I’ve learned to ease the burden of living with chronic migraine. As the saying goes, I can’t control migraine, but I can control the way I react to it.