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A Cold? Nope, Migraine.

You know that cold that gave me brain fog and fatigue as bad as with my worst migraine attacks? It was migraine. While the mild cold lasted only a few days, I simultaneously developed a reaction to one of my “safe” foods (likely cauliflower). It was triggering migraines that were lower on the pain scale than usual since I’d restarted Ritalin as a preventive. Since I ate cauliflower daily, sometimes multiple times a day, I was in a pretty much perpetual migraine.

I’m getting it sorted out, but am also pushing to introduce new foods to my diet so this doesn’t happen again (it has also happened with coconut and butternut squash). That means more migraines as I find out what’s OK and what’s not and what rotation schedule my foods need to be on. It’s annoying and frustrating, but I’ve got a good plan in place and trust that if I’ve figured this out before, I can do it again.

I’ll probably be quieter than usual for a bit, since my mind isn’t cooperating with this writing thing right now. I am reading a ton, including lots of health-related non-fiction that I’m eager to tell you about. Take care of yourselves. I’ll be back soon.

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A Mindfulness Intensive

I’m on day 11 of a cold that has my brain fog and fatigue at levels equal to my very worst migraine days. The other symptoms aren’t too bad, but I can’t think and I can barely move. The longer it goes on the more tempted I am to freak out —

What’s going on? Is this my new normal? Will this ever go away? Are these migraine symptoms resurfacing? Is the DAO not working as well as it did? Was what I thought was a minor cold the start of chronic fatigue syndrome? Could I have fibromyalgia?

Letting these worries spiral out of control isn’t improving my physical symptoms and it certainly isn’t calming my anxieties. I’m working hard to stay mindful and in the moment. All I know is what I feel right now. I don’t know how I’ll feel next week, tomorrow or even an hour from now.

When the fears take hold, I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and ask myself what I know: I have fatigue and brain fog right now and for the past 10 days. I have a cold. My head pain and nausea are minimal. I feel better today than I did a few days ago. That’s what I know, everything else is just speculation.

Speculation cannot help me know the future. It cannot, in fact, help me know anything. Rumination is a powerful habit that masquerades as useful and helpful. Instead of being fooled by that deception and getting bogged down by thoughts, I’m practicing being right here, right now. It’s tough. It’s also a tiny bit liberating.

( I hope this unedited missive makes sense. I’ve used all my mental ability to draft this and don’t want to wait to publish it.)

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Debilitating — But Only Moderately Painful — Migraine Attacks

My fingers are crossed that I’m in the postdrome of a debilitating five-day migraine. My entire head throbbed with sharp pain localized above my left eye, my left ear ached and burned, and my teeth were intensely sensitive. I was nauseated and dizzy. I’ve been massively fatigued, my limbs feel weighted down, my mind is barely coherent, my body aches. It was definitely a migraine and, yet, migraine’s most famous symptom, head pain, was only a level 4.

This is my new reality. The pain is much less severe than it once was — for which I’m endlessly grateful — but the migraine attacks still come frequently and can still be debilitating. People who have “silent” (acephalgic) migraines can attest to this, but applying it to my own experience is difficult. While non-headache symptoms have certainly been troublesome in my years with chronic migraine, the screaming head pain has always taken center stage. With pain demanding my attention, I didn’t realize just how much of a toll the other symptoms took. Not only am I regularly astonished by how severe the non-pain symptoms are, I’m so used to pain being my guide that I tend to dismiss the impact of any other symptom.

I keep thinking that migraine, with it’s wide-reaching and varied symptoms, is a weird illness, though I have to wonder if migraine isn’t weird, but that popular understanding of it is flawed. Despite patient advocates and migraineurs yelling, “Migraine isn’t just a headache!,” head pain is the symptom everyone associates with migraine. Even I, one of those people who gets that migraine is a neurological disorder with symptoms that affect the entire body, get hung up on the head pain part of the issue.

I wish we could rename migraine and start fresh. That we could disseminate the current knowledge about migraine without the historical baggage and misunderstanding. That we could focus not on the head pain part, but on the neurological, whole body impact. Maybe then the world of non-migraineurs would have a bit more respect for the major impact this illness can have on a person’s life. Maybe then I could have a little bit more empathy and sympathy for myself when I’m laid up and telling myself, “But this migraine’s not that bad.” Because, while the pain was mild, the rest of it was pretty miserable.

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Feeling Dumb in a Brain Fog

The past two weeks have been filled with major brain fog. I try to write and the words just won’t come together. It’s not that I can only turn out mediocre drafts. It’s more like I’m looking at a puzzle and can’t even determine which pieces might fit together, never mind trying to figure out where they fit in the larger picture. I write words, move them around, delete and rewrite, but nothing makes sense.

That’s when I’m trying to write something from my own mind. Even more difficult is synthesizing information from other sources. I read the words and think I understand them, but can form no cohesive thoughts on them. I start sentences and am at a complete loss on how to finish them.

The pain of a severe migraine is horrible, the nausea can be gut-wrenching, the fatigue is a drag… those are all physical symptoms that, while miserable, are separate from my sense of self. My intelligence and ability to write, however, are critical elements of my personality. When I’m shrouded in a dense brain fog, I don’t feel ill, I feel dumb. And that’s something I don’t think I’ll ever learn to cope with.

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Ritalin Side Effects

With my lighthearted approach toward Ritalin, I fear I’ve diminished the fact that it is a a real drug with potentially serious side effects. Sorting through information on the medication was surprisingly complicated. On one hand, it seems like a relatively mild, safe medication; on the other, there are dire warnings about its risks. I assume this is because it is often prescribed to children (many believe it and similar medications are overprescribed) and has a potential for abuse.

The most common side effects, compiled from the FDA-approved medication insert (PDF), WebMD, Drugs.com and RxList, are:

  • nervousness
  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • headache
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • dry mouth

Serious side effects, according to MedlinePlus (from the National Institutes of Health), are:

  • fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • excessive tiredness
  • slow or difficult speech
  • fainting
  • weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
  • seizures
  • changes in vision or blurred vision
  • agitation
  • believing things that are not true
  • feeling unusually suspicious of others
  • hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • motor tics or verbal tics
  • depression
  • abnormally excited mood
  • mood changes
  • fever
  • hives
  • rash
  • blistering or peeling skin
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing

For a complete list of potential side effects and their severity, see this thorough list of side effects of 10 mg of Ritalin from Great Britain’s National Health Service or WebMD’s Ritalin side effects.

Personally, I was a little shaky the first couple days I took it, but less than I would be if I had a cup of coffee. Since then, I’ve been careful to eat 30 minutes after taking it, as the label recommends. My feet also seem excessively sweaty and I’ve lost a couple pounds. Having gained 13 pounds on cyproheptadine, I haven’t minded the weight loss and hope that the weight-related side effects of the two medications ultimately cancel each other out. In case you’re concerned, be assured that my casual approach to the drug is not out of a sense of euphoria, but because I’m so happy to feel like my normal self again. The absence of serious side effects makes this even easier, of course.

The possibility that the drug with disrupt sleep is a big one for migraineurs, many of who already have trouble sleeping. I take it first thing in the morning and haven’t had a problem. Because I don’t use it to manage ADD or ADHD symptoms, I don’t need multiple doses in a day. I’m not sure why, but my energy and mental clarity last all day with only one dose.

Beyond the immediate side effects of the drug, there are concerns of its potential for abuse and the effects of long-term use. You’ll have no trouble finding alarming article on either topic. I’m not worrying about either one right now. By taking only 5 mg a day and using it for a legitimate medical condition, I don’t think I’m at much risk for abuse. If I’m still on it in a year, I’ll look into the long-term effects. For now, I’m just enjoying having the mental wherewithal to write long, research-intensive posts like this one.