October 20th, 2007
This is not a typical post. In fact, by my standards, it is not a posting at all. Instead, it is more like an announcement of what's to come.
First, I am going to vent a bit. Since beginning this blog some year and a half ago, I have been frustrated by how limited and counter-intuitive all this blogging seems to me. There is a list of things that I want to do, and quite frankly I can do none of them except occasionally post some random thoughts. Granted, I have few to no computer skills, but still. Still.
However, all that is about to change. In a matter of hours, days, weeks, all my blogging dreams will be coming true. Suddenly, one day soon, you will log on and there will be colors and pictures and even fireworks, maybe. (Ok. Maybe not the fireworks, but everything else certainly.)
So, don't give up. Keep coming back and I will continue writing about music and teaching and cats and traveling and books and other things that stir my thoughts.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for the messages. Stay tuned.
October 12th, 2007
I have had a chronic headache for nearly 25 years. Call it a migraine, call it a sinus headache, call it Fred, it hardly matters anymore. Labeling it has done nothing to lessen its impact on my life. I have seen neurologists. I have endured CAT scans, MRIs, and trigger point therapy–needles injected into the knotted muscles of my head and neck. I have been on numerous drugs, some with unpleasant side effects. In the end, none of this has helped.
I had become so accustomed to living with a headache, that I hardly knew to what extent these headaches controlled my life. But controlled it they have, for when I wake every morning, my first thought is to scan my head searching for whether or not today will be a good head day or a potentially bad one. At one time or another, I have believed there might be a whole host of possible triggers: wine, wheat, sun, heat, over-exercising, under-exercising, too little sleep, naps, no caffeine, too much caffeine, sugar, dairy. Off and on, I have avoided these things and developed a healthy fear of their effects on my head. Most days I function amazingly well. I work, play and do all the things a normal person does–I just do them with something stabbing between my eyes, through my skull. On especially bad days, or when I resort to the most powerful drugs with the worst side effects, I am forced to bow out of life temporarily and go to bed, desperately hoping that sleep will somehow make a difference. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.
About a year and a half ago, I began seeing a physical therapist who did alternative therapies such as somatic experiencing, cranio-sacral therapy, visceral manipulation, yoga therapy–most of which I only partly understood, but I was desperate. Traditional medicine, in spite of the drugs and the needles, had not even dented the problem. In fact, I too often felt undermined and misunderstood in neurologists' offices. In their eyes, I was quite functional and they had bigger fish to fry than my headaches. "What harm could it do?" I thought to myself as I began experimenting with alternative medicine. It couldn't get worse than it already was.
What I didn't anticipate is that in seeking out caring healers of a different stripe, I would be both treated more lovingly and more holistically than I could imagine. No stone was left unturned, no history was too small to ignore, as first this therapist, then an herbalist, and finally an acupuncturist began unraveling the complicated mess my headaches had become. From the beginning, I felt like they spoke a truth no one else had discerned. Independently, they explained to me that my headaches were not a sign that something was horribly wrong with my head, but rather that somehow, with increasing intensity over the years, the energy patterns had gotten scrambled, causing tension and an excess of energy in my head. Yes, migraines run in the family, and yes, I am probably predisposed to them, but, they assured me, that wasn't a life sentence. It simply meant that when things were unbalanced, my head was the first thing to go. And apparently over the years, things had gotten terribly unbalanced internally.
My ability to rise above the pain and focus on my life in spite of it may have made the problem worse, provoking the headaches into increased pain and trauma simply as a way to get my attention. Certainly, I had to do the very thing I had been avoiding all these years–pay attention to my headaches and pain–in order to get some handle on the problem. I would lie on the acupuncturist's table, willing myself to not freak out, because the procedure made me feel like I was being struck by lightning. "You know I am not creating energy here," the acupuncturist would tell me, "I am simply redirecting it. This is all pent-up energy inside of you. That said, you could light entire neighborhoods. The electrical company ought to be calling you." I take some 15-20 herbs a day, in an attempt to give some non-invasive support to my immune system and head. I have had my head manipulated and poked at in therapy, and I have talked through every possible implication and history these headaches have imposed upon my life.
After all of that, I am not healed. I still get headaches, with alarming frequency. But, the headaches are different, they affect me differently, they come in and out of my life in different ways. After 20 years of the same patterns, to have broken them down to the place where I am seeing a new layer of this problem is not insignificant. Day in and day out, I am more stable and confident, no longer walking through my life on eggshells waiting for the next headache. In my best moments, I know this, and I am thankful. But in my worst times, when I am deep in another migraine, when I am fighting a headache cluster that has gone on for days and days, when I am tired of fighting to maintain a normal life with this kind of chronic pain, I am not so optimistic. I wonder about the amount of money and time I have spent on something that in the end may make no real difference. I'm afraid that this might be my cross to bear in life. I fear that I will live my entire life saddled with a head that too often feels far from ideal.
Recently Newsweek had a cover story about the new research on chronic pain. Although it never mentions headaches, scientists are beginning to speculate that chronic pain itself may be a disease, bearing little resemblance or connection to the original injury or cause. Unfortunately, they are far from solving this equation, leaving me no other option but to continue the course I have begun and rejoice in the micro-movements of progress that I experience.
"This is a 20-year habit we are trying to break," my therapist reminds me when I rant and rave about the slowness of it all, "If we could fix it overnight, it wasn't a very ingrained problem to begin with." After years of trying to convince doctors that I really did have a headache all the time, these words provide some kind of sick comfort. Here is evidence that it wasn't, so to speak, out of my head after all. Funny that in spite of my frustrations, it is this thought that provides me some kind of assurance. "How are the migraines?" ask close friends who have watched me suffer for years. "I have good days and bad days," I shrug. Deep down inside, however, I am hanging onto the good days with all my might, hoping that on them I can ride into a migraine-free tomorrow.
Contact Amy Greer at: firstname.lastname@example.org