Monday, August 13, 2007

8/13/07 Migraine musings

One of my favorite things about nursing is that it ensures I get some peaceful time alone with my baby a few times a day. Well, usually peaceful -- Katrina likes to beat on me and pull my hair with her free hand these days. But much of the time, I look down at my baby, happily nestled against me, and have a rare moment of feeling like I'm completely satisfying her, like there's nowhere else on earth she'd rather be. And it's during those moments that I ask myself what on earth I could not love about this life.

The past few days, I've been feeling pulled and put upon, frustrated that I can never follow an impulse and do something right as it comes to me. It's impossible to get momentum on even the smallest project. I'm rusty at basic concentration. Soon I feel like a blithering idiot, unable to piece two sentences together, confusing words, making spelling mistakes (and anyone who knows me knows that I DON'T make spelling mistakes). Inevitably, the frustration at my severely compromised intellect gets directed at my poor children.

But I've come to understand that much of the struggle to think through the fog comes from an outside force. A formidable foe, one with very obvious impact, but also with subtle insidious effects that I've sorely underestimated. And that force is the power of the evil migraine headache.

I've had what I know now to be migraine headaches since the 7th grade, but never in such frequency and so long-lasting as now. It seems that more than half my days since Katrina was about 3 months old are spent screaming in agony in my head. The pain makes it not only difficult to enjoy my children, but also makes it difficult to employ remedies to the inevitable unenjoyable things about them. It disturbs my sleep, makes it very difficult to achieve a sense of accomplishment, makes me slog through routines, dread the day.

And now, I see that it causes genuine depression.

I don't think I've ever had a depressive personality. Like most people, I've had really bad times in my life, but I developed coping strategies, worked through them and eventually pulled out. I don't go through cycles of depression; in general my type-A high-energy personality resists them.

But the burden of migraine headaches makes me vulnerable to depression, rendering my anti-bummer coping strategies almost impossible to execute. It weighs heavily on my psyche, making me negative and fearful and even bitter about my life.

It's funny, actually, that the psychologist headache doctor I saw had me fill out a questionnaire about stress factors in my life. He was clearly surprised -- disappointed -- to see that I'd rated most things in my life low-stress. No low-hanging fruit here. If a migraine mom of 3 young children doesn't rate her life high-stress, what do you say? "Getting my 3-year-old to wash his hands before dinner isn't stress," I explained, "It's annoying. Divorce or an ill parent, that's stress." He brushed off my "attitude of gratitude" (in his words) and probed to get me to complain, perking up when I mentioned remodeling -- oh boy, here's an easy one! But before he could finish making a note, I cut him off and explained that while remodeling, I was pregnant, and had no headaches. At a loss, he skimmed past this major clue and continued to read from the script: take more time for myself, sleep regularly, exercise, eat right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thanks a lot.

If that's the best a headache-expert psychologist has to offer, then that convinces me that there's nothing to analyze here. I mean, hello -- NO migraines while remodeling pregnant??

Stress isn't causing my migraines. It's the other way around. The migraines, and the ensuing decreased ability to function, is what cause stress. And depression, and negative attitudes. I've heard it for years, but I still don't think my headaches have any psychological root cause. I think they're just plain old physical, but now with devastating emotional effects.

Though last week's full-on migraine broke last Thursday, I've had flickers of headache teetering into migraine territory, ever since. Last night, I slept poorly, waking up often with strange and disturbing imagery, mostly of the reptilian nature. These quasi-nightmares are consistent enough now that they're probably related to the same brain misfirings that cause the searing pain.

And this brings me back around to my bad attitude. No wonder I've been so blue and frustrated about my life the past few days. To be certain, life with three young children -- especially my three young children -- has its very real struggles. And I'm not in my element with babies. But the heavy sense of entrapment, loss of control, that I'll never be myself again, is headache-induced depression. Normal me can step back and see that in a few years -- heck, months -- things will be very different. Normal me sees how unbelievably lucky I am to have three thriving children, a husband I love, and overall good health myself (with one obvious huge exception). Depressed, tunnel-vision, foggy-headed me can only vaguely remember that strong, in-control, confident me ever existed.

I'm really not sure what to do with any of this. I can't let this scourge ruin my life, but paradoxically, it saps my power to fight it. It takes tremendous effort to make even the smallest steps in finding answers. I have to though. I don't want my children to remember me as Migraine Mom.


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