Sunday, January 27, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines: Part 2 WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD

If you haven't read the first part of this five part series, you can find it here:
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 1: In the Beginning


Mid-summer 2015 was when I moved to Tennessee to begin my teaching career in the real world and escape the frigid winters of Minnesota. I was still getting frequent headaches and had moved on to taking Excedrine Migraine for them, since ibuprofen was no longer having any effect.  If a headache came on, I'd take three Excedrine with a can of coke because I needed the caffeine to help dispel the pain.  

I'm going to pause here to clarify- for the most part, I'm consistently using the term headache throughout these posts because they varied a lot in severity and type.  Sometimes they were headaches, sometimes they were migraines, and for the purpose of these posts it's easier just to use one term.

In December 2015, the Friday after my birthday, I had the worst migraine I had ever had. I was dizzy and couldn't stand for more than a few minutes without feeling like I was going to pass out. At lunch I couldn't stop shaking, and finally, I spontaneously burst into tears because I didn't understand why I felt so miserable. It was terrifying.  I'd had headaches, I'd had migraines, but I had never had them to this to degree.  I'd never experienced this many side effects from them.

Thankfully, my awesome teammates had my back. (Honestly, the crying probably scared them. I was not a crier). They retrieved our AP and all agreed I needed to go home ASAP. Luckily my apartment wasn't more than a ten minute drive from work, and when I got home, I crashed. In hindsight, I should not have driven home.  It had gotten that bad.

After waking up hours later, I felt better, but not great, and definitely not normal. I had a friend from home staying with me at the time who suggested we go get a massage. It was my first massage, and knowing what I know now, regular massages probably should have been a part of my routine for a long time. (Easy to say, but difficult to afford/have time for when you're a college-student-turned-teacher. Even still, I won't go get one until there is a knot the size of a small country in my back, wreaking havoc on the nerves in my neck and head.. You would think I would have learned...)

The next day, (a Saturday), Cassadee Pope was putting on a free show in Nashville, which I was NOT about to miss.  I felt better headache-wise, but was still quite nauseous. I powered through the concert (because that's what you do when you have free fourth row seats to see Cassadee Pope), but by the time we got to Honky Tonk Central for lunch, I knew I wasn't going to last much longer. I picked at my buffalo chicken wrap while my friend inhaled her lunch, then we headed home for a nap. I stayed nauseous for a good week and a half after this. I went to the doctor because I was so freaked out that there was something seriously wrong with me, but all tests came back negative and they told me just to hydrate, there was nothing else they could do.

In January 2016 I was having constant pain on the right side of my mid/upper back, in the area both behind and below my shoulder blade. It hurt so bad that I was certain I had a kidney infection. When I told a friend about it, she felt the space with her thumb and told me, "Gretchen! That is a knot! It is literally the size of my palm." I didn't know! Blessed am I to have a dear friend who, on her birthday mind you, spent a good 30 minutes using one of those hard plastic massage toy thingies to attempt to unravel this knot. While it didn't completely go away, this made a huge difference.

I survived the rest of the school year on coke and Excedrine, trying my best to combat the stress of being a first year teacher and the craziness of second grade.

(To be continued...)

Stay tuned next week for part 3!

Monday, January 21, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines: Part 1 IN THE BEGINNING

Over time, I have gotten a lot of  inquiries about my headaches- how they started, how long I've had them, what causes them, what I do for them now, etc. Sometimes from people who are curious, sometimes from people who are concerned, and sometimes from people who have been battling the same struggles.  The story takes forever, because I've had them for a decade and there has been a lot of trial and error for what has worked as preventatives, what the triggers have been, how they've changed, and how they have impacted my life. No easier way to share than to write about about it!

So, for those that have asked, and those that are interested, here is my story, part 1 of 5...


I remember my first real headache. I was in 8th grade, and it was after an away hockey game. I remember having to ask one of the high school girls for ibuprofen, because I never carried any of my own. It was awful. (The ibuprofen, not the headache.) I HATED swallowing pills; at 13 years old, I was still asking the doctor for chewable tablets when I came down with strep throat or an ear infection. It was after this traumatic event that I had my mom pick me up some easy swallow Tylenol. (Which, by the way, were not that easy to swallow!)

I had mild headaches throughout high school.  They were irritating more than anything, but for the most part, were entirely manageable. Occasionally I missed out on doing things because my head hurt too much, but I didn't realize it was an abnormal issue.  My parents both had headaches/migraines, and later, my brother began to get them too.  Even into college, I didn't think much of them; they were merely part of life. I just made sure I always had a bottle of ibuprofen in my dorm room and in my book bag.

In 2012, at the end of my sophomore year of college, was when I noticed them beginning to pick up in intensity. I was also having growing concern for my liver.  I know I was just being a drama queen, but I couldn't help but worry that the ibuprofen I was constantly consuming was quickly adding up, and I knew that couldn't be good for my internal organs.

That summer, I met with a doctor that specialized in headaches, who diagnosed me with tension headaches and tension migraines.  She gave me two prescriptions- 50 mg of amitriptyline to take each night, and 10 mg of rizatriptin to take when I had a headache. 

The first time I took the rizatriptin was awful. It made me feel like my head was as heavy as a bowling ball, about to roll off my neck at any second. I felt dizzy and drained in a way I had never felt before. I couldn't keep my eyelids open, and I was certain if I tried to stay on my feet I would collapse without warning.

The first time I took it, I was at work.  Note to self: Never take medication for the first time when you're somewhere you need to function.  It was summer, and I was working with kids.  Not an ideal time to feel like you were dying.  Luckily, it was a Friday morning, which meant we were putting in a movie before heading to the pool.  By the time the movie was over, I was a-ok, but it was a rough couple hours, not knowing what exactly the side effects were going to entail and how long they would last.

After a couple more attempts at utilizing the riz to combat my headaches, I said forget it, I would take a headache over that experience any day of the week. 

The amitriptyline didn't last all year either.  Amitriptyline is technically an anti-depressant, and was chosen for me because my headaches were due to tension and stress.  At the time, I was also being prescribed an anti-depressant to help with my anxiety/depression. I still didn't like swallowing pills and taking four tablets each night (two of each prescription) was an uphill battle every time.

Since I was away at school, and my doctor was back home, I didn't go back to try out another strategy, I just continued to stick it out, making sure I kept ibuprofen in my backpack, purse, and car. 

I wish I would have kept track of my headaches back then; it would be nice to have a recorded history. I remember when I was student teaching in Costa Rica at the end of 2014 they were very rare.  I know they'd gotten progressively worse through college, but I don't have any actual data like I've been keeping the last few years.

(To be continued...)

Stay tuned next week for part 2!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

101 Things to Do in 2019

Another year, another list of 101 things to accomplish!
Find more about my 101 project, as well as previous lists here!

1. Celebrate National Taco Day
2. Go to the Kentucky Derby
3. See the Backstreet Boys in concert
4. Learn to sew with a sewing machine
5. Coupon for the homeless
6. Crochet a blanket
7. Take a self-defense course
8. Take a sign language course
9. Open a TPT shop
10. Reconnect with someone I have lost touch with
11. Learn the rap part to "It Wasn't Me" by Shaggy
12. Take a wine pairing class
13. Get my tattoo
14. Learn the footloose dance
15. Learn all the words to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
16. Try acupuncture
17. Take a glass blowing class
18. Learn the handshake from The Parent Trap
19. Learn to play guitar
20. Read 50 books
21. Make at least one new taco recipe
22. Go skydiving
24. Make my own wine
25. See 20 artists in concert
26. See 5 artists I haven't seen before
27. Make fried green tomatoes
28. Go to a concert at a venue I haven't been to yet
29. Go to Belle Witch Cave
30. Have a picnic
31. Take a road trip to visit old friends
32. Finish my paper craft scrapbooks
33. Improve my hand-lettering
34. Take a goat yoga class
35. Win a giveaway
36. Visits all the stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
37. Attend the Southern Festival of Books
38. Go kayaking
39. Solve a Rubik's cube
40. Add to my 100+ Murals in Nashville post
41. Try all the tacos places in Nashville
42. Get a pet
43. Go to CMA Fest
44. Use up my stash of samples
45. Actually use my Etsy shop
46. Finish all my Flashback Friday posts
47. Re-learn the piano
48. Be an extra in something again
49. Take a cooking class
50. Go to an NHL game
51. Go to an MiLB game
52. Watch everything on my Hulu "To Watch" list
53. Watch everything on my Netflix "To Watch" list
54. Completely re-design my blog using my coding skills
55. Take a craft class
56. Go to the zoo
57. See 5 different movies in the theater
58. Attend a concert at the Opry
59. Attend a concert at the Ryman
60. Attend a performance at the Bluebird Cafe
61. Hike to a waterfall I haven't been to yet
62. Visit a museum
63. Go to a musical.
64. Take a new route back to Minnesota
65. Try a new food
66. Meet the beautiful baby who will be making me an auntie and Godmother!
67. Participate in 24 in 48 Readathon
68. Make my own lefse
69. Participate in a 5K
70. Send birthday cards for all the birthdays
71. Make a table garden
72. Complete my map project
73. Leave a $10 tip for a  bill less than $10
74. Complete my mindfulness journal
75. Go stargazing
76. Send flowers, just because
77. Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway
78. Visit my friends in Raleigh
79. Go to the Nashville Ballet
80. Finally get my craft room perfectly organized
81. Finish hiking the Lookout Mountain Parkway
82. Check everything off my “Clarksville” list
83. Have a spa day, at an actual spa
84. Find a street sign with my name on it
85. Fix my old computers
86. Volunteer somewhere
87. Get a library card
88. X
89. X
90. X
91. X
92. X
93. X
94. X
95. X
96. X
97. X
98. X
99. X
100. X
101. X

I really liked that I had left five blank spots last year to add to, especially since the year ended so much differently than I would have predicted! I wanted to leave a few extra empty spots this year to add to, hence the "X"s at the end!