Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Life With Chronic Headaches/Migraines: Part 4 NEW STATE, SAME HEADACHES

If you haven't read the previous posts in this five part series, you can find them here:
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 1: In the Beginning
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 2: Welcome to the Real World
My Life with Chronic Headaches/Migraines Part 3: No Stress Like Teacher Stress


This is the post that leaves me feeling vulnerable. It's the stuff that is harder to share.  If I'm happy, you'll know it, because I love to share the happiness. I love to include the people around me in the joy.  If I could take some of my bliss and sprinkle it like fairy dust onto everyone I come in contact with, I would.

If I'm not happy, if I'm being held hostage by my dear, old friend depression, I'm radio silent. Not because I'm ashamed or embarrassed, but because I've always been one to figure things out on my own, to deal with my problems on my own.  My independence has definitely had its benefits throughout my life, but sometimes I need to let others in.  That's the part I failed to do during this season.  That's the part I'm working on. Opening up has never been my strong suit, but here I am, doing it anyway, because growth comes from doing the things that scare you.


Plain and simple, these next 8ish months sucked. If I made a web map of everything that sucked during this period, the word HEADACHES would be in big, bold, capital letters in the center, with all the suck listed in spindly legs flailing off of it.  They impacted every aspect of my life.

With July came the worst. I spent the last three weeks of the month with a pretty much constant headache/migraine; nothing would make it go away, and the side effects were getting worse too.  The migraines were continuously making me sick to my stomach, to the point that I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to throw up. It got worse and worse until one night, my boyfriend at the time woke up at 1AM to find me curled in a ball on the couch, crying in pain. What followed was a $500 emergency room visit (The downside of still having Tennessee insurance when you're living in Alabama). I was in so much pain, and so out of it, that when the nurse told me he had to give me two shots in the rear end, I dropped my drawers and didn't give it another thought. (If you know me, you know that needles terrify me. I avoid shots like they're Green Bay Packers fans.) I was later told that the needles were HUGE; honestly, I could have looked right at them without seeing them, that's what my state of mind was. Three weeks straight of headaches leaves you with literally no will nor energy to care about anything.

I knew I couldn't teach that school year. I knew I couldn't be in a position that required me to prepare for being out. The migraines were so bad that I could hardly put clothes on in the morning, let alone write sub plans. It was a difficult decision to make, but I felt a weight off my shoulders once I had made it. It's not easy to give up the thing you thought you would spend the rest of your life doing, but when that thing stresses you to the point of making you physically ill, it's a little easier of a concept to handle. Taking the year off of teaching sucked, but looking back, it was hands down the best thing I've ever done for myself, and I'm really, really blessed and thankful that I was in a situation where I could afford to do that.

I spent the next month or two trying to be optimistic, but honestly I was more anxious and depressed than I had ever been.  I had a lot of blood drawn for a lot of various testing and counted to 60 fifteen times with my eyes clenched shut in an MRI machine. I wasn't concerned about tumors or anything, but it was best to rule it all out, especially since I had to wait three months to get into the neurologist. I had been put back on 50 mg of amitriptyline each night and was given a new prescription for rizatriptin. As much as I hated that stuff before, it was a lifesaver to me at this point. It still made me feel like my body was falling apart from the inside out, but it was the ONLY thing that could get rid of the constant, throbbing pain in my head. 

I spent most of my days at the end of summer/early fall curled in a ball on the couch, typically with a headache/migraine. If it was a rare day that I didn't have one, I would still just lie there, usually with one of those migraine hangovers, wondering when the next one would be. It was hard to get motivated to accomplish anything because I couldn't get passed the thought of, "How am I supposed to live the rest of my life like this? In constant pain, or wondering when the pain will return? I'm only 25. I can't. I cannot live like this."

The hardest part of this season of life was not being able to talk to anyone about it. Not that I couldn’t, but unless you’ve been there (and honestly I don’t know anyone who has, not to that extent) you can’t begin to understand it. And how do you tell the people that you love that if this is the life you’re stuck with, a life of constant pain, nausea, frustration, the inability to uncurl from your ball and do ANYTHING, that you’re not so sure you want to live it? This was a really terrifying time for me, but I don't think anyone really knew it. It's a lot easier to talk about now that I'm passed it, because now things are good. It's harder to talk about when you don't believe things will ever be good.

My parents visited for my graduation ceremony at the end of August. We watched the eclipse in Nashville that Monday, then made it back to Huntsville only to immediately head on down to Walgreens to pick up my Riz refill so I could take one before we went to dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, where I sat in a zombie-like state and didn't eat a bite.

Graduation was that Saturday, and I hadn't slept a wink Friday night. I was getting a headache that evening, and was stressed out that I would get a headache during the ceremony the following day, which made it that much worse. I took some Excedrine, which kept me up because of the caffeine, but I worried if I took the PM stuff, I wouldn't be able to get up early like I needed to. I was dropped off at the Symphony Center that morning, where I tried my best to function. (It's painfully obvious in my grad photos that I was out of it that day). While my friend and I waited for the ceremony to begin, I felt a panic attack come on. My heart felt like it was pounding so hard, and I felt like I couldn't breath and just wished I had my inhaler. Luckily, I wasn't new to this anxiety, so I keep my cool and stayed seated and tried to relax. It did freak me out however, because I had never had one that lasted that long, and it took me awhile to figure out that it was a panic attack. Eventually I felt okay, and I made it through the ceremony and most of pictures before I began to feel nauseous and sick again. We had a short lunch, after which I said goodbye to my parents and was whisked off to the car where I slept most of the way home.

Come September, I was trying my hardest not to take Excedrine, because I didn't want to become any more reliant on it than I already was, but as anyone with chronic head pain knows, if you don't take something right away, you're SOL. I didn't want to use Riz on every headache or migraine either because insurance limited me to how many I could get with them paying in a certain time frame. It was a never ending battle of what to take and when to take it and unfortunately, constantly suffering because I hadn't taken the right thing, or I hadn't taken enough of it, or I hadn't taken it soon enough.

In November, after a three month wait, I finally got in to the neurologist. He confirmed what I already knew, that it was tension headaches/migraines that had taken over my life, and he upped my dosage of amitriptyline plus added in a muscle relaxer that I was supposed to take twice a day.

I was hesitant to be so reliant on medication, but nothing else had worked.  I tried chiropractor after chiropractor.  I tried essential oils and other herbal and natural supplements.  I tried massages and stretches and yoga.  This was hands down the most desperate I had ever been in my life.

I finally started substitute teaching late fall 2017.  It was great because I could wait until the morning to pick up a job, when I knew whether I had a headache that day or not.  I got to still work with kids and teach, and I got to finally interact with human beings outside of a doctor's office again.  As the months passed, I grew to really love subbing.  My headaches were beginning to decrease so I could schedule jobs with my preferred teachers/classes ahead of time without being worried about having to cancel. I had April and May fully booked with jobs before March even ended.  I was getting to teach without it taking over my life, and I was building such fun relationships with so many kids and other teachers.  It felt great to be in a classroom again, especially after I thought it was no longer an option.

I was learning coping and preventative strategies for my headaches.  I don't know which things actually helped, but I was constantly doing them all regardless.  I slept straight on my back with my arms at my sides (which sounds awful, but I was on such a high dosage of anti-anxiety meds and muscle relaxers that I was knocked into such a deep sleep I didn't move anyway).  I didn't wear a ponytail for almost a year.  I never raised my arms above my head (because my muscle would tighten immediately).  I stayed away from alcohol, and even gave up dairy for a month (this didn't help, thankfully!) I had to be constantly aware of how long I sat, how long I stood, how long I laid down, how long I watched Netflix, how long and in what positions I read a book. I never slept on a pillow. I always slept on a heating pad.

The months came and went and from the beginning of 2018 to the summer of 2018, and my headaches went from 15-ish a month to 7-ish a month.  After months of "real" job searching, I had a decision to make.  Accept a position in Alabama to train people on different technologies on military bases around the world, or go back to teaching.

(To be continued...)

Stay tuned next week for part 5!

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