On the Other Side of a Migraine Break
Autumn has arrived down here in central Texas. Though our leaves, if they fall, rarely change colors, the rest of Mother Nature spends these weeks putting on quite a show, oscillating wildly between summer and winter – our only real seasons. Flash floods are buttressed by month-long droughts and burn bans. Ice storms follow 80-degree nights and precede mid-90s days. Woolen coats and tall boots are exchanged for galoshes, then flip-flips and sandals. Finally the coats and boots come out again.
October and November are, inevitably, a time of extremes down here in the land of my birth, and that always spells trouble for my head.
Inconsistency is a potent trigger for my migraine disease. Whether it is a change in the weather, my stress levels, or my daily routine, the change itself inevitably wreaks havoc. This is why I was so amazed to have a break from attacks in those first fall weeks of September and October.
My disease, as many of you members here know, has often manifested itself intensely, including daily attacks for half a decade and more than one intractable period that lasted over two years. In fact, I hadn’t had a break between attacks of more than three or four days since 2007.
Until, that is, this September.
Starting in mid-September, I caught a break. For just over four weeks, I didn’t have a single attack. Not one. And, while I was overjoyed and deeply grateful for the break, I noticed some strange things during this time.
For one, it took me more than a week to recognize the change. I would have expected myself to notice it sooner, especially since I can still – six years later –vividly recall the morning I woke up after my intractable period and noticed the attack had finally lifted. This change, however, was much subtler, and with all the things going on in my life at the time (a book release, a move, and a break-up), I simply didn’t notice at first.
Then, once I did notice, it wasn’t joy I felt, but anxiety. What caused the migraine attacks to stop? Shouldn’t I know what I’d done or hadn’t done to accomplish this? And, the most important question of all: How long would it last?
This last one is something I think we all ask ourselves any time we experience a reduction in severity or frequency. As thrilled as we are at the improvement in our health, we can never sit quietly with it and appreciate it completely. This disease, we know, is chronic. There is no cure, and chances are good that if we have chronic migraine we aren’t going to magically move back down to episodic – at least not in the long-term. Any break we get, then, is temporary.
Knowing this makes it difficult to enjoy the break. To fully appreciate the days not suffering with nausea, the nights not crying in pain. But, figuring out how to enjoy the temporary and how to find joy in uncertainty and/or pain is part of my life’s work, and I decided this was an opportunity to test my skills.
So, for the next two weeks of my migraine break, I did just that. I kept the knowledge that my attacks could return at any minute at the forefront of my mind, and then I decided to appreciate my break that much more. I wasn’t going to live in fear of the next attack. I wasn’t going to worry about whether the attacks would come raging in all the more intensely because they’d had time to build. I was simply going to accept the likelihood of their return, and love every minute of their absence, especially because I know too well how many other migraineurs out there would pay dearly for even a fraction of the break I was being given (my 2007-2009 self included). And so I did.
I ate the things I can’t always eat. I drank what I wanted, without thoughts of tannins or hops. I went back to dance class and enjoyed the loud, thumping music filling my ears. I stayed up late and got up early. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and said to heck with my disease.
Then, of course, the break ended, as I had known all along it would. And it ended badly, as I had feared it would, the fickle Texas autumn ushering in an extreme attack complete with Alice-in-Wonderland distortions, purple spots, and pulling the car over to vomit. But, that’s okay. I’m thankful for my break, even if it it’s over, and I’m hopeful that someday, for whatever reason, it will return. Here’s hoping you all may receive one as well.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?