Friday, December 2, 2011

My Constant Companion


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Migraine has been my constant companion for the past few months.

I’ve lived with migraine, on and off, for more than a quarter-century. In my mid- to late-twenties, I had two or three migraine headaches each week. I learned to live with it, and being young, had the physical resiliency and energy to manage it OK. The condition intensified during my single pregnancy, and was exacerbated by morning-sickness. After K was born, and especially during three years of nursing, the headaches were less frequent and for a while they went away altogether. (Sometimes those hormones are good.)

Now the headaches are back. Actually, they've been back for the past year, but have increased in frequency and intensity in the past few months.

These days, “migraine” is not so much an occasional horrible headache as it is a constant state of migraine-readiness, where there is pain is present almost all the time (from mild vascular soreness to moderate pain in the right half of my face) and any number of factors can trigger a full-blown migraine within a matter of minutes. Bright lights, loud noises, low blood sugar, dry eyes, cold air on my head, exhaustion, stress, hormonal fluctuations, and sometimes alcohol can push an incipient migraine into full-blown pain.

I’m experiencing many of these factors as fall collapses into winter. Bright lights? This week, we’re “under the lights” five nights in a row at The Bushnell, where the Hartford Chorale is rehearsingand  performing Vaughan Williams’ Hodie with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Dry eyes? Sounds odd, but waking up with dry eyes in the morning seems to irritate the ocular nerve on the right side of my head, which somehow seems to irritate the particular blood vessel in my temple [is it the temporal artery?] where the spasms occur during migraine. And so the minute I open my eyes, the pain begins, and often just blossoms into a spectacular headache within an hour. Exhaustion? Don’t get me started. And of course I am having trouble sleeping, so it just feeds on itself. Hormonal fluctuations? Oh yes. [grrrrr] Stress? Hah.

And the headaches can last for one, two, three days, ebbing and flowing with waves of pain, nausea, photosensitivity and other visual disturbances, depression, loss of appetite, and enervation. Alcohol makes me feel sick these days, and if you know me, then you know that’s bad.

During the ebb times, I get as much work done as I can. Many days are just … well, I can’t even find a word. Sort of featureless.

Singing helps. When I am singing, the pain seems to recede, though I sometimes have trouble concentrating, especially if I’m having visual symptoms. And I’ve been in fairly good voice this week, which helps my psychological outlook tremendously. One night this week, during an especially important (for me) rehearsal, I seemed able to sight-read anything (and I did), and to sing so very high and clear, without any effort at all … It felt like flying. And my head did not hurt for two hours.

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