All posts by Angie

Binge and Mud: Poems of Invisible Illness

Ever since I was a child, I have divulged my deepest, darkest selves through poetry. Most of the time, it was terrible poetry, but the effect was the same. Writing poetry is therapy, a form of catharsis, a way to break down the world around me and inside me into digestible, if not unsavory, pieces.

With these original poems of invisible illness, I aim to pull back the sheets and explore the agony, ecstasy, and tedium of living with Chronic Migraine. They’re raw and real and I make no promises that they aren’t terrible:


Binge

On distraction
On medicine
On love
Drinking deeply half a dozen
Of everything that tastes good,
Everything that brings a twinge of pleasure
(how much more is needed to drown pain?)

My physical body is equally lustful
Every sensation
Every ray of light
Every ripple of sound
Taken into pain

Can you blame me
for my feasts?
Do you understand
My invisible burden,
My Grinding yet innocent wants,
(what could be more innocent
Than the simple desire for relief?)
comfort,
neutrality
life without the constant glow of pain?

I feel betrayed,
But by whom?

poems of invisible illness
Photo: Ryan Alonzo.

Mud

I.
I collect steps, the cries of gulls,
The wing beats of swans
The taste of salt.
I slide through mud,
Past cowpies and sagebrush
Newly uncovered by the spring melt

I am here
I say to the Earth and no one
I am strong. I have worth. Like you.
I am here

II.
my soft places ache
It’s neurobiological
Biological – yes – but neuro too
The sting of the neurotic still potent
Soft nerves
Fragile female
Pass the smelling salts

III.
There is mud on my shoes again
a trophy to me
a symbol of another day lived

Most days my shoes are dry

The weight of disease makes my shoulders ache
Like a remnant twin,
a gall engorged in bark,
a wooden t grown heavier

Migraine plucks my nerves raw and
sinks thumbs into eyeballs
It rams sharp elbows in my gut and
Grates my skin
those soft places they tell you to aim for
In the event of an attack –

A stranger attack,
An attack by a man.
there is no fighting back during a Migraine attack
No skin to claw at or balls to crush

Nothing to do really
But draw the shades,
Close your eyes
and take it

IV.
My feet pound the soft water logged Earth
And she pushes me up gently
Here, here, here
My feet, my heart,
My temples thud
Here, here, here
Is the reply
Another day lived
Another day still intact,
If not badly frayed
And caked in mud.

End

Want to share your poems of invisible illness, Migraine, mental illness, or chronic pain?

Email me: angie@chronicmigrainelife.com (or use the contact form on this blog)

Unless otherwise stated, images belong to author

How to Embrace the Good Days with Chronic Migraine

Good days with Chronic Migraine, though not pain-free, are vital for nurturing strength

There is no greater high than a sick body feeling well.

My partner joins me on a run, despite being way faster than me.

I am incredibly happy to say that I know this intimately. After several weeks of bad days and slightly less bad days, I am feeling well, vital, energetic – almost the way a person without chronic illness might feel. The unignorable head pain has shrunk to an irritating hum. The persistent nausea has died down, enough at least to let hunger flood back.

I have seized each day that I have woken up feeling well. Despite hearing many cautions to “not overdo it,” which is actually good advice, I throw caution to the wind. Every day that I’m physically able to, I tie on my running shoes and pick a different mountain trail to call mine.

When my feet are pounding the dust or swerving around rocks or picking my way through dense sagebrush, I am no longer a sick person. When the sun is on my face, I don’t think about Migraine. I don’t think about prevention, triggers, whether or not I’m doing enough (for the record, I am.) I don’t worry about affording my meds or side effects or proposed budget cuts to federal disease research – my only hope for a cure.

Good Days with Chronic Migraine Nurture a Sense of Vitality

When I am running, I simply am. Breath, sweat, dust. I am a part of this world as much as the root of the Jeffrey l leap over or the hermit thrush I share the shade with. When you spend days, weeks, or months inside, sick with Migraine, the outside world seems like a dream. Like a dream, life outside your four walls is maddening in its closeness and unattainability.

good days with chronic migraine
Parker Lake, the destination of one of my trail runs.

It’s hard not to feel trapped. It’s hard not to feel like a prisoner in your own body with an invisible and cruel jailer.

The good days, though, these precious glimpses of health, this is what I life for. This is what every person with a chronic illness lives for – the good days past and the hope for more to come. This is why we restrict our diets, suck down supplements and pills, and spend thousands of dollars a year just on the possibility of progress.

Making it through the bad days with spirit intact is never easy. For me, it has gotten easier – just a little. The miracle that makes it all okay is feeling all the pain, emotional trauma, and unreleased energy of the bad days melt away. As quickly as the sickness ascends it is forgotten – at least mostly. Chronic pain keeps its tendrils wrapped around me every day. The good days with Chronic Migraine are never free of pain – there are no days without Migraine when you’re chronic.

These Are the Days I Live For

Little Goop listens to chickadees singing through the open window. He makes both good days and bad days better.

But those hours, as fleeting as they are, when I can forget Migraine and feel the strength and vitality of my body – these are the days I live for.

Today is the fourth consecutive day that I have not had a migraine attack by noon. I haven’t had a wellness streak this long in months – I can’t even tell you how many. I have been working my ass off to get here and I’m going to keep working my ass off to stay here. I know that no matter what I do, though, the next attack will hit. I will hunker down, I will grieve, I will endure. I will wait as patiently as I can for my next hours of freedom.

These fleeting good days with Chronic Migraine are an important reminder of my strength – a strength that can be hard to find on bad days. I know it’s in there, though, and I will do my best not to forget.

I will do my best to cultivate my strength like a rare and finicky orchid – so much work , but the end result is so beautiful that it hardly seems real.

Main image: Ryan Alonzo Photography

All other images: Angie Glaser

Running on Empty with Chronic Pain in the Passenger Seat

My car tire sprung a slow leak. I filled it with air at the local gas station, ignored the tire pressure warning light, and continued on my daily juggling act.

Self-care helps tremendously.

Between a part-time job, Maid-of-Honor planning duties, daily headaches, near-daily migraines, the chores of taking care of a snow-covered home and a blind kitty, and small contributions to patient advocacy, my life has become a juggling act. I begin each day with less energy than required to get everything done, and yet I manage. I postpone, cancel, and schedule in sick time, but I manage.

Chronic Migraine has introduced a slow leak into my life.  I have no time for a slow leak in my tire.

Like most of life’s problems, ignoring my leaking tire only made it worse. By the time I realized my tire wasn’t holding air, I had driven hundreds of miles and effectively wrecked my tire.

I finally crawled out of bed and my Migraine haze and took my car to the shop, but by this time my gas tank was emptier than my tire. My car had been slowly breaking down, lighting up warnings on the dash and dinging at me to get my attention. The longer I ignored it the worse it got.

If that isn’t a perfect metaphor for chronic illness, I don’t know what is.

Literally and figuratively, I’ve been running on empty with chronic pain.

It’s Okay to Ask For Help

Every time I have been struggling in my life, I have been able to turn to my parents. I am incredibly lucky. Whether the problem is my increasing disability or a leaky tire, my parents often recognize the issue and interfere before I even ask for help. (Really, what more could you ask from parents? I am so grateful and so filled with love for them.)

running on empty with chronic pain
My parents and partner aren’t the only ones who help me out – kitty cuddles are priceless.

Eventually, my dad filled up my tire and made me an appointment at the tire shop. My mom took car of business at the shop so I wouldn’t have to withstand the smell of the rubber tires. (For those less acquainted with chronic illness or Chronic Migraine, strong smells can be difficult to handle at best or trigger migraines at worst.) She even filled up my gas tank for me and picked my car up at the end of the day.

Over dinner she told me, “Did you know you were running on empty? I filled up your tank for you.”

Oh, Mom, if only could you help with the other empty tanks in my life!

Lessons Learned by Running on Empty with Chronic Pain

The way I see it, this story has at least three different morals.

Moral #1: I am not the most responsible adult. This point is pretty obvious, and you very well may be shaking your Baby-boomer head at me. I’m not proud of my terrible ability to take care of my car, but I’m trying. And I’ve learned to stop ignoring the lights on my dashboard.

Moral #2: It’s okay to drop the ball. When you’re juggling a full life on top of chronic illness, sometimes you have to chose which ball you let hit the floor. In this case, I dropped the ball on my car. Next week, it will likely be something, but I will try my hardest to keep juggling.

Moral #3: Our support systems are so valuable when we need help. Asking for help is so hard, and not everyone has parents who understand their illnesses. Everyone with a chronic illness needs help from time to time, whether it’s in-person help with daily logistics or emotional support from friends online. Never be afraid or ashamed to admit you dropped the ball and need help. We are stronger together.

Tell me – Are you running on empty with chronic pain? Do you ask for help when you need it?

Image credit: Unsplash

Ready for Relief? Make Progress Against Migraines with Expert Advice

I know how difficult it is to make progress against migraines. You can change your diet, change your sleep, change your habits – you can change your whole life and still find yourself battling the Migraine beast.

Fighting migraines can also feel like the loneliest battle. The people around you cannot understand, try as they might, the physical and emotional struggle. That is why it is so important for each of us to be our own advocates and do everything we can to make our lives with Migraine as easy and joyful as possible.

If you’re ready to start having more good days, feeling less alone, and suffering through fewer migraines, you absolutely must take advantage of this rare and free opportunity: The Migraine World Summit. 

I attended the first online summit last summer, and I gained so many valuable tools and resources from it.  The Migraine World Summit is back this April 23 – 29, 2017, with 36 new interviews with top experts and doctors. The best minds in Migraine research and the Migraine community will come together to provide answers, info on new treatments, research and best practices for migraines and chronic headaches.

Register now for FREE here: The Migraine World Summit

The best part – it’s available to anyone with an internet connection and it’s free.

Migraine World Summit Speakers I Can’t Wait to See

More good days means more time for the important things. Image: Unsplash

The line-up for this year’s Summit is incredibly impressive. Some of the biggest and most respected names in Migraine research and medicine are included. The topics are diverse and all relevant to life with Migraine or chronic headaches, and I can’t wait to hear about all of them.

With much debate, I narrowed down the top three speakers that I’m most excited for:

– Dr. Joanna Kempner “Shifting Cultural Perceptions About Migraine”

Dr. Kempner’s book Not TonightMigraine and the Politics of Gender and Health has been on my to-read list for months. Just today a shiny copy arrived in the mail, and I immediately dug in.

Dr. Kempner is a sociologist, a woman with Migraine, and an expert on women and Migraine. Not Tonight untangles the complicated web of gender, migraines, and pain that affects so many of us. I absolutely cannot wait to hear what Dr. Kempner has to say about the way Migraine is viewed in our culture and what we can do to make it better.

 

– Dr. Brian Grosberg “Neuromodulation: New Devices that Can Ease Pain”

Neuromodulation devices are among the newest, most exciting migraine prevention tools available. How neuromodulation works is really sci-fi: a device is applied to the skin and uses magnets or electric pulses to stimulate the nerves involved in a migraine attack.

I currently use one neuromodulation device – Cefaly. I constantly positive and exciting stores about hear about Cefaly and other devices like Spring TMS, GammaCore, and the Nerivio Migra armband through the migraine grapevine.

Dr. Grosberg is the director of the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center. I cannot wait to hear which neuromodulation devices he is most excited about.

– Dr. Amal Starling “SEEDS Natural Method for Migraine Control”

I admit, I have no clue what the SEEDS method is, but I can’t wait to find out. I am ALWAYS look for natural tools for migraine prevention or pain control. While I’m also excited to hear about new developments in Migraine treatment and research, I have tried and failed so many medications and treatments. A new one has to look pretty good before I jump on board.

Natural ways to manage migraines, however, usually don’t come with big bills or side effects. It’s much easier to commit, and the results can be pretty powerful, in my experience.

Dr. Starling is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic. As a young headache doctor at a very prestigious clinic, I have heard Dr. Starling’s name mentioned and praised many times. I can’t wait to hear her method for natural migraine control.

The Migraine World Summit is Too Valuable to Miss Out On

Battling Migraine is so exhausting, and after a certain point Google switches from your friend to enemy. The Migraine Word Summit is a free, online, low-commitment way to learn from the best. With advice and wisdom from some of the top headache doctors and experts, you can begin to make real progress in cracking your migraine code.

Image credit: Unsplash

Weathering the Storm in a Mammoth Winter of Migraines and Snow

winter of migraines
Skiing among whispy clouds. Image: Angie Glaser

Chronic Migraine makes me feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I am two people living in the same tired body. The pull into the pain and madness of Hyde has been strong this winter, as my body and mind weathered migraine attack after migraine attack – some lasting as long as 6 days.

This winter has been a winter of snow, a winter of change, a winter of adventure. Like the 15 seasons that came before it, this winter has been a winter of migraines.

Resisting the Urge to Hibernate

winter of migraines
Goop doesn’t let his limitations keep him from adventure, either. Image:: Angie Glaser

I am lucky. I live in a little cabin sandwiched between snowy domes and formidable peaks. The Sierra Nevada is my happy place – the place where I feel most connected to my healthy, vibrant self and the rich world I get to live in.

If anything is strong enough to dull the glow of my happy place, though, it’s Chronic Migraine.

I found joy in crafts, baking, my home, and my friends this winter. Even as I battled migraine attacks and snowstorms, I found joy in my body and in my environment.

While I devoted my time and energy to work, hobbies, and health, my Migraine self – my Hyde – constantly lurked in the shadows. Like most people with chronic pain, I spend huge swaths of energy steering myself away my Migraine self, my Hyde. If I don’t invest in me, if I don’t choose joy, I run the risk of becoming Hyde full-time.

Forcing myself to go for a run with a headache, popping on an ice pack and writing away on my laptop, bundling up and grabbing my skis when my body wants to be in bed for the fifth consecutive day – from the outside my battle looks like the normal life of a young person. In reality, each hour during this winter of migraines that I managed to resist hibernation is a huge victory.

winter of migraines
My partner Eric Smith and I digging ourselves out of a mammoth winter. Image: Angie Glaser

Shoveling, Skiing, and Sleeping My Way Through a Winter of Migraines

winter of migraines
Atmospheric rivers turned our street into a ski track. Image: Jackie Glaser

These victories are even more impressive when you consider the kind of winter we’ve had. If there was ever a winter made for hibernation, it is this one.

The ski mountain that looms dramatically over my home currently reports 330″ inches of snow at the summit. That’s twenty seven and a half feet!!

In an attempt to save some cash, my housemates and I decided not to pay for snow removal for our four-car driveway. This means we shoveled (by hand!) our way out of each atmospheric river snow dump. The snow was so thick that on several occasions we left our cars at home and skied the unplowed streets.

Chronic Pain Be Damned

Living well when you’re sick every day is damn hard. I know from experience, though, that

winter of migraines
Snow + headband = emergency ice pack. Image: Eric Smith

it is well worth the effort. I have bad days and worse days and I’m tired all the time. But I am creating a life I love with people I love in a place I love – chronic pain be damned.

Really, what more could I ask for?

Today is the Vernal Equinox – the first day of Spring. I am ready for a new season, a sunnier season. This spring, I chose adventure. I strive toward health and pain-free days.

Above all, I remain committed to taking this journey one step and one day at a time.

reading with chronic migraine

Life Without Books: Mourning My Migraine Sacrifice

Not all of the friends lost because of chronic illness are made of flesh

The backs of shampoo bottles. Street signs and shop names. Catalogs and junk mail. Words swirl in my mind all day long. My eyes are drawn to words – in the car, in the shower, on the toilet, in the kitchen. A stack of papers on the counter is a temptation too much to resist for me. I have been accused of being nosey more than once, rifling through a friend’s mail.

The author and her dad and a book. 1993ish

In other words, I love words. A reader since age four, words have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I hold my own memories and the stories I have read just as dearly. Anne of Green Gables was my bosom friend, dear to me as her living, breathing counterpart. Mary, Beth, Jo, and Amy March – the sisters from Little Women – taught me almost as much about feminity and independence as my own three sisters.

When I first encountered death at a young age – in its slow, stinking form of cancer – and its partner grief, I took to the page. I wrote a story – full of plaigarism, spelling mistakes, and hearts over the i’s like you would expect from a 9-year-old girl. It was morbid and a little silly, but it was the only way for me to make sense of something as big and unpredictable as death – through words.

Reading with Chronic Migraine? Yeah, Right

The author and her mom and a book. 1993ish

Eighteen years later, Chronic Migraine has changed everything. Chronic Migraine brings a lot of baggage – debilitating and diverse symptoms, ruined relationships and careers, destroyed dreams and altered plans. Among other things, Chronic Migraine brings me light senstivity, a headache all the freaking time, and a very different relationship with words.

I still love words. I devour podcasts and music and audiobooks regularly. Writing is a huge part of my life. But books – the magical, rough, fragrant physical objects with their coffee stains and barcodes – are no longer an integral part of my human experience. Chronic Migriane has stolen so much from me that it may seem silly to mourn the loss of books, but for me, it is devastating.

I can still read, of course, and sometimes I still do. But in the same way that I have to carefully moniter and allot the little energy I get each day, I have to regulate how and how long I use my eyes. Because the majority of my pain is in my head, my face, my eyeballs, and my neck, any tasks that involve visual and/or intellectual concentration is difficult and draining.

I am so, so, so lucky to have a paying job where I not only get to learn and advocate about my illness, but I get to use the very thing I love so dearly – words. Like so many other jobs, mine involves a computer screen. Every hour I spend looking at a computer screen or shopping in flourescent lights or walking in bright sunlight is an hour that I cannot spend looking at a book. I simply do not have the well hours and my aching eyes do not have the ability to do it all. Reading with Chronic Migraine is near-impossible.

From Dostoevsky to To-Do Lists

Chronic Migraine is a lot like this Twilight Zone episode. Haven’t seen it? Netlifx.

Giving up the pages of books is a small price to pay for what I have gained. Gainful employment and being active outside are two big parts of my life right now. To a healthy person, this sounds basic, but anyone with a chronic illness understands that both of these are HUGE. This time last year both were merely fantasies.

I still have mulitple library cards. I still go to the library regularly, with my laptop to write or sometimes to just walk up and down the rows of books, breathing deeply their smell, carresssing dusty spines, and remembering old friends. I still scribble in a Moleskin from time to time and skim too many political articles online.

Sometimes I pick up a book of poetry or short stories, but unlike in my healthy life, I rarely finish an entire volume. Reading with Chronic Migraine is a stunted, unsatisfying affair.  I read The Brothers Karamazov at 17 and at 27 I stick to mainly to the backs of shampoo bottles, street signs, and junk mail.

I miss books deeply – I miss seeing them on my nightstand and feeling them knock against my thigh in my purse. But mostly, I miss myself when I was reading books. I miss the days when, “Does my brain work?” and “Will I be able to open my eyes today?” were not the first questions that ran through my mind in the morning.

But I am coping – with this loss and the many, many others that I have sustained at the hands of chronic illness. I have faith that someday books will be a big part of my life again. Until then, I’m going to keep holding on tight to my library card – and my Audible subscription.

strength of the chronically ill

I See You: A Letter to the Chronically Ill

To the woman with a migraine serving me coffee:

I see you. I see how you are trying not to squint beneath the fluorescent light. I see how hollow your smile is. Despite your best efforts, I see the pain that you are trying so hard to hide.

Three years ago, I would not have noticed the physical pain beneath the face of a passerby.

I would have dismissed her drooping eyelids, hint of irritation, and shoulder rubs as signs of a late night or early morning. Now, I have experienced enough pain that I see it in others, and I recognize intimately the steps they take to carry on despite it.

The woman at the coffee shop and I are not alone in our pain. We aren’t even a rarity. According to the Center for Disease Control, 113 million Americans have at least one chronic illness.  And a whopping 76 million Americans live with pain, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This pain affects more than just our bodies. It affects our mental health, our social lives, our jobs, our families, our identities, our relationships. Chronic illnesses and pain are so prevalent and far-reaching that they affect who we are as a society.

The Quiet Strength of the Chronically Ill

Along with 76 million other people in this country, I wake up most mornings in pain and go to sleep most nights in pain. When I make plans, I do so cautiously, never forgetting that I may have to back out at the last minute. Some days I pay so much attention to the symptoms and moods of my own body that I forget to look around me at the people and places I love.

The truth is, chronic pain makes you feel weak, weary, and, at times, completely broken. To some in the outside world we may even look weak and broken. Our days are too often spent on medications, appointments, special diets, and self-care instead of on building our careers or social lives.

Our aspirations and accomplishments look different from those of our healthy peers. It takes an intimate look at the life of a person living with chronic pain or chronic illness to see that everything that appears to make her weak is really making her strong.

chronically ill
Like an alpine lake, the chronically ill remain calm and graceful after even the worst of storms. Image: Angie Glaser

Those of us with chronic illness experience the same joys and stresses as healthy people. We do so, though, with the added pain, symptoms, and stresses that come with a body that doesn’t quite work the way it is supposed to. The stress of every head cold, every birthday, every argument with our partners is filtered through a lens of pain.

I truly believe that this added pain and stress – an obstacle that often seems insurmountable – makes the chronically ill strong. I truly believe that the chronically ill are stronger than most of our healthy peers. We have to be. We have no choice. Pain is an unignorable companion that steals our days and our energy. Yet, we survive. Better yet – we thrive.

Those of us with chronic illnesses prepare meals, close business deals, teach school, ride public transportation, raise children, take care of our families and pets, remember birthdays and anniversaries – all while fighting an invisible battle. We swallow our pills and our pain and our pride, and we live the best way we can – illness be damned!

For the most part, our efforts go unnoticed. Sometimes they are unappreciated even by ourselves. Anxiety and depression are common among the chronically ill. Sadly, for some, the unending pain and lack of help or hope becomes too much. Suicide among those with chronic illness or pain is way too common and not acknowledged often enough.

It is so important for those of us in pain to remember that:

Yes, Pain Does End!

There is always hope for a new treatment, a new perspective, a new purpose.

hope for the chronically ill
After every winter comes spring. Image: Michael Levine-Clark

Being ill or in pain does not, in ANY WAY, diminish your worth or value as a person. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend watching Netflix or whether or not your pain is recognized by your boss or your doctor. You matter, and you are a lot stronger and more remarkable than you realize.

 

To the man or woman with chronic pain reading this post:

I see you. I see the strength beneath your tears. I see your purpose rising above your pain. I see your efforts, your losses, your grace. I see what is invisible, and I see how you grow despite its  efforts to tear you down. I see you. I am with you.

I am proud of you.


Resources

To Learn More About Chronic Illness:

– The Growing Crisis of Chronic Pain in the US

Facts and Figures on Pain

For Women in Pain:

For Grace

To Support Migraine Research:

American Headache Foundation

Migraine Research Foundation

Coping with Chronic Pain:

 American Chronic Pain Association

 For Grace Master List of Resources

Grief and Chronic Pain


Feature Image: Jerald Jackson

 

Last Day to Endorse Chronic Migraine Life for the WEGO Health Activist Awards!

I am so honored and excited to be nominated for a WEGO Health Activist Award for my blog! I started this blog a year ago as a way to slowly untangle the threads of this illness and make sense of it all.

Writing about my experience with chronic migraines and chronic pain has been more rewarding than I dared to dream. I have connected with so many people who are tying to untangle their own knots, and we have been able to help and support each other. I am honored to a part of the chronic pain community because we are a community that constantly builds each other up, no matter how much pain we are grappling with ourselves.

Getting the infusion!
One year ago – getting a CGRP antibody infusion. The infusion did not work,  but it  helped inspire me to start this blog

If you have read and enjoyed this blog, please consider endorsing me for a WEGO Health Activist award. Today is the LAST DAY to vote, so don’t wait! The nomination page is filled with some of the strongest, most eloquent, and most tenacious chronic illness warriors. You don’t have to just endorse one of us – spread the love!

Click here  for my endorsement page.

Click here to see all of the nominess.

Thank you!

One Less Wild Woman

One Less Wild Place

one less wild woman
The wetlands bloom for most of the year.

Wild places to walk, sweat, explore, and breathe in are precious. Growing up in the suburbs, wild places that were near to me were made even more precious by their rarity.

I was surrounded by concrete and the inescapable roar of engines, but I could retreat to a wild place. I was lucky enough to grow up near the ocean and the wetlands. I run on dirt trails and watch as migratory birds pass through our coastal home. Migraines make me spend too much time in a dark room, but I am able to practice my own ecotherapy in these wetlands where I find nourishment in fresh air and clouds.

My favorite running route wound through a large field that was half strawberry field, half undeveloped chapparal. Songbirds, raptors, bunnies, and squirrels called the large area home. I ran through the field and along the channel hundreds of times, passing the same dog walkers and familiar bird species each time.

one less wild woman
The strawberry field is now a construction site and soon to be a neighborhood.

The strawberry field is now gone. The raptors perch in snags at the edges of what used to be a thriving field. The drone of engines is inescapable as tractors comb the wet earth, flattening and scraping for the neighborhood to come. It is impossible not to mourn the loss of this wild space and the wild things that called it home.

A neighborhood behind me stands mostly empty on the bluffs. The bluffs provided nesting sites for large herons and egrets. The houses are huge and mostly alike, but for some reason, no on really lives there. Who decided to replace these wild homes with more empty concrete ones?

One Less Wild Woman

This is, of course, not the first or most dramatic time I have mourned the loss of wild things. I spent summers in my early  20’s living, working, and playing in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I fell in love with rivers and mountains, lakes and peaks. I lived in a tent cabin and spent as many nights beneath the stars as I could.

wild place wild things
Canoeing on Mono Lake with my boyfriend Eric Smith. Photo by Scott Smith

I worked on a river and a lake. I guided hikes and campfire programs. I met people from all over the world and swam, hiked, and loved the mountains all summer. Fall, winter, and spring were spent dreaming about getting back to the Sierra. I continued to run and climb indoors, preparing my body for miles of adventures to come.

A few days after my 24th birthday I awoke with a migraine. It was a persistent one, and it seemed to launch me into a new life of chronic migraines. After several weeks in bed, I said goodbye to my job and mountain home. My migraines and I spent the next three years healing in the suburbs. It was the most trying period of my life.

One Less Wild Cat

one less wild woman
Boxes make the best beds.

Sometimes caring for another helps you care for yourself. A rescue kitten came into my life shortly before my 27th birthday – just last June. He was sick, blind, and needed a home. I had no intention of adopting a pet until I met little Jupiter (aka Goop). Knowing how it feels to be lonely, sick, and stuck in the dark, I couldn’t let the little guy go back to a hard, wild life despite his special needs.
The last thing my life needed was responsibility and more medical bills, but that is what I got. Like most reluctant pet parents, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Migraine days and good days alike are made better with a companion and kitten cuddles.

A New Wild Home

The domestication of both Jupiter and myself is finally coming to  an end! Last week I signed the lease on a new home in the mountains, not far from where I lived before chronic migraines. The relief and gratitude I feel every morning that I wake up to smell Jeffrey pine trees and listen to nuthatches call to each other is indescribable.

one less wild woman
The shady porch of my new mountain home is a cozy place to sit during a migraine.

The transition period is still in full force. My clothes are in boxes, and I left my kitten at my parents’ home for another week. The aspen trees are turning brilliant orange and the air is noticeably crisper. Soon the snow will come and we will settle in to a season of warmth, health, and growth.

Moving back to the mountains and creating another wild home was a dream too big to consider for years. Now, thanks to a part-time job with an understanding boss, fantastic roommates, and my always patient boyfriend, I once again feel at home. I once again feel wild.

Feature Image by Eric Smith

power of music

All in a Day’s Work: How to Use the Power of Music to Conquer Pain

“Fear – fear’s a powerful thing. I mean, it’s got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out how to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than stand in front of you, that’s very powerful. I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to just kill. And you know, to some extent that’s still with me in how I work. I just. ..go in.”

-Jimmy Iovine, Intro to “All In a Day’s Work” by Dr. Dre

alex wong unsplash
Strength prevails over fear. Image: Unsplash

Spend 30 seconds on this blog and you will discover that I am about as white as they come. As a white girl, I grew up with a certain amount of privilege. My childhood was rather free of adversity and, consequentially, gangsta rap. It wasn’t until my 20s when I was introduced to the world of chronic migraines that I began to understand the power of music and words.

I have had many sick, sad days during the past three years, thanks to the far-reaching effects of chronic illness. Migraines impact my career, my relationships, my appearance, my bank account, my home, my hobbies, and my dreams. Pain and nausea ebb and flow through my days, keeping me forever humble.

“It takes a special kind of motherf***a to live like this” Anderson .Paak raps on Dr. Dre’s superb track “All In a Day’s Work.” I couldn’t agree more, Anderson. Obviously, my chronic migraine life looks a lot different from Dr. Dre’s. The challenges that I face are worlds apart from the ones he overcame as a black music producer from Compton. The kind of self-assured anger that Dr. Dre’s music, and other music, feeds off of is exactly what I need, however, to get through my days of pain with strength.

The Power of Music

“One good thing about music, when it hits you you feel no pain.”                                                                                     -Bob Marley

Spend enough days in bed and you start to look at your interests as little life rafts. When dealing with chronic illness, you spend your entire days listening – to your breath, to your pain, to your symptoms, to your body. When it’s time to engage in leisure activities, like reading or listening to music, it’s difficult to turn off that longing. It’s difficult to turn off that effort to seek, to constantly strive for answers.

If you’re like me, you may find yourself clinging to words, finding little bits of yourself and small morsels of wisdom in art that make your life more bearable. That is the power of music. That is power of art. Like in life, in music you discover only what you seek.

I don’t pretend to understand the life of Dr. Dre or presume that he and I are similar. I don’t affirm that gangsta rap is the only kind of music that embodies a powerful anger. Beyonce’s album Lemonade, Pale Hound’s Dry Food, some folk by Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, modern folk band The Staves, and even pop goddess Taylor Swift let anger guide their art from time to time. And their music is more real because of it.

Expressing anger in art or music is a powerful step towards releasing its control over your thoughts and actions. Anger is natural part of the grieving process that everyone with chronic pain encounters. Expressing it through art releases its hold before it has a chance to turn into bitterness or despair.

Make Art. Conquer Pain.

power of music
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Listen. Look. Love. Sing. Create. Write.

You don’t have to show anyone. Buy a coloring book and some colored pencils online. Watch Bob Ross on Netflix and play around with watercolors. Journal or make a list. Creativity is a powerful way to heal, rest, and grow. It’s an old and simple concept, that I would like to believe is true – surround yourself with beauty, look at beautiful things, and you will start to notice the beauty in your own life. Pain begets pain – that continues to be a chronic illness truth. But so does beauty beget beauty.

The power of music can heal listeners. Those who create – those who sing, write, paint, dance – unleash the full power of art to not only heal but to set free.

The late Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote about the power of music in a 2006 edition of Brain: A Journal of Neurology. He wrote about how music helps people with different neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s. He wrote about how music can bring people together and make people look within. The paper ends with a simple conclusion, “In the last 20 years, there have been huge advances here, but we have, as yet, scarcely touched the question of why music, for better or worse, has so much power. It is a question that goes to the heart of being human.”

Rise Above the Pain Playlist

(Not all tracks available on Spotify)

All in a Day’s Work by Dr. Dre

Formation by Beyonce

Bad Blood  by Taylor Swift (Ft. Kendrick Lamaar)

 

Image credit: Unsplash