Tag Archives: conquer pain

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.

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

 

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