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Blog Gems: An Event, Broadly Interpreted

January 16, 2011

It’s time for Jen’s Blog Gems, and this week the prompt is to choose an event in our life. I’ve chosen a post I called Cat pee and watered down lemonade because it is about a specific event, an afternoon spent trying to figure out why everything, well, you’ll see when you read it. I’ve posted it here for your convenience and so that I can update, since this is from July 2009, and this is a far too frequent event in my life. 

Cat pee and watered down lemonade
No, they don’t taste the same. I don’t think so, anyway. But I bet the title caught your attention.

I get migraines. I know, lots of us do. I used to get only ocular ones. They were cool; my eyes would go wonky on me and I’d see zig zags of white or squiggles or see blank patches in my field of vision. No head pain, or anything, just a couple hours of weird vision that made it challenging to do things, but then things went back to normal. No major inconvenience.

About five years ago, the migraines moved from solely ocular to classic migraines, and lots of them. Few of them put me in my bed and completely ruined my day, although some did. Most just made my day more difficult to wade through because of the pain, nausea and bathroom trips. And then fluorescents became a trigger, and I wore for a couple years visors or ball caps and sun glasses whenever I was under the lights. We went through all the classes of preventative meds, though not all of the possible drugs, to curb the migraines, but either the meds didn’t help, seriously hurt (we had a summer trying to figure out why my heart rate and blood pressure kept tanking — bye bye beta blockers), or had significant enough side effects that I ended up resorting to B2, CoQ-10, and Magnesium, which helped some.

A year ago, though, my doctor and I tried one more preventative, a low dose buspar, and it was the right thing. It works well enough without any significant side effects that fluorescents aren’t a problem, and I was able to shed the glasses and hats, which made teaching so much more satisfying. And my migraines went from 2 to 3 times a week over the last year to once or twice a month. They no longer dominate my life. They are minor inconveniences and once again occasionally intellectually challenging trips on the wonders of the mind.

A couple years ago, my aura also switched from just ocular to olfactory. I’ve had migraines where everything tasted like scrambled eggs, or smelled like shrimp. Yesterday’s migraine was primarily olfactory. Minor pain, relatively, just everything smelled and tasted weird.

Half the morning I spent asking my kids and husband if they smelled cat pee. I smelled it everywhere. After returning home from a visit to a friend and her son at the hospital, I finally realized what was making the house smell like cat pee to me. I had lit a sandalwood candle in the morning (my favorite scent and one that doesn’t smell like cat pee at all), and when I walked in the door, I smelled cat pee. I went and sniffed the candle. Cat pee. Ahhh. At this point, I was four hours into the migraine. Fortunately, the pain never got significant. But hour six into it and the perfectly good unflavored bottled water I was drinking took on a vaguely sweet and lemony taste, which my husband tasted and assured me was good old water with no taste.

So, there you have it, cat pee and watered down lemonade.

In December 2009, I stopped the low dose Buspar, and my migraines returned full-force, although I’ve refused the sunglasses, the visors, or to live in darkness, although fluorescents continue to be a problem. I’ve written over the months, periodically, about the migraines, so that if you’re a regular reader, you know my worst days are Mondays and Fridays, where I pretty regularly get a migraine, but I don’t always talk about how they’ll stretch through Tuesdays, how the Friday ones may last into the weekend. Most aren’t crippling, just difficult to work through. Some, though, are and put me in bed. Done. 

Last week I threw in the towel and asked to be put back on Buspar. I had stopped taking it because of dizziness issues and concerns over cognitive dulling, but the migraines were beginning to control me again, rather than the other way around, and I have enough other health issues to deal with that if I can get this back under control, it’s worth the price.

The best piece I’ve ever read, if you’ve not dealt with migraines personally, is by Joan Didion called “In Bed.” 

Didion writes:
We have reached a certain understanding, my migraine and I. It never comes when I am in real trouble. Tell me that my house is burned down, my husband has left me, that there is gunfighting in the streets and panic in the banks, and I will not respond by getting a headache. It comes instead when I am fighting not an open but a guerrilla war with my own life, during weeks of small household confusions, lost laundry, unhappy help, canceled appointments, on days when the telephone rings too much and I get no work done and the wind is coming up. On days like that my friend comes uninvited.”
There are things we live with, events that are not singular, that come to shape us, define us, if not by our intent, certainly by default. It may not be all of us, our entire identity, but it is a large part of what we move through. At times, these swiftly flowing waters we must wade through, that some call migraine, that others call diabetes, or fibromyalgia, or heart disease, or MS, or some other chronic ailment or condition (or combination of) take our strength, our fortitude, our good cheer, and drain us, leave us struggling against the sudden riptides the swirling, speeding waters form. They all leave their mark on us, whether we’d have it so or not. And some of us don’t win the battle of continuing to ford against the stream. Some of us surrender, but it is not zen to let go and allow the water to carry us away. It is capitulation and surrender and there is no victory there, no way to say that we shaped the situation and made it, rather than letting it make us. 

We cannot always move past, put to rest, beat these often invisible invaders to our health. Some things we must learn to live with, and as we age, we add more and more speed to those waters we all must push our way through. And we feel it keenly as an insult, when our bodies, our brains, fail us, betray us. And each insult works on us, carving us into a new and hopefully better person. Gods, I hope so. And on those days I am sure I’m not winning the carving battle or the waters metaphor (and I have literally waded through flooding waters, the current sucking at my legs and threatening my footing), I remember Joseph Campbell and one of his favorite metaphors: Are you the lightbulb, the vehicle of consciousness, or are you the light, the consciousness itself?

I fear that I am both, and that the consciousness without the vehicle has no mechanism to be transmitted or recognized. And I hope to hell I’m not a five watt-er, if ya ken me, and if you’ve ever seen The Brave Little Toaster, you get my reference. 🙂 


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