It’s been longer than I realized – the undertow

Home ThinkSpace Week 4: Pain Management It’s been longer than I realized – the undertow

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  • Learning how to manage and live with the pain associated with frequent migraines and headaches took me a long time, and it’s something I still work on almost every day, but the first step was understanding the source of the pain and it’s “name.” How have you learned to manage your pain? How did your journey start? Below is a little more about my beginning.  

    Some conditions announce their arrival with great fanfare and in a way that their host cannot help but notice them and deal with them immediately. Others are more subtle or slow to announce their presence. Or perhaps the host does not recognize their symptoms as signs of something “more serious.” In my own life it took me about a year to recognize debilitating headaches centered in my eye or eyebrow as episodic migraine. Now when physicians ask “when did they start?” I still find myself stumbling. I think they truly started in the Summer months of 2013, but it could have been that Spring or even Winter 2012, but it wasn’t until Fall of 2014 that they came frequently enough for me to notice that they never responded to OTC medication. Much like the undertow that slowly carries swimmers farther and farther out to sea, my migraines slowly swept me away from my normal habits, until Fall of 2014 when a physician asked me, “tell me everything you don’t do because of your migraines, and how long it’s been” and I realized how far I was from the shore of “normal” health.

    Figuring out how to deal with migraines starts with figuring out that you have migraines, which can be its own journey. My neurologist told me of a study that advertised treatment for sinus headache and found that 80 to 90 percent of those who volunteered were actually suffering from migraine. For months I was hit by recurrent, chronic, and debilitating pain, usually centered above my right eyebrow or eye, that did not respond to any OTC medication. Friends and family told me to try any number of things, but until I saw a chart that classified headaches by location I didn’t understand what was happening or why. Realizing I might be suffering from migraine and not some sort of chronic sinus issue felt both disappointing but also brought a sense of relief – finally I knew why the OTC meds and lifestyle changes were not working.

    #whatswrongwithmyeye #whatshappeningtome #theundertow

    Samantha Kaplan
  • Ah, yes, the steps removed from normal. I used to be able to remember stage one, stage two, etc. But now I’m so far stepped away from normal that I will never remember the way back.

    • I think about this all the time! Sometimes I throw up my hands at the idea of separating the stages and simply say, “there is before this became something I think about every day, and there is now – when I think about it every day.”


      Samantha Kaplan
  • Some pain you get used to. It becomes the new normal and you adapt. Some pain changes your character fundamentaly. I am at this stage now, experiencing pain which renders me compassionless and angry. I wish I could have my old simply uncomfortable pain back, please.

    • Zepplin, I hope you get to a different stage soon. How long have you been there?

    • I can relate to the fundamental character changes. I find that chronic pain has made me much more self-protective. It’s hard to separate from the aging process, but I find that I take less risks now, especially if I’m worried about (more) possible negative long-term effects on my health. #characterchange

  • Three years and counting.

  • Self protection raises a point I had been hoping to bring up here somewhere. I am often in a state of hyper awareness. Like being a lifelong rural driver and then driving up the 101 in Los Angeles for the very first time. Or being the parent of a toddler, always vigilant for the impending doom of injury as your little one explores their mobility and environment. This state is exhausting, draining. Body Listening is on a whole other level for me as merely turning my head too quickly or reacting in anger can send me into a mini pain seizure. I attempt to approach it from a zen perspective however I can’t even enjoy the comfort of sleep without peril. I take for granted that I exist in this state. Yet another circumstance where I choose not to listen to it, under the auspices of merely functioning. Which makes the stress of that state mount and a greater price is paid when I do get to finally relax.

    • Zepplin, you raise such an important point! The hyperawareness and vigilance wears me out all the time.

      #constantlistening #alwayslistening

      Samantha Kaplan
  • I’ve had chronic migraines most of my life and am aware of headaches even before the characteristic migraines began. What were eventually (10 years later) diagnosed as migraines began when I was about 14, but, as I said, I recall having headaches even as a small child. By the time I was in my 20s and tracking, I became aware that I had headaches more often than not. I hadn’t tried OTCs, but eventually found that I would get relief perhaps 50% of the time if I took something quickly (Excedrin being my OTC of choice) and, if possible, could sleep for an hour or so. I’m now in my 50’s and had learned to live with them for the most part — but there was always the awareness that I could be brought low and have to head to a dark room with an armful of ice packs at any moment. My children learned how to cope with my headaches, too, poor things, until they started getting their own. Then they had to cope with mine and theirs. Just as I had to cope with mine and theirs. My migraine-free husband mostly left us alone, not knowing what to do besides provide sympathy and ice packs. I didn’t know what caused my headaches (I posted elsewhere about all the studies and efforts to find out), so I never knew when I would be struck. A day when I felt good was rare and to be savored!

    As I posted on another thread, I recently found a doctor who focuses on the mind-body connection. It has been like lifting a veil. I used to try to explain my headaches to people using TV as an analogy: mostly the headaches made me experience life like you might experience black & white TV as opposed to color; sometimes, though, the pain was so bad that the TV was nothing but static and  I couldn’t enjoy it at all. Most of the time my life was black and white TV. Now most of the time it’s color. I almost never wake up with a headache, and I can go days without head pain. I’m sorry it took me so long to find this, but I’m deeply grateful that at least I eventually did and can discover a mostly headache free life.

    I still have the pains of aging — joints that are wearing out and muscles that are weakening. But that veil or haze or joy-draining head pain is now more gone than not. It’s next to miraculous.

    #migraine #mindbody #painfree #miracle

    • Midan, your imagery about the before and after is so poignant. After every migraine passes I always savor the next headache-free period that comes because as you said, it is like suddenly living in color – everything is brighter and crisper in my sight. I hope as the week continues you’ll tell us more about your journey to #painfree

      Samantha Kaplan
      • Well, I had a very difficult childhood which I prefer not to detail. But there was much upheaval and unexpected change, loss, and emotional abuse. My headaches began in earnest as I entered puberty. I toughed them out, doing what I had to do (I had no parental sympathy or understanding of what I was going through and I had no choice but to “just keep swimming”). Once I was in college, I started to look for help and that pursuit continued for the following decades off and on (off when I would give up and reach hopelessness, on when I reached a point where I felt I couldn’t take it anymore and needed something to give me hope). Many years, drugs, treatments, doctors, therapists (psycho- and physical), and dollars later, a pain psychologist recommended the book, Unlearn Your Pain ( ). Since I live barely an hour away from the doctor who wrote the book, I chose to use the book as well as see him for treatment. The work is ongoing; I still get headaches and still take my beloved Excedrin, but the improvement has been so remarkable that most days I hardly think about my migraines. For those for whom there is no obvious cause of pain, and treatment isn’t helping, I would encourage giving this a try. It does smack of “faith healing.” You have to believe it’s going to work! And that, in itself, takes some work. But the research & science is sound and, to me, convincing. And the fact that I’ve experienced so much improvement makes it even more convincing for me. I am grateful for that one hour I had with the pain psychologist that led me to this treatment.

        #mindbodysyndrome #migraine #painfree


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