Friday, January 30, 2009


headache, at 10

i just spent an entire day trying to get rid of a headache. i've been awake for 12 hours now, and pretty much all 12 hours were spent attempting to alleviate or eradicate the symptoms of my headache.

i was supposed to wake up, go to the office, drive down to monterey to drop off documents at a couple libraries, have dinner down there with an old friend who i haven't seen in a long time, then drive back up to sF. but the priority for today was my evening plans--a tete-a-tete with a close friend i haven't seen in a while.

i woke up at 9am with pain in my brain-parts. a headache right when i wake up is actually fairly rare for me, and it's a bad sign--the headaches that i have when i wake up are usually the hardest to get rid of. they're not insurmountable, though; especially if i'm diligent. so! i opted for an extra-drugs-day. i took what i hoped would be enough meds to take the edge off the morning headache and get me to baseline conditions. i then ate a smattering of healthy organic food bits, swallowed an array of supplements, and went to the office.

i went into the office a little earlier than i would've if i hadn't had the headache, actually, because i was worried that if my pain didn't lessen i wouldn't be able to drive to monterey, and i wanted to make sure the documents would get delivered regardless. my (extremely awesome) boss said that we'd figure out another option if i couldn't drive, but in the meantime i should try to de-headache. yes yes yes--onnit! the earlier meds hadn't worked at all, and the pain had gotten worse due to my exposure to sunlight, so i gathered my options and tried: 1) protein; 2) water; 3) sugars; 4) meds; 5) kombucha; 6) lie down; 7); warm; 8) dark; 9) pressure point massage... an hour and a half later my head felt exactly the same. so i gave up on the plan to drive south, cancelled my dinner plans, and we found another person to do the delivery i was supposed to do.

at that point, since my boss and i just finished a major project and the thing i'd planned to do with my work day was no longer an option, i had almost nothing to do at the office. i futzed around for a bit, trying to be somewhat productive, but looking at the computer screen under the fluorescent lights was, as usual, making things worse. so at about 2pm i headed home, with the firm goal to sequester myself, apply all conceivable headache remedies, and salvage my evening plans.

it turns out that it's relatively unusual that i'll still have a headache at night if i've really tried during the day to get rid of it. there are a bunch of factors that affect my pain--diet, exercise, drugs, stretches, lighting, smells, temperature, anxiety level, eye strain, ad infinitum--and if i'm both diligent about monitoring the situation and willing to make a variety of sacrifices i can usually get myself to a headache-free state by about 6 or 7pm.

unfortunately, however, the Extreme Anti-Headache Regimen doesn't actually guarantee anything; and today--for no particular reason that i can discern--happened to be a day when my head just wouldn't be placated. i came home, ate good foods, hydrated, rinsed my sinuses, took more meds, blacked the windows, and climbed into bed to be warm. i wrapped a scarf around my head and lay there in the dark, buzzzzing from the meds, massaging pressure points as needed. after 2-3 hours, which is usually enough totally boring placid downtime to give my body rest or recuperation or achieve stasis or whatever, my head still felt the same. but lo, the twilight approacheth! when vampiric beings might brave the outer world without fear of total incapacitation! wOOt! soooo...

SWITCH! new (complementary) tactics: i got up, got bundled, and went out for some exercise. the thing is, with the exercise, you have to be careful--if you get too hot, or get too cold, or change altitude too fast, or exert yourself a little more than you should, the headache can get way worse; but if you go out walking at a moderate pace on a warm-ish day, being careful not to attempt too many hills, exercise can majorly alleviate head pain.

the weather being glorious, i was poised for success. i walked for a while, did a bunch of yogic stretching, did some dancing to loosen up my back and release extra tension from all the various crevices that might be contributing to the pain situation, and then walked some more. none of these activities seemed to be helping, but i kept going, since i wasn't interested in returning to the sitting-at-home-swaddled-in-darkness thing. my walk ended up taking me near the office of my chiropractor, which reminded me that sometimes adjustments help eradicate pain. so i went in, paid a bunch of monies, and the nice human cracked my spine a few times. body felt better; head did not. in a last-ditch effort, on my walk back home i bought a bunch of foodstuffs that have previously been known to be useful for helping with headaches, and ate some of each. arrived home, re-rinsed sinuses, re-swaddled in the darkness, and then...

nothing. i still have a headache. my plans for tonight, which were very important to me, have been canceled. i am sad, and i am angry.

in the course of this long and rather boring narrative, you'll purrhaps notice that not once did i mention anything about reading, writing, viewing, talking, or otherwise being productive. that situation of non-existence occurs because those activities were absent. while working toward a goal of a pain-free head, it is pretty much out of the question to spend time at a computer, or reading a book, or watching a screen. talking to other humans is even challenging. which is to say: not only was i in pain the whole time, but today was a total fucking fail in terms of productivity. 12 hours of nothing but headache management. at least i got some exercise--yeah, i'll give you that--but that's pretty much it.

the reason i'm writing this piece, as it turns out, is less about the headaches and more about the way i'm making decisions. i'm continuously facing dilemmas about prioritization.

recall that i experience a headache to some degree pretty much every day. (or did you not know that? yeah, that'd be the case. chronic daily headache. lookitup.)

if, on a given day, i choose to ignore the headache and maintain a normal lifestyle, i almost always end up doing shoddy work or being only semi-productive due to the pain, plus i end up nearly incapacitated and incapable of friendliness and/or funtimes by about 8pm. if, on the other hand, i choose to structure my day around avoiding headache triggers and minimizing chances of pain exacerbation, i end up getting almost nothing done because my options for productivity are so extremely limited...and i still often end up in some degree of pain. when there are particular constraints that i'm presented with, such as work deadlines and important events to attend, i try to make informed decisions about which parts of my life to sacrifice so that i can fulfill the necessary obligations to my work, my friends, or my self. it's extremely difficult to have to make some of these decisions.

a normal person presumably gets to have enough hours in a week that he or she can go to work every day, socialize a few nights a week, put in time on a hobby or project or two, and still have some downtime for solo relaxation. i, being a normal person in at least a couple respects, also strive for a work-play-hobby-relax balance. however: i have a headache, i would estimate, approximately 50-60% of my waking hours. (that's when i'm managing them, with a full array of meds.) this means that every day i need to think about what my priorities are for the next 24-72 hours, and then pick which parts of my life are going to be painful and which parts i'm going to try to have be pain-free.

keeping in mind that my methods for eliminating pain are erratic and subject to myriad uncontrollable factors.

and that the meds i use don't always work; work best if used infrequently; and have frustrating side effects, sometimes even including weird shadowy rebound headaches.

and that when i have a headache both my coworkers and my friends generally find me unpleasant to be around.

it's hard, when faced with these decisions, to make 'good' choices. if i prioritize work and and decide to take lots of meds on the weekdays, i can't take the meds on the weekends. if i prioritize my social life and try to schedule my headaches so that i have less pain when i'm with my friends, i end up having to fit in my work in all hodge-podge, whenever i can manage to put some time in. and neither of those scenarios necessarily leave me any time to myself when i'm not in pain.

this essay doesn't really have a conclusion...yet. i'm still going to doctors and trying new management techniques and thinking about new drugs. i've lived a variety of lifestyles over the past decade, and i continue to experiment with a variety of activities and environments to see if there's a set that better suits me. and i'm working on bolstering my mental health--which if it wasn't the root of the problem when this started is DEFINITELY a primary factor now, due to the neuroses one accumulates over 10 years of living with chronic pain...

but at the moment, since i've been dealing so much for the last year with all these huge sweeping goals and determined ambitions to improve my quality of life--a need for Change and Direction and Purpose and Momentum and blah blah blah-- i wanted to write for a minute about the frustration and anger i feel on a day-to-day basis just trying to get little tasks accomplished and take care of myself while holding down a job. it's fucking hard for me to balance all this bullshit, and even when i'm doing a relatively great job with the balancing, i'm only partially satisfied with the results. as i try to push myself to be the person i want to be, i'm continually stymied by the limitations of my own body. and they are fucking DUMB limitations-- they're arbitrary; they're invisible; and they're probably self-induced.

and yeah, they've been around for 10 years this february.

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