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As a woman of a certain age with a sedentary primary job, my body is a thing that weighs on me. Yes, specifically, my weight. I was just a slip of a thing for so long when I was younger. And even in my 20s, ten pounds could be taken care of with two weeks of Lean Cuisine and walking after work. But now, things are different. My body needs different things. To lose weight takes hours of walking, kickboxing, weightlifting. Fortunately, MKL likes my curves, but I don’t really. I know I’m beautiful on the inside, but I like the downsized outside version of me better. It’s just how I feel most comfortable. Exercise is definitely one thing. Diet is part of the equation as well. My body likes protein. I feel better, happier, and lose weight more easily on a very low carbohydrate diet. I also have a tendency towards kidney stones (thanks, genetics), so there are things that I need to eliminate from my diet to keep those rocks in the river. Finally – at least right now – I have a little arthritis, so that brings a whole different set of dietary guidelines into play.

IMG_7683
Denver, Colorado.

As part of my research on the best way to care for myself, I’ve summarized the recommendations for the dietary issues I’m addressing:

Capture

So to summarize, I can eat nuts, as long as they’re not peanuts, broccoli, red peppers, vodka, coffee, a limited amount of eggs, and a little bit of meat, poultry, and fish. And that’s it. That should take care of the weight loss too. Will I strictly adhere to this? No. Will I pay attention to it? Yes. (It’s been awfully nice not having a kidney stone since last December.)

Thanks for bearing with me through this analysis. If you want to find me, I’ll be the one pressed up against the exterior window of any restaurant, drooling slightly.

Quote of the day: “I want to lose weight by eating nothing but moon pies, which have significantly less gravity than earthier foods such as fruits and vegetables.” — Jarod Kintz

Daily gratitudes:
Being a mom
The look in MKL’s eyes
Dogs
My pillows
A cloudless, beautiful day

 

Dear readers,

You probably fall into one of two categories: male or female.

If you are female you will:

a) think these things can never happen to you
b) relate and have your own random comments
or c) remember what I’m talking about

If you are male, you will:

a) turn away from this page immediately for fear of Too Much Information
b) forge ahead and learn something about the women who may be in your life, now or in the future

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been experiencing hot flashes – one of the stars of perimenopause and beyond – for over four years now. And sadly, I know that the end is not in sight.

Do you know what a hot flash is like? It’s like being flamed with a sparkly blowtorch all over your body. It comes from the inside out, and it comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s very Chuck Norris-like. There’s nothing you can do to fight it off, to defend yourself. If it’s there, it’s already won. It lasts as long as it’s going to last. And then it’s gone.

And then there’s the bleeding  – or not.  It’s either a tsunami or a leaky faucet. And like the hot flash, you never know when it’s going to strike. But unlike the hot flash, there are repercussions from this unpredictability.  When you’re used to a regular cycle of 28 days or so, you know when you need to be prepared, And so, you travel prepared. With perimenopause, it’s always a surprise. Bleeding episodes can be six months apart. Or 39 days apart. They can last for three days or for three weeks.  But the biggest disability is that damn flow. You can stand up from your desk, and suddenly discover that you need a new pair of jeans. My bottom file drawer at work always contains an extra pair. Lesson learned.

That whole unpredictability thing is the hallmark of perimenopause. You just never know when to expect what. And it’s as if your body is completely confused. It doesn’t know what to do. So it just…. does everything. It has mood swings. It gets bloated. It cries uncontrollably about nothing for days at a time. It has nightmares. It has PMS – but without the M. It’s like getting your period, but not getting your period at the same time. It’s a giant fake-out. Poor body.

But there are some good things about perimenopause that, in the spirit of gratitude, I feel compelled to share.

There are some things that ease the symptoms. Black cohosh (an herb). Estroblend, an over-the-counter herbal pill. Evening primrose oil. Soy products (or so I’m told – I haven’t tried them yet, because I’m not really a fan). And of course, ice cold San Pellegrino, hand-held japanese fans, and frozen bodice coolers that you can pick up at any Renaissance Festival.

It definitely keeps me warmer in the winter. This is strange for me, because I’ve always been a cold-bodied person. Now, I can comfortably keep the house at 60 degrees no matter what the outside temperature. (Unfortunately, my niece and MKL cannot live like that.)  And sometimes I drive with the truck windows down in the depths of January.

I’m saving money on winter clothing. I mean, really, what’s the point of wearing sweaters to work if I just want to strip down to my skivvies every other minute? As it is, I’m in sleeveless tops and have the little desk fan going for half the day, with an icy beverage close at hand.

It helps me accept change and unpredictability. Let’s face it, it’s not called “the change” for nothing. This experience has helped to reinforce for me that life within this body is anything but predictable, and that just because things are one way one day does not mean they will be the same the next day. You just never know. So you might just as well enjoy the ride.

It is a hallmark of the wisdom gained from life. In some cultures, women who have experienced menopause are allowed into traditionally male bastions from which they were previously banned, as a sign of respect. If one has lived long enough to move into a new cycle of life, then wisdom must be one’s companion on the journey.

I like to think of it that. Between hot flashes.

So, if you’ve read this far, congratulations. If you have yet to experience this transition, and have questions, ask away. If you are in the throes and have positive feedback, comments, perceptions, or suggestions, please share. And if you’re past it and have stories to tell, I’d love to hear them.

We’ve discussed quite a few TMI things on this blog over the years, particularly lady-bits stuff.  Breast lumps, kidney stones, and menopausal symptoms are just a few that come to mind. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? So it’s time we had another of those intimate chats. (In other words, some of you may want to leave now.)

We’re going to talk about bladders. Not pig bladders, which, back in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s days, Pa blew up after the hog slaughter and let the girls play ball with.  But women’s bladders.  Or perhaps just my bladder.  But I don’t think I’m alone.  Which is why I’m sharing the love.

The pig-bladder-ball-playing-picture.

I don’t remember my own potty training as a child. I suspect few of us do. Although I do remember the little enamelware pot that I used. In fact, I still have it. I believe it’s at ex-Pat’s house, and should likely be rescued.  It’s a rather odd childhood memento, but there you are.

Very similar to this one.

Of course, I remember potty training with my own daughter, but out of sensitivity to the fact that she’s a teenager, I won’t discuss any of the entirely entertaining stories I have about that here – yet.  Unless she irritates me.  Then all bets are off.  Because the point of this post really is about my daughter.  At least she’s the cause of the point of this post.

If you are female and you’ve had a baby, you may have noticed that your nether regions aren’t as toned and easily controlled as they were before you had that little bundle of joy.  I believe this is because of the uneven weight distribution of carrying the equivalent of a 40-pound human inside of you, pressing down on said nether regions for nearly a year. There’s really no other experience like it. (And I wouldn’t have traded the experience or the outcome for anything in the world.)

Nor is there any other experience like pushing an entire human body through a hole the size of a quarter.  I don’t care how elastic something is.  Every piece of elastic reaches a stretch point of no return.

Elastic…quarter…only one image missing, and I’ll spare you that.

Following childbirth, many things get back to normal. But a few things don’t quite. You may notice that when you sneeze, you pee just a drop. Or if you laugh ridiculously hard, things get a touch moist down there. Exercise  helps. Toning up those mushcles makes a huge difference. And you can do kegels until the cows come home and no one will be the wiser, nor will you break a sweat. (They’re great at stoplights.) These things WILL make a difference, and you may even find yourself better than ever.

But then, you reach a certain age. And perhaps a certain carelessness with the kegels. It’s that age where you notice that your skin has a few more spots, a few more lines, a bit more of a crepe paper quality to it.  It becomes harder to take off weight when you put it on.  And you can no longer say you’re trying to lose the baby weight when the baby is 16.  Well, of course, you can, but others may look at you oddly. I know they do me. Especially when they ask her age, and I say, “Oh, she’s 190 months now.”

So back to this weird certain-age/bladder thing. This is new to me. Just like always, before I leave the house to catch the bus to work, or to take a long-ish car ride, I check in.  Do I need to go?  The answer is often, “Well, not really, but it wouldn’t hurt anything, so might as well, just in case. It will save any trouble later.”  No big deal, right? It’s a precautionary measure. There is no sense of urgency, as one often feels when one actually needs to go.  And so I enter a bathroom or a bathroom stall accordingly.  Something I’ve done a million times over nearly 50 years.

But here is where things are suddenly different.

It’s as if my bladder has developed a brain of its own.  It’s like the toilet is crack to my bladder.  My bladder is fine up until the time it is within about two feet of a toilet, and then it becomes like a frenzied weasel. It must have that toilet. It must possess it.  It MUST pee. There’s no stopping it.  It doesn’t give a toot about the barriers of jeans and underwear that stand in its way.  It’s going to go.

So what started out as a blase visit to a bathroom becomes, within less than a minute, a desperate race against time to shed my clothes before my bladder decides to damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead.

Most of the time, I can beat it to the punch, though I’m sure it would be highly entertaining to watch my antics.  Not that anyone will ever get to.  But, given the nature of buttons, snaps, and zippers, the copious fluidity of some skirts, and the tightness of jeans, particularly on a hot summer day, sometimes I come up short.

Super embarrassing.

And then there’s some blotting and wandering around commando for the rest of the day.

I mean, really, am I two again? Like I say, I’ve done this for almost 50 years and NOW I’m lapsing?  WTF, bladder?  Since when did you start making the decisions here, independent of my brain signals?

It’s not enough of a problem for medication, and certainly not enough for Depends, and pantiliners are gross and uncomfortable and I had more than a lifetime’s share of them during pregnancy, so NO to that too. In fact, I’m not asking for any suggestions. I just needed to put it out in the open, because it’s not something we discuss, and as I said at the start, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, so maybe it’s something we SHOULD discuss.

So, you’re welcome. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do some kegels.

It can happen to the best of us.

Warning for some: TMI ahead.

Perimenopause.  The prefix “peri” is from the ancient Greek, and means “near”.  Near is a relative term.  I am near the Caribbean when compared to someone in Juneau, Alaska at this moment, but that does not make me as near as someone in Miami, Florida. “Near” is a hedge word.

However, if we check in with our friend Wikipedia, the word “Peri” means the following:

In Persian mythology, the Peri are descended from fallen angels who have been denied paradise until they have done penance. In earlier sources, they are described as agents of evil; later, they are benevolent. They are exquisite, winged, fairy-like creatures ranking between angels and evil spirits.

I like that definition of “Peri” much better. And it really describes who, how, and where we perimenopausal women are.

The highs and lows of perimenopause are meni and veri. See what I did there? Yea, get over it.

I say “Get over it” to myself many times each day, as I am perpetually awash in a slippery tangle of hormones.

This thing they call perimenopause – in laywomen’s terms, pre-menopause…do you mean it’s actually WORSE once you hit ACTUAL menopause?  I’m still technically not menopausal, yet I have all the symptoms – and I try to view them as positively as possible. Hot flashes are just short private vacations to a tropical island. Mood swings are experiences of the rich depths of my mercurial personality.

Based on my research, I fail to see where the actual differences between perimenopause and menopause lie, except that I guess you never get a period again, instead of having one that lasts three days once or twice a year.  Or one that lasts twelve days when you are on a vacation in the islands. Maybe that’s part of perimenopause – your body has gotten smart enough to wait to release the deluge until you are in the exact place and time when you don’t want said deluge to occur. Perhaps your body is giving a giant Bronx Cheer or having a last hurrah before your reproductive system gives up the ghost altogether.

Regardless of it’s motives, it feels like my body is not playing fair.

Don’t tell me to “own it”, to gracefully accept this change in life. I DO own it. I’m not treating my body as separate from me. In fact, I’m totally on board with this change of life.  Let’s just go ahead with it, okay? No more of this dinking around. Right now, my body is like, “Oh, okay, I’m done with periods.  (Significant pause.)  JK!  LOL! LOVE YA!

Stop it.

I’m in a pretty happy place these days. Got a wonderful love, got a cozy house, got a decent job, got an amazing daughter. But the unpredictable tide of hormones can have me going to bed smiling, and waking up in tears, wishing I could just stay in bed all day eating Slim Jims and sugar cookies with a bottle of rum, watching Jerry Springer.

MKL and I will be celebrating our one year anniversary on Friday, and I feel for him. It must be hard for a guy who has been single for a while to find himself involved with a woman who has several different personalities. He never quite knows who is going to show up. In the olden days, couples had been together for a long time before the peri/menopause days hit, and so the man knew who the woman was, and could recognize “the change” as an anomaly in the woman he’d lived with for years. In a new relationship, I imagine it’s more along the lines of the old game show “To Tell The Truth”  – will the real Seasweetie please stand up?

I am blessed that MKL has the wisdom to look beyond the mood swings, and see the true me. I am blessed that he just hugs me when I’m having “one of those days” and asks if I want to talk, but doesn’t insist on it. He doesn’t try to talk me up or down or out of wherever I am.  He just loves me, steadfast and true and stable.  (OK, enough gushing about MKL.)

As (almost) all women do, I just have to wait until this plays out. I have spent my life (as many women do), blaming my hormones for a variety of moods and behaviors. I don’t know why I’ve been blaming my hormones, as my hormones have been fluctuating since I was 13, so really it’s just my normal state of being. I guess I expect that once menopause hits, my hormones will calm down.  But I think the only way that could happen is if they went away altogether, and they’re not going to do that – and if they do, I think someone would give me drugs to simulate them.  And besides, if they were completely gone, or if they were simulated, that would just be another thing for my body to adjust to. It all just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It comes down to “I am who I am” and there is no need to make excuses, blame internal or external factors, or expect change to follow some logical, predictable, orderly sequence.

I can just be here, right now, somewhere between angel and evil spirit, waiting for the next deluge that may never come.

Angel on the Beach by Kamil Vojnar

Ex-Pat remains in the hospital, and as I discussed yesterday, I have started the clean-up process in my old house.

It is terrifying.

I don’t understand how someone can let things get this dirty. I chided Kelsea about it last night (nice welcome home, huh?) and she said that she never touched half of the stuff in the house – which sounds just like her Dad. My response? Whether you touch it or  not, you still live here. So there.

I won’t gross you out with all the details, but suffice it to say that when you have two dogs and two cats, love to cook, and  live by a creek and across the street from a cow pasture, you just have to realize that  hair, dust, and grease can transform some things into creations worthy of Salvador Dali if you don’t stay on top of it. I’m so far under it in this clean-up process that it’s hard to breathe.

But progress was made last night. Several surfaces were cleaned and shined. One carpet, while not salvageable, was at least improved. Walls and ceilings were partially de-cobwebed. A load of laundry was done. The freezer was cleaned. The kitchen table is 90 percent excavated. I have made some decisions about some of my things – what to take to my house, what to leave here, and what to throw away.

This cleaning process became more amenable for me when I realized that this is another stage of leaving my old life behind. When I moved out in 2008, I took things willy-nilly, at random, because I was shocked at what I was doing. I was actually leaving him. I would grab a random stacking file here, a cookbook there, but there was no real packing. Some of my clothes are still in his closet. Which is beneficial when I housesit, but perhaps not helpful for either of us in making a full-fledged parting. Although he has been passive-aggresively letting the cats pee on my clothes that find their way to the closet floor. Grumph.

I talked to him today, and told him what I was doing,and he said not to go crazy on the cleaning. Since the house is half mine, and in the state it is in, I am disregarding that and doing what I think is right.  He may be coming home soon – depends on his fever and blood cultures – and will have a home health nurse coming periodically to help him through six weeks of IV antibiotics through a picc line. It’s my opinion that cleanliness is critical at this time. Dog hair +picc line = back to the hospital.

Kelsea, meanwhile, is embracing the cleaning with all the enthusiasm a teenager on spring break can muster for such an activity. Get what I’m saying? Yippee.

But as dear Ceciliag commented on yesterday’s post, this cleansing will be good for all of us.

Assuming we survive it.

 

 

I have been having water dreams lately. Lots and lots of water dreams for weeks, I think. Water dreams are strange things for me. They have always been portents of huge and significant changes. And generally not good changes. They are always similar in character. I am by the ocean and the waves are huge, engulfing everything, and I am trying to survive, to push through them, to stave them off. Doesn’t take a Jungian dream analyst to figure that one out, does it? What I know for sure is that they are certain predictors of something big happening. Generally, how I am able to survive in the dream indicates the level of intimacy with which the change will affect me, but not always. Sometimes, there are people I know with me in the dream, and they are usually impacted in real life whenever the change comes.

So, another water dream last night, coming on the heels of yesterday. Yesterday sucked. I won’t really go into why yesterday sucked. Suffice it to say that it did. BIG TIME. I am hoping today will be better. Hope springs eternal.

Ex-Pat has endocarditis and septicemia. He will be in hospital at least until Friday. According to my readings on the Internet, this is scary stuff. Really scary stuff.

The Internet can be your trusted friend or that devious individual on the street corner hissing to you that the world will end soon and he will take care of your pets when the rapture comes.  When too much information on one topic is available, it is easy and hard at the same time to pick what you are going to believe. I read that septicemia is the same as sepsis, and that the odds of survival are about even. I read that it wasn’t, and that the survival odds are about 90 percent. I read that endocarditis can cause strokes, and that he’d have about six months to live even after recovery. I didn’t read anywhere that he would pop out of his hospital bed on Friday and start romping with the lambs. And what I heard him say last night, when I pointed out to him that without getting treatment he would have died and pretty darn quick at that, was that maybe that would have been better, as his daughter is the only thing he has to live for. (Which to me is a huge reason to keep living.) But he’s lost his will. He’s in too  much pain to walk, and they don’t know why. Things are looking bleak, to say the least.

I think I will try to talk to his doctor to get the full scoop, as he is too doped up to tell me much. Then at least I can share what is real with Kelsea, who comes home today.

On the other hand, I am still at his house, and it is filthy. Filthy. Just disgusting. Even though I said it is not my job to clean this place, and I know it isn’t, I am going to do so, enlisting Kelsea to help, so she can see what clean is, and how to make things that way. I can’t let her live in a place that is like this. In clearing off the kitchen table, I found receipts from 2009. And that was probably the most pleasant of my finds. I remember he was always mad at me because of all the paperwork in the house that I never went through. Now that he’s having to deal with his own mail, and receipts, and crap, I suspect he understands, but he would never own up to it.

I may even tear up all the rugs and try to find replacements at ReStore. They will never be clean, ever, no matter what I do. I will get the handyman to come in and get the holes in the walls patched. I will try to rebuild my own sense of love and trust. I will do two jobs and manage two houses. And then I will sprout wings and a horn out of my head and become a human unicorn.

I’m being realistic.

Aren’t I?

I spent last night sleeping in Kelsea’s bed in my old house. Sleeping in her bed helped me understand her better. How odd does that sound?  All I’m saying is that it is a truly magical bed. It’s one of a pair of twin beds from my grandmother’s house, one I used to sleep in some 45 years ago. (It’s mate was lost in an unfortunate accident when I was moving out of Ex-Pat’s house – que lastima.) I don’t know if its history is part of its magic but I suspect so. Anyway, I slept amazingly well, had amazing dreams, and had a visitation from my Mother in the Hour of the Wolf. Her scent preceded her, and we had a lovely conversation.  I have missed her so. I had no idea she was hanging out in Kelsea’s room, keeping watch over her, but it totally makes sense, given how much she loved her and how alike they are. As I was drifting back to sleep, I checked again, and her scent was still there.  She was sitting with me.  What peaceful comfort.

I’m sure that sounds a little crazy, but hey, the women in my family have the shine.

Moving on, the shower is always a great place for me to come up with creative ideas, work through technical problems, and have epiphanies. I suspect it’s that eternal connection between me and moving water.  When I was in the shower, and thinking about how “enmeshed”  (to use MKL’s term) I am with Ex-Pat, I realized one very important thing – and this is something MKL said to me yesterday: Ex-Pat’s problems are not my problems any more.

Yes, I can help, because he is my daughter’s father. Yes, I can help, because I love the dogs, even though they are his dogs now. Yes, I can help, because the house is half mine on paper. But I am not his wife any more. I have moved on. He hasn’t. That does not mean that he gets to turn to me as if I am still his wife. Which is what he is doing. As Pam said in comments on yesterday’s post, I am a good human being and take care of people, and while that is indeed an admirable quality, in some situations, like this one, the boundary issues must be acknowledged in order to take care of myself and my life. I am not going to screw up my relationship with MKL because I am feeling guilty about Ex-Pat being alone (and hence, spending my time to take care of his needs). Ex-Pat has made his own choices here. And as singlecell reinforced in her comment, he has made his choices. His choices have left him without a support network. That does not mean it is automatically my job to be his support network. I am not the get-out-of-jail-free card anymore.

It’s a habit, a pattern of many years, that is hard to break, but must be broken.

He HAS to take responsibility for getting things taken care of. And doing so does not just mean asking me, and me saying yes. I think, in the shower, I finally realized that I can say no. Just like I finally realized that, even though he has a kitchen full of dirty dishes, it is not my job to clean up the house to make it easier upon his release from the hospital. If he can’t pick up after himself, he can ask another (less enmeshed) friend to help. If he hasn’t got those, then that’s not my problem. And on my way to work, I told him he would have to find other resources and couldn’t just rely on me. He clearly wasn’t happy about it. But it felt right.

The rest of today however, has gone horribly wrong, and I am totally discouraged.

I have an unusual divorce. In many ways, it is good. Ex-Pat and I get along pretty well most of the time, as we are committed to our 15-year old daughter. The first year was tough – he was angry, I was sad, it was awful at times. But now, when it gets awful, I can leave, or hang up, or whatever. I don’t have to put up with being berated or belittled. And we do help each other out with things from time to time. We’re better unmarried than married.

He has not moved forward in his life. I have. He is very supportive of my relationship with MKL. He wants me to be happy. But he has done nothing in his life. He hasn’t learned anything from our divorce, hasn’t grown, pursued another relationship, devoted himself to a job or a dream. He has just bowled and spent money and alienated nearly every one of his friends. His support system – on which he calls rarely – consists of me and Kelsea. That’s not good.

He got a sore neck about 45 days ago. It became excruciating. He had horrible back pain. He could barely move. He was miserable, and miserable to be around. He went to the doctor at th VA twice, and they didn’t diagnose him, just gave him painkillers, which didn’t help much. I finally insisted he go to the doctor again, and that I go with him to advocate for him. I couldn’t stand how he was being around Kelsea and I was worried. He’d lost 15 pounds in a month, and reminded me of how my mother suddenly lost a lot of weight before her final cancer diagnosis.

So on Friday morning, we went to the VA. And while I’m glad it’s there to help veterans, it was about the most depressing place I’ve ever seen. To give you an idea of how poorly Ex-Pat was doing, a fellow veteran in the waiting room mistook him for a World War II veteran, which gave me quite a giggle.

The appointment with the doctor was okay. I insisted that he come clean about his excessive drinking, and the amount of over-the-counter painkillers he was taking.The doctors listened, looked at x-rays previously taken, and said he had some arthritis in his neck that might have just finally started causing the pain. Hmmm. I was suspicious, but the doctors agreed to get him to a primary care doctor for more visits, and to schedule an MRI to see if there is any soft-tissue issue.

But as we were wrapping things up, Ex-Pat got woozy. He thought he was going to faint. They took his blood pressure: 87 over 51. And off we went to the Emergency Room. That was Friday. They decided to keep him overnight because his blood pressure wasn’t coming up. They said he either wasn’t producing blood or he was bleeding “somewhere”. Overnight, he spiked a fever. They ruled out leukemia. On Saturday, his fever was down, but his blood pressure was way high. They kept him in another night. He had an MRI, which was fairly normal. But they discovered  bacteria in his blood, so he went onto massive antibiotics. This morning when I talked to him, he said they were keeping him another day. Now I can’t remember why, but I think they’re trying to figure out if it’s related to his long-term mitral valve prolapse. He’s on fab painkillers, so he’s happier. But they still won’t let him go.

So I’m at his house, to tend to the animals. (Roscoe is back to his old self, by the way.) I can’t sleep in our old bed, because it’s covered with laundry. There’s no food in the house, and a counter full of dirty dishes. And I’m in tender shape. I help people who need help. It’s who I am and what I do But I feel like we are crossing boundaries that our divorce should have solidified. It is disturbing to me. It is disturbing to MKL, and I can understand that. I am still half owner of this house (that he has let fall into as much disrepair as he has let himself fall)  and the animals, and Ex-Pat is still my daughter’s father. (She, by the way, is in the mountains with a friend for spring break.)

And it is upsetting. When they mentioned cancer during his exam, I got nauseated. Seeing him degenerate like this has brought back all those feelings about when my Mom got sick, and I cared for her, and she died. And when the Captain got sick, and I lost him. Which were both around the same time. I find myself holding back tears and saying out loud to myself, “You’re all right. You’re ok.” And this makes me feel stupid. None of this is happening to me. It’s happening to Ex-Pat. I am fine. Inconvenienced. Worried. But fine.

Aren’t I?

I guess I still have some work to do.

Denver VA Hospital (image from http://www.ucdenver.edu)

I know, it sounds like an amazing acrobatic feat, doesn’t it?  Well, it is.

I have been getting minor migraines for a few years now.  Not too often, and not as bad as some friends I know who’ve had them. In fact, I’d say I’m pretty lucky. Usually, I will feel one coming on and can stave it off with caffeine, Celebrex, or other tricks. But not this time.

I’m learning more about migraines. I guess I should say, I’m teaching myself more about migraines, as they seem to be more and more a part of my life in my present perimenopausal condition. And may I say that I hope the whole perimenopausal thing just switches over to menopausal sooner rather than later. I’d much prefer “falling off the roof” to this current state of clinging to the gutter.

So what are migraines? Well, migraines are pain. Nuff said.

No, just kidding. Hey, I’m a migraineur. That’s how we roll. But seriously, let me tell you a little bit about migraines.

Many people find that weather patterns serve as a trigger for migraines. Extremes in heat or cold – or extreme changes in temperature – can bring a migraine on.  So when the barometer drops, you’d better get ready.

Certain foods can bring on migraines, as can dieting and lack of sleep. Migraines contrarily come after a stressful event concludes, and so they can show up at the beginning of a long weekend after a tough work week, or at the start of a honeymoon (everybody knows how stressful it can be to get married), all putting a damper on your post-stress festivities.

About 29.5 million people suffer from migraines, and three times more women than men get them. Maybe that’s from the hormone fluctuations – I’m not sure.  If you, like I, am one of those 29.5 million, rest assured that we’re in good company. Other migraine sufferers include Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Virginia Wolfe, Lewis Carroll, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Elvis Presley. As you can see, it’s a list of charismatic, creative people – a group that you’d love to join, if the requirement for joining weren’t having a pain in your head that makes you want to rip off your own skull.

Speaking of artistic endeavors, two creative researchers have put together a book/exhibition entitled Migraine Art: The Migraine Experience from Within. Klaus Podoll and Derek Robinson are responsible for the project, which included Migraine Art competitions in the UK and the US. The resultant artwork is a variety of depictions of the migraine itself by its sufferer.

Olea Nova has some lovely and evocative examples on her website www.migraineartwork.com.  A psychologist and artist, she herself does not have migraines, but she interviews those who do and transfers their words into the images in her work. She does an excellent job of creating a visual of an event for which it is difficult to find words.

Now for some practical information.

Migraines have four phases:

Prodrome: This is the first phase and shows up one or two days before the actual migraine. It’s sneaky and stealthy and mimics many other things. Symptoms at this stage (at least for me) include cravings, neck stiffness (like I slept wrong), irritability, and depression. You know something is wrong, but can’t pinpoint it. You wonder if you’re getting sick. But you don’t think about a migraine.

Aura: (And we’re not talking about that glowy-colored light that surrounds people.) Not everyone experiences this stage. I don’t. These symptoms may happen just before a migraine. You may have visual disturbances, or feel like your arms or legs are asleep – that numb, tingling feeling. You might have trouble talking – wait, I always have trouble talking these days. The aura stage is not to be confused with ophthalmic migraines, which are generally annoying, painless, and are NOT a precursor to a migraine.

Attack (a.k.a.Pain Pain Pain): This is the lulu stage. The pain. It is often in one part of your head. For me, it’s above my left eye, though my neck can hurt too. It pulses. It throbs. It’s stabby. You are sensitive to light, to sound. You are nauseated. It’s hard to see, to even keep your eyes open. It’s next to impossible to think. All you want to do is to get those little men with the pickle forks out of your head. It can last (seemingly forever but really) for anywhere from one to three days. This last one lasted for two days.

Postdrome: This is the migraine hangover. You feel exhausted, drained, and somehow there is still a shadow of the migraine hanging around. You are afraid it’s going to come back. It feels like it’s waiting in the wings for an encore.

I tried to find some migraine humor, but it’s hard to come by. I guess very few people find it a laughing matter. I’ll share what I’ve found.

Cures?  Heaven only knows.  There are numerous folk remedies that folks say will improve things: pineapple, orgasms, Lapis Lazuli crystals, feverew, ice-cold wet socks on the feet, peppermint oil, Vitamin B3, and the list goes on and on. For me (this time), the only thing that worked was ice packs and Oxycodone, which was ancient and leftover from some medical procedure years ago. It still walloped the tar out of my migraine. In fact, it kicked my migraine in its ass. (But I don’t recommend it unless things are extreme, because it is addictive.)

So now you have a little bit of what I know about migraines. What I don’t know I can’t tell you. I just hope you don’t become one of the elite squad of migraineurs. I certainly wish I wasn’t.

And by the way, tonight, I am almost all better.

I have a favorite Far Side cartoon:

Three old men are sitting on a porch, one with a swollen knee, one with a swollen hand, and one with a giant head. The first one says, ” Uh-oh, rain squalls a-comin’…my knee is acting up.”  The second man says,” I’d say more like a blizzard, judgin’ by my hand here”, the third man says,”Well, SOMETHIN’S happenin’…there goes my head.” Even if I could find the image, I couldn’t share it because of that little detail called copyright.

But I AM this cartoon.

Right now, I can tell that the weather – nay, the season – is changing, because of my hands.  Never mind the calendar – just listen to my hands.

I suppose I could say arthritis has run a curious maze course in my family.  My grandmother had arthritis, which only manifested in the knuckles of her hands: they became huge, knotty and twisted.  She never complained of them hurting, that I recall, but they must have.  She was a tough Appalachian woman, so she would have ignored it anyway.  She only commented that she couldn’t get her rings off.  I remember when I was small, she would take them off so I could try them on.  But there came a point where her knuckles were so swollen she could no longer remove them.

Image courtesy of http://www.wellsphere.com

And then there was my Mother.  She had arthritis – maybe.  She was unique (in so many ways) in that while she manifested all the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, none of the clinical indicators showed up in any bloodwork, there were  no outward visual signs, and no medications seemed to impact her condition. That started around the time I was in high school, and interestingly enough, first showed up in her hands.  This is suddenly sounding spookily familiar.

I first noticed my hand pain about 4 years ago.  I remember always noticing it in the morning, usually during fall or winter, when I was trying to brush and braid Kelsea’s hair. Sometimes it was so bad, it would have me in tears.  Not good. As a child, I used to manifest my stress in my stomach (and I still do to some extent, but then, I’m still a child to some extent too.) I just figured I was manifesting my stress in my hands.  Because there was enough stress in my life to fill six million Italian cream horns. It was just worsened by the onset of cold, wet, depressing, SAD weather.  So in my obtuse little brain, it all fit together.

The hand pain did improve after I moved out, and the weather got better.  My ex-flame did some smouldering acupuncture (a.k.a. moxibustion) on my hands from time to time, and that seemed to help. Th pain was always less when I was on some island – but isn’t everything better on some island?

Until this year.

I hadn’t had too much trouble with my hands this year until we went to Topsail.  I have yet to intuit what the link is.  I was in the warmth, in the water – the only thing I can think of is that we had so many storms that perhaps the changes in the atmosphere – and constantly migrating from the sweltering outside to the icy cold inside – somehow stimulated whatever the issue is that my hands have.  Back in Denver now, my hands hurt when the weather is about to change – like today, when it is grey, and warm, but I can tell that a shift to cooler air is coming. 

My hands might as well be talking for all to hear.

Today, I’ve tried Aleve, hand exercises, and really hot water. My Mother said that a paraffin bath she had on one hand early in her pain years made a difference forever – that the paraffined hand was never as sore as the non-paraffined hand. Though why they only did one, I don’t know.  And the whole thing is not exactly scientific.  For me, the hot water felt really good, but the literature says to do an ice bath.  I won’t be doing THAT at work, and if I try it at home, well, let’s just say it’s a darn good thing I live alone.  Otherwise, I’d be constantly whining for my partner to warm my hands afterwards, and sticking them on whatever of his body parts felt warmest to me – like his stomach.  Such fun for everyone.  Okay, such fun for me.

Hands aside, I have other built-in weather predictors.  The big metal pin that holds my right medial malleolus to my tibia aches like crazy when it’s going to get bitterly cold – and when it IS bitterly cold, although that’s obvious everyone.  Still it give a whole new meaning to the term “chilled to the bone”.  My fifth metatarsal and formerly broken second toes all hurt when it is going to get cool and wet.  It would be so convenient if my former concussion could determine when there’s going to be a tornado.  But maybe it does, since I don’t live in a particularly tornado-prone area. I just can’t be sure.

Image courtesy of http://www.scienceprep.org

I know I’m not alone.  Maybe someday, I’ll meet another human weathervane or bio-barometer.  And when we’re not off doing our crazy things and being passionate about the world, we can sit on our porch at laugh at each other’s swollen predictors.

I kind of like that idea.

Porch Rockers, a painting by Molly Doe Wensberg.

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