I thought it's about time I wrote about the ongoing process I'm in of dealing with a chronic Migraine Illness. You can read other posts I've written about my condition and my steps to deal with it HERE and HERE
Why is it that as humans we will often put off doing something beneficial to ourselves until we are literally forced by circumstances of our health or otherwise to finally do so? I'm like this...in lesser things laundry is sometimes only done when we have used the very last pair of underwear...bread gets baked sometimes when we've used up every last freezer burned hot dog bun and the kids begin to rebel against soda crackers instead of toast at breakfast....I kid, but barely.
Unfortunately, when it comes to my own health I'm sometimes no better. I put off dealing with health issues, waiting for them to just go away, and instead what happens is small problems compound or become the new normal and instead of getting better, I begin to simply feel run down and run out of my own vitality.
Of course then you add all the other environmental factors, hormones, vitamin and iron deficiencies, existing chronic conditions, a series of stresses and some heart breaks occuring at an already difficult time emotionally and mentally... and basically you get Ashley on Cope Mode for months on end, peeking out at the rest of the world as if through a set of curtains wondering when she'll want to join all the rest of the kids outside who seem to be playing in the sunshine of life.
I've been fine, but somehow when battling mild depression (as I have been off and on for the last few months) it still takes an enormous amount of resolve to do even the most basic things to help myself out. Sleep was the first key to feeling better and in the first few months after we moved into our new house, I had lost a pregnancy that I had some conflicting feelings about, was suffering terrible migraines and feeling very confused in all of it... I slept alot. Not the sleep of the healthy either, where you wake up and feel energized. It was the kind of sleep where I would lay my kids down for naps and then climb into the bed beside one of them and lay there waiting for their deep peaceful breaths to comfort me enough so that I could join them in a break from the thoughts always circling my own brain.
Sure I prayed, sure I talked to others, sure I did my best to process and heal. Like I said, I coped. And I coped remarkably well. I still found joy in certain activities and even though there were days when I lacked the enthusiasm to get out of bed, I still did it. Out of faith sometimes... and other times out of sheer force of will.
I made time for myself, I started to research my health problems and I started sleeping for real... at night at a proper bed time. That one simple change began the first trickles of change and I began to feel that with enough good choices I could get back on top of my health, at least physically, and the rest might follow.
Food and water were the next steps. Figuring out my own metabolism, and fluctuating blood sugar levels and hydration needs began to stave off a lot of the physical crashes I'd undergo from putting off food and water for too long. As I said before, in hindsight it's crazy to me how non-proactive one can be towards their own self...but that is how it was. I felt very little interest in food therefore I wouldn't eat until I was hungry to point of feeling weak and cranky and for me that drop can happen very suddenly and swiftly. I am one of those people who really need to eat every 2 hours at least...this would explain why my children are total grazers as well, even though I go crazy trying to keep them fed all day.
I still have plenty of work to do and I still have plenty of setbacks. Every time I suffer one of my acute migraines and have to resort to taking my prescription medications, I feel like a little clock sets back like one of those billboards in a factory that count so many days from machinery accidents. One of the most bizarre effects of a migraine can be the crushing depression and anxiety that hit the patient in the immediate days following a migraine attack. I personally will feel almost a sense of agoraphobia where I am afraid to go out of my house, or run errands or drive a car for fear of having another migraine attack. I of course would never have breathed a word of this to a living soul for fear that it was some sign of deep psychosis, until I read in my research that this is extremely common and completely understandable given the flood of chemicals and hormones that one's brain sends out during a migraine attack in unregulated amounts and with mixed signals.
Which leads me to the next most important step I have been able to take: Owning the fact that I suffer from and the facts about Migraine health and Depression have armed and equipped me in being able to manage what's actually happening physically and physiologically in my own body. Yes, there's a discouragement that comes with ever y attack I suffer, but understanding it does allow me to pick myself up, brush myself off and pull out a pen and my migraine diary in effort to better ward off the next attack in the future. The same goes for understanding the nature of depression. Because so much conflicting information, taboo and misguided ( I think) spiritual advice that circles around out there, it's easy to adopt an attitude of defeat because of and concerning one's own struggle with depression, but understanding the science and nature of what's happening takes the fear and wondering out of Ashley looking out her curtained window and instead replaces it with patience and clearer plan of what she can do help herself and her brain to heal and move forward that much better.
None of this of course is meant to be advice about what you, yourself should or should not do if you find you are struggling with similiar conditions. I am certainly not an expert medical or otherwise, I can however, recommend two books worth checking out: "The Migraine Brain :Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches and Better Health" by Caroyln Bernstein M.D.
and the second is "Womens Moods: What every woman must know about Hormones, the Brain and Emotional Health" by Deborah Sichel M.D.
The most important advice, that I can offer is to do whatever you have to, to actually propel yourself forward. I don't believe I am alone in confusing healthy acceptance and ownership of a health concern with the kind of acceptance that gives up taking steps towards one's better health.
Which leads me to my last and most exciting step forward; literally. Forced by the occurrence of my migraines having plateaued at about 2-3 a month, I am still looking at all the pros and cons of beginning a regimen of blood pressure medications that may work to prevent the migraines. One of the obvious cons of taking such a pill is it's effect on one's energy level and stamina. I had already been feeling so weak and tired for months now, so lethargic and borderline self loathing... that the idea of somehow making that feeling worse was impossible for me to accept where I was at .
I decided to give my health one last ditch effort and take the advice I hadn't had the gumption yet to follow. I began to exercise.
The comic relief of this post comes in here, with me trying to jog around my small suburban block only to come home and lie on my floor panting for air and ask Kevin breathlessly how long I had been out there running along like an olympian. He looked at the clock on the stove and went back to his novel..."Um, I dunno, 3...4 minutes maybe?"
Oh. dear. goodness....but I had been told so many times over by so many different sources that if I could just bring myself to exercise 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes I could improve my health in every measured form, ward off all kinds of conditions and diseases later in my life, firm up what could use firming up and burn off what could do well to be burned off.
So I committed and for the last month exactly today, I have been out walking and jogging and panting and puffing all over my neighborhood and I have never felt better.
After the first 10 days I cracked the barrier of having to talk myself into it, by the 20th day I looked forward to it... last night I went in the rain.
On the first day I went for one little block behind my house and was gone for five minutes (let's be generous and round up shall we?)... this morning I did my personal best and ran/walked for 2.5 km and ran for half of a kilometer. (just over a 1/4 mile) and I was gone for 28 minutes. I did not have to lie on the floor when I got home. In fact the counter-intuitive truth that to exert oneself in exercise will actually NOT tire you out, but instead give you more energy is proving itself true.
All those good endorphins and chemicals are doing their job I can tell, for every day as my legs and arms and back get's stronger, so too does my ability to handle stress, have a positive outlook and pull back the curtains on that window.
I'm not "cured" if there is such a thing. Owning my condition means that I understand the fact that as a migraine sufferer, I have a chronic condition that will need to be taken care of always. On the same token, traumatic events and stresses of my childhood have left me with an emotional state that will always need to be taken care of and dealt with wisely. Of course my faith in the Lord sits right at the middle of all the progress I make and I do believe in healing...but I have no clear answers on the nature of how it works. That's another discussion for another time perhaps and in the meantime, I believe that He is guiding me through all these new challenges and ways of healing my mind and body. I'm finally moving forward one bold step at a time.