Thursday, February 27, 2014

Battling the Bear in My Head

I didn't write yesterday because I was battling a bear in my head.

I didn't have my first migraine until I was in Costa Rica and too arrogant to wear a hat in the equatorial sun. After a couple of overheatings, though, I began to get headaches. These were unlike any headaches I'd ever had before--not just painful, these episodes were debilitating.

It was like having a bear in my head, a bear that spent most of its time in hibernation but occasionally woke up to stretch unhappily against my forehead. It would stretch and grow, getting angrier and more vicious as it found itself trapped. Most of the time it didn't bite--it just pushed, hard, but then it would swipe a paw against the top of my head, or bite the back of my eyeball. The flashes of pain were almost a relief after the unrelenting pressure.

Nothing I did appeased the bear--not ibuprofen, not darkness, not quiet, not rest. The only remedy was sleep, and it hurt too much to sleep. If I found a position on the pillow that seemed to make the bear less angry I would lock into that position, keeping my head still until my all my muscles shrieked, but still I was awake. I finally understood why trepanation had been a medical mainstay of ancient civilizations: A hole bashed into my skull would at least have diverted my attention from the original headache.

Eventually the pain would be so intense that I would vomit, which would push me over the cliff into sleep.When I woke up the pain would be gone. I'd feel fragile and easily broken, but the bear was back in its cave.

I continued to have migraines when I got back to Kansas, and as I married and we began our family. Over the years I tried to map the cause of the migraines but the bear didn't attack often, only six or eight times per year, and I never could pin down the precipitating factor. Was the bear provoked by caffeine? Soothed by caffeine? Were the headaches hormonal? Stress-induced?

I only knew that when my vision began to blur and dim, I needed to wrap up what I was doing and make sure the Boys had someone to care for them. For the next 18 hours, I would be unable to do my job.

Yesterday morning the bear pushed against my forehead when I was still asleep. I stumbled to the bathroom and took two ibuprofen, hoping to calm it back into hibernation. I had an important work meeting I didn't want to miss. Two hours later, though, I was still shaky and nauseated, and I went back to bed.

Today I'm fine but yesterday I didn't write, or work, or think. I was battling the bear in my head.

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