Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Which I Am MacGyver, Sort Of, In A Sick Kind Of Way

Okay, well. The migraine is still lurking but it's remained manageable-- meaning that it has responded to meds. And it even responded to the over-the-counter, non-risky drugs, which in my world is practically like not having a migraine at all. 

Only two Excedrin Migraines and four Advil? And those only twice? Pssh! That's nothing! Child's play!

My liver deserves a medal. 

Well, that or a eulogy. 

I was really bummed out about the migraine the other day, though. I'd been to see Dr. John Beall for an Active Release Technique session on Tuesday night, when I first started to notice that certain migrainey je ne sais quoi seeping into my consciousness. 

Dr. Beall did his usual business on my neck and back-- they need quite a lot of business, those guys-- and then felt along my spine and turned my head back and forth, and told me he could feel that my skull was sitting improperly on my vertebrae on the left side.

Which is really no surprise, considering my tilty posture and the fact that the base of my skull is the birthplace of all my migraines: my own little evil Mesopotamia, the cradle of pain. 

So he gave me a skull adjustment.

In case you're thinking, OH MY GOD, THAT SOUNDS HORRIFYING, allow me to reassure you:


It definitely falls into the category of "Things One Should Probably Not Allow Others To Do To One, Lest One's Head Be Accidentally Wrenched From One's Body And Hurled Across The Room."

You know you've got very particular sort of existence when you realize you actually already had that category.

So anyway, that happened. Ever hear your skull snap, crackle, and pop like box of Christmas crackers? Not. Cool. I mean, not to impugn the skills of Dr. Beall, who, it must be said, absolutely did not wrench my head from my body nor hurl it across the room. Although he did display just a leeeetle too much glee during this altercation.

Chiropractors. You know how they get.

But all jokes/horror stories aside, I felt better after that. Well, a few minutes after. First, I felt like I'd narrowly escaped death, and then I felt better.

But my point is: I felt better. The adjustment seemed to derail the migraine train. I could certainly turn my head much further afterward. And so I thought, for a time, that not only had I thwarted another migraine, but I had also been given the most specific physical information I've ever gotten about how they might be triggered.

AND found the person who knew how to locate it, identify it, and resolve it.

This was a major, major thing, because there are so very few threads of hope to grab on to when it comes to migraines. Nobody knows anything about the hows and whys, let alone how to resolve them, so anything specific and actionable seems like a miracle.

It still may be. It still may be.

But a significant factor in this little miracle was that I needed it to actually keep my migraine away, so I'd have reason to believe in the magic.

And you already know the ending of that little fairy tale.

It's a lot of pressure, I know. And unrealistic to expect an immediate and permanent cure. And unwise to allow the obvious, positive impact of A.R.T. on my body and my life to be overshadowed by one small setback. 

I know this.

I really do think that Dr. Beall has done exactly what I said: located some triggers, identified them, and is working to resolve them. I already feel very different. I've already skipped at least one migraine. Everything is definitely moving in the right direction.

I just really, really wanted instant gratification this time around. I know I said I wasn't going to be too hopeful too soon, but I am a big fat liar. I was hopeful as all hell. Despite my insistence to the contrary, about this, I can't help but be a believer.

And I've studied enough Cognitive Behavioral Theory to see the all-or-nothing thinking in that statement. This isn't a zero-sum game. The fact that it has only worked once or twice instead of three times does not mean it doesn't work and isn't ultimately going to be the answer.

And the cure. Or at least some sort of acceptable resolution.

In fact, the fact that it has worked once or twice means that it is working. 

Patience, Kate. You don't get time off for good behavior in the patience game. 

And anyway, I was hardly behaving well. I was already starting to freak out about being cut adrift into a post-migraine life. Now that they seemed to finally be on the decline, I'd found myself in the rather bewildering position of wondering how I was going to cope without them.

Yep, you read that correctly.

It was a bit of a shock to find myself thinking that way. I realized that despite all the misery my migraines have caused me, I have come to depend on them as... I don't really know how to explain it. An excuse to escape, maybe? A crutch? A get-out-of-jail-free-painfully card?

They were are were are have been, for a long time now, I think, a built-in, automatic shut-down opportunity for me. Necessary maintenance. A scheduled defragmenting (well, more like a scheduled fragmenting, but that is not actually a thing, so). They were inevitable, unavoidable, and as much as they sucked, a part of me didn't mind having to dim the proverbial (and literal, come to think) lights every few weeks. 

It was a regular, justifiable opportunity to do what I do best: check out.

Making the best of a bad situation? Sure. Lemons/lemonade. Yep. How could I not? There is not much of a silver lining to this cloud, but I'd be crazy not to try to find it anyway. I've certainly had ample opportunity to look.

"You have turned it into something that serves a necessary purpose," says Dr. Oz. "That's an adaptive adjustment. That is survival behavior."

Which is a cool way to think about it, because you get to feel all MacGyver-y and Grizzly Adams-y and stuff (one dates oneself with such references, doesn't one?).

And it would be a good gig, too, if only it stopped there. But we are in PTSR-land, folks, where shame lurks around every corner, and there is a persistent little voice asking if this isn't more of a chicken-and-the-egg question.

Have I created a crutch from my migraines, or did I create the migraines because I needed a crutch?

Am I really dismayed that I had a migraine this week, or am I maybe just a little bit relieved?

I feel certain that the answers to those questions are yes, no, yes, no. I created that crutch. I didn't wish for this migraine. 

I am not doing this on purpose.

But I can't deny the plain truth that I felt the absence of migraines over the past two months. I felt it very strongly. And what I felt was not exactly the exhilaration that I expected. There was more than a little trepidation in there as well, not that they would return, but that they wouldn't, and then I'd have to figure out what to do with the void they left behind.

And I was terrified of that.

Less afraid of fear, I said? Ha. Sometimes, maybe.

This is another example of the self-sustaining properties of PTSR (and other mental conditions and disorders). If there's one thing it's great at, it is momentum. It doesn't let go easily. It's hard to pull the pieces apart and unravel it, and that's exactly its reason to exist: to hold together, to preserve and protect, and damn the consequences (or the realities).

It's a weird thing, the utter value-neutrality of survival. The lizard brain isn't interested in what's fair or reasonable; it just wants to shore up the sides and batten down the hatches and will do whatever it takes. Good bricks, bad bricks, bricks made of granite or sticks or marshmallow creme, it doesn't matter, just keep building that wall.

The problem is that while my lizard brain sees no distinction between these resources and will use them however it can, my intellectual brain is judging the hell out of me. Feeling guilt and shame for not minding-- or even relishing, a little, or at least relying upon, a lot-- the "break" I get from having to engage when a migraine comes. Feeling weak for having them in the first place and not being able to keep them from interfering in my life.

There is a quote in Crash Course: A Self-Healing Guide to Auto Accident Trauma and Recovery by Diane Poole Heller, PhD:

"What you need to know: Surviving is biological success. It doesn't matter how you did it."

What strikes me most about this quote is that it is necessary to say at all to the victim of a car accident.

But it is. It's necessary and it's true. It doesn't matter. The lizard brain is value-neutral because it doesn't have the luxury of forming opinions about things. It's got predators to outrun. Bullets to dodge. Headlights to avoid. 

And it's not the lizard brain I'm talking to here, anyway: it's the rest of me, the intellectual, emotional, judgmental rest of me who thinks I'm to blame for using what resources I've had in whatever way I needed to to get to where I am.

It's occurring to me just now that I've been thinking all this time that I needed to find a way to get through to my lizard brain and convince it that it has done its job, done it well, and can stop, now. Convince it that the threat has passed, and everything turned out fine.

But I think I still have some communicating to do with my other side, too. I need to figure out how to forgive the lizard brain for what is has done to keep me safe and alive. I can't feel shame over it; the lizard brain has meant no offense. Migraines as scourge, migraines as savior; to the lizard brain, it hasn't mattered; what has mattered is that the body has kept going, has gotten what it needed, has continued to elude the threat.

We don't blame a cut for bleeding, scabbing over, and scarring. The skin did its job, not because we were good people or bad, strong people or weak, deserving or not. It did its job because that's what it is there to do. 

Strange how impossible it feels to extract shame and judgement from so much of what my lizard brain has done to survive, and how inherent that inability has been to the development of my PTSR.

I've mentioned before that some researchers consider PTSR a shame disorder, and I think that has to be true. It may not be at the physiological core, but it is certainly a key factor in the persistence of the condition. It certainly seems to be the essential obstacle to overcome for me.


A new reader and commenter here (hi, Elizabeth!) recommended that I take a look at Brene Brown's work-- her Ted talk, "Listening to Shame," for starters, and then her books.

Coincidentally (or not? I can't even tell anymore), another friend and reader (hi, Emily!) has been posting some terrific Brene Brown quotes on Facebook all week. 
What I'm getting at is that I've got Brene Brown in my sights. I love what I've seen so far, and I'm going to add her to my resources page as soon as I get a chance to see enough to have something intelligent to say about it.

I seem to have meandered my way to a point, in this post, and my point is as follows:

Shame is rearing its ugly head again, in this process, but this time, it's not in control. I'm standing back from it and looking at it and going, hey, you are not appropriate here, what's up with that?

Seems like an excellent time to get some new weapons and attack yet another wall in the fortress, yeah?

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth Graham03 March, 2013 09:54

    "my own little evil Mesopotamia, the cradle of pain."  HA!!!  That was a really good one.

    Now that you mention it, I have one, too.  It's my stomach.  It hurts pretty much all the time, and is the source of bad moods, general bitchiness, depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.  I think you've stumbled upon a new somatic theory.I totally get the fear of losing your migraines.  If you don't have that enforced limit, how will you ever know when you need a break?  And this connects to [what we've been calling] "achievement anxiety" because it's like you could just DO ANYTHING!!!  Which sounds terrifying.On that note, I should tell you I'm reading Levine's book, and it's really good.  The thing that's freaky-powerful about it are the exercises.  Your blog already summarized the big points of theory for me, so those weren't as new/profound.  The exercises were.  And I'm glad I had your blog and the book to forewarn me that weird shit would happen.There really is this level of discovery that happens, like, "I had no idea I was feeling this much without knowing it."  And as Levine says, it's really difficult to describe what you're feeling.  We don't have the language for it.  We're also potentially so used to feeling it that we don't even notice it.  It's... scary and unsettling... but also awesome and pleasurable.I want to get better at feeling my "felt sense," but I also wonder if that wouldn't turn me into a completely different person.  Kind of like you with no migraines.  Like, what sort of rabbit hole will I be diving down?  Will I wake up a few months from now, living in a tent by the river?  It's like I'm tapping some shamanic, super-primitive energy that will just carry me away or something...Excited to hear you are checking out more Brene Brown.  The connections between shame and trauma are definitely there... I don't know if anyone has really articulated them before.