Of MLK Day and Migraines

ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press
ON THE MOVE: Dr. Martin Luther King, lower right, holds hands with his wife, Coretta, during an Alabama march. — PHOTOGRAPHER: Associated Press

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everyone. If anyone deserves a holiday commemorating their work, it’s him.

What I love about this picture is that it shows that he was not alone in his work and his belief and his actions. He’s surrounded by a whole lot of people, some of whom look nothing like him.

That speaks to the power of A) someone who has a very, very clear vision of how things could be — and is willing to put themself on the line for it, and B) a cohesive group of committed people who support that cause and are willing to put themselves on the line, as well.

I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s, when students were bused in the small city we lived in, and the Black Power movement was on the rise. Those were the days after Dr. King’s life had ended, and I watched the Civil Rights Movement devolve into fractious fighting and chaos. I was attacked by other students a number of times because I didn’t look like them, and one of my most significant TBIs came at the hands of some of those kids. It was a violent time, a messy time, and there was a lot of harm done.

Of course, the pendulum tends to swing in different directions, so maybe that was to be expected. I’m not sure what would have happened, had Dr. King not been killed. There’s no guarantee things would not have descended into chaos, in any case. All I know is, those years of my childhood were extraordinarily tough, due to race relations, and I’m still dealing with the fallout.

Today is a holiday for many folks, including the schools. I actually don’t have the day off work. It’s an elective holiday for us, which means that office is going to be very quiet, as everybody with kids takes the day off to be with them. That also means there’s no point in me going into the office, and I can work from home.

That’s good.

I’m not in the mood to deal with people today. I’ve had a sick headache for days, now. It’s getting better, but it’s still around. Yesterday was better, probably because I got plenty of sleep over the weekend, I took it easy, and I cut out all that chocolate that I’ve been eating since the holidays. I’ve had at least 2 pieces of chocolate in the afternoons, for months. Sometimes I’ll have a bunch of it over the course of the day — to keep myself going. The amount has steadily increased, and I think it’s contributed to my migraines.

Chocolate has caffeine in it. Sugar, too. I’ve been using it as a substitute for coffee for those afternoon lulls. But that makes no sense — it’s still caffeine, which has been linked to migraines. I’ve also been drinking black tea (with honey) and yerba mate, both with caffeine. Come to think of it, when I started drinking more black tea (Red Rose is my favorite), the headaches started to come back.

So, I cut it all out for the past two days, and I’m feeling much better. I bit withrawal-ish, but better.

I had planned to get off caffeine completely, back in May, but that didn’t work. I have to have at least a little bit in the morning — I cut back on my amount drastically. The month of May came and went, and over the months, my headaches really subsided. But now, eight months later, I’ve slipped back into my old ways, and the headaches are back. So, I’m taking corrective action. And I’m just doing the smart thing — the thing that connects the dots.

I think there’s more to my headaches than just coffee. There’s usually more than one thing, with me. I ask myself: What all have I done differently over the past few months, that might have given rise to increased migraines?

  1. I was really off my regular diet over the holidays — eating a lot more sugar and carbs than usual, and not watching my portion control. I ate a LOT of candy, although I justified it by only eating chocolate, rather than a lot of other junk food. I told myself that dark chocolate is good for me, and it’s been linked with longevity. Who doesn’t want to live longer… all thanks to dark chocolate?
  2. I also stopped exercising regularly. I had a project in November that consumed my attention and kept me off the exercise bike, first thing in the morning. It also kept me off the trails on the weekends, and it consumed every spare moment of my time. Consequently, I lost muscle tone and strength and gained weight, and my energy level dropped. Not good.
  3. I was also pretty stressed at times over the holiday break. I got pretty bent out of shape about all the changes happening – work changes, doctor changes, etc. It got to me more than I care to admit, and it was definitely a factor in increased irritability. I wasn’t sleeping great, the stress was throwing me off, and I just didn’t feel like I could handle anything.
  4. Also… I worked from home for the week and a half around Christmas and New Years, and my spouse and I got irritable from being underfoot with each other. We had a couple of blow-ups, which shot up my blood pressure. I’ve been really struggling with my anger — and my heart rate — ever since. My headaches come on when my heart rate goes up, so it’s actually a helpful reminder to keep it down. And since I know how to lower my heart rate, I need to go back to just doing that. And so I have been. It takes time and practice — and I’ve been a bit out of practice.

think this is all inter-related, so I need to do something about it. And I’ve been doing just that. Laying off the chocolate. Doing my breathing exercises. Being extra-mindful about what’s going on around me and how I’m reacting to it. And taking action to reduce the stress. And making more of an effort to peacefully co-exist with my spouse. They’re making more of an effort, too. They actually asked me to work from home today, which is a huge change.

The most important thing for me is support. It make everything easier. I hadn’t mentioned my migraines to my spouse, during the holidays — I just did my usual shut-out thing, where I ignore the pain and hope it’ll go away. It didn’t, though. It just got worse. And of course, my spouse couldn’t figure out why I was in such rough shape, all of a sudden.

When I told them about my headaches, last week, suddenly there was support — compassion — and extra help with doing things like getting to bed at a decent hour and not overeating. They don’t do great with the whole TBI issues thing — it freaks them out, even to this day, and we can never discuss them without them going into some form of panic/anxiety. So, that’s no good. But they can deal with the idea that I have migraines. It doesn’t make them question their own safety and sanity.

If they think my brain is not working properly, they get frightened and combative, because it threatens their existence. But if they think I “just” have a sick headache, that poses no threat to them, and they can think clearly about how to help me. Migraines are less intimidating. Headaches are something they can relate to, without it turning into a life-and-death struggle… or pointing to a future filled with dementia and diapers.

So, “playing the migraine card” is a useful way to get the help I need, under these conditions. It helps, that it’s true.

And that’s good. Because all alone, dealing with all of this is a tough go.

Bottom line: when you have support from other like-minded individuals who share your vision and your dreams, you can actually achieve a thing or two.

Onward.

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

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