Saturday, October 24, 2009

climbing back on the horse

It's no secret to me - or anyone who's been following my blog - that I've been having a really tough time lately. My mother keeps telling me, don't despair. Chronic illness is certainly difficult enough to deal with all on its own, but add in the unemployment and sometimes (often) it is just too much to cope with.

My Depression and Anxiety issues have gone from lurking on the horizon to ominously looming over my daily life. I can squeeze out a few hours here and there throughout the week when I feel okay, or even happy, but sure enough the gloom comes back. Like dark, sticky cotton candy.

It seems like each week brings more difficulty to deal with. DF found out that the last day of his seasonal job is October 31; after that, he'll once again be unemployed with no new prospects. (At least this time, there was notice.) A few weeks ago, I quit one of my part-time jobs after it became very clear that the increased Anxiety was not worth the measly paycheck. And as I posted last week, there was the massive failure of my recent medication trial. Everything just keeps piling up. 

In the midst of all this upheaval and getting used to a new work schedule, I've let some components of my treatment lapse. I haven't had a massage in several months; I had been going weekly. I've pretty much stopped keeping my headache diary. Last week I even skipped my Nia dance class because I still had the citalopram in my system. I've given myself permission to stop keeping my headache diary, as right now it's causing more stress in my life. I plan to start keeping it again either when I start another med or the beginning of the new year (whichever comes first). I have a follow-up appointment at the end of March with my headache doc, so even if I don't restart my diary until January, I'll have three months of records to show him.

Massage is a different story. I know it helps me to feel better by releasing the tension in my neck and shoulders, even if it doesn't directly help my Migraines. It's silly, really, that I haven't just called and scheduled an appointment, but in the murk of daily life it's easy to avoid making phone calls.

So, my goal for this week is to make that call and restart my weekly massages. I'm focusing on not being hard on myself for ignoring this part of my treatment plan. It's difficult to continually put so much energy into an intensive treatment regimen that seems to offer little return. But every little bit does help, and incrementally I hope I'll improve.

A big part of being able to cope with chronic illness is setting small, achievable goals and recognizing when I achieve them. I know this, but I'm writing it here to remind myself. This week's small goal is scheduling a massage appointment. Hopefully I'll start to overcome this inertia, this feeling of wallowing, by taking that first baby step. Then I can look at my other goals (adding a weekly tai chi class, for example) and start working toward those.

And maybe, just maybe, the regular massages will start to chip away at my stress.

Be well,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

action alert: express Migraine to Congress

Betsy Blondin, editor of the excellent book Migraine Expressions, has put together a great way for us Migraineurs to increase our visibility with Congress. Betsy's efforts come at a terrific time, right on the heels of Cindy McCain "going public" with her Migraine disease.

This timely advocacy effort is called "Express Migraine to Congress", and it is very simple. Anyone can purchase a copy of Migraine Expressions and designate a specific member of the House or Senate to receive this book. Betsy is offering these books for Congress at a reduced price ($18.95) and will include a $1 donation to the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy for every book purchased through this effort.

Last week, I purchased one of these books, which is now on its way to Senator Patty Murray (a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee). Betsy is keeping track of which members of Congress have been sent books so our efforts aren't duplicated.

I realize that in this difficult economy, you may not have room in your budget to purchase one of these books. If you do have the money, please consider sending a book to Congress. If you don't, please consider making a small donation to ADHA, or even just write a letter to your members of Congress. Betsy has kindly published a sample cover letter and given us permission to copy and paste it in our own letters. Every little bit helps, and now is a great time to join our efforts.

Let's show Congress that Cindy McCain has 36 million other Americans who are also desperately seeking a cure for Migraines!

Purchase a copy of Migraine Expressions HERE.
A list of the members of the Senate (including who has already received a book) HERE.
A list of the members of the House (including who has already received a book) HERE.
Betsy's blog post about Express Migraine to Congress HERE.
Betsy's sample cover letter to Congress HERE.

Be well,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

side effects and self-doubt

I've been here before. A brief trial of a medication, followed by confusing side effects and my doctor's orders to "discontinue the medication".

As I posted last week, I started a low dose of citalopram (generic Celexa, an SSRI) mainly to help with my Anxiety, and hopefully my Depression and Migraines as well. The first two days, the side effects were tolerable, but by the third dose, my body felt overwhelmed. I put a call into my doctor's office on Thursday morning to see if he thought I should wait out the side effects, and, not surprisingly, got a call back from his nurse telling me to discontinue the medication.

And now I feel myself plagued by self-doubt and "what ifs".

I know that any medication I try will have some side effects. I know that many side effects will improve with time. It's hard for me not to feel like I'm giving up on a medication when I've only taken four doses of it. Dr E told me it would take about six weeks to see if the citalopram would help me, and I know that it can take two to three months for a daily medication to kick in. So stopping after only four days seems like quitting.

Clearly, my body was sending me very strong signals that it did not like this medication. The side effects in question were those listed under the "call your doctor immediately if you experience these" category. (In the interest of not scaring off other patients who may be trying this medication, I'm not going to detail the side effects here, as this is a very effective medication for many people.) And obviously Dr E thought that the side effects were serious enough to outweigh any potential benefits.

But I still have that little voice in the back of my head, telling me that I should just suck it up, that everyone experiences side effects and I should stop complaining. That if I ever want to get better, I need to just push through it until it gets better. In the face of this negative self-talk, it's very difficult to maintain perspective on the situation. (And this kind of self-talk is a key characteristic of my Depression.)

Every time a medication is crossed off the list so clearly and quickly, it makes it that much more difficult to try the next one, as I try to push past the fears and anxiety about past side effects. Because I feel so sick all of the time, it's hard to push through the added sickness of side effects - and it seems massively unfair that I should have to do so. But really, what is fair about chronic illness?

So now I'm left marking time until the citalopram completely clears out of my system and my body has time to get back to its normal level of crummy. And I'm trying not to be too hard on myself in the meantime.

Be well,

Friday, October 9, 2009

learning to ask for help

DF and I recently went on vacation to Charleston SC for a week, which marked the official start of our wedding planning. We had a great trip. The first half we spent with my mom and sister; after they left, we had three days to ourselves to play tourist. I actually felt fairly good during vacation. I still had the daily head pain from my Migraines and IIH, but I paced myself and practiced good self-care, and was able to enjoy our vacation - even if a lot of it was spent in the condo we stayed at.

When we came home last week, the real world seemed to crash back into place around us. All the stress we had been ignoring about unemployment, finances and everything else hit hard. I realized - on the plane ride home, in fact - how much my Anxiety has gotten out of control over the summer.

Like many Migraineurs, I struggle with a number of comorbid conditions: Migraines, IBS and mood disorders (namely Anxiety and Depression). I've struggled with bouts of Depression in the past, particularly during my third year of college when I first got sick. Even after my Migraines and IIH were successfully treated, the Depression stuck around for a long time.

It's no secret to me that this has been a difficult summer. DF and I have not been able to land "real" jobs after being laid off last November. Between our paychecks and unemployment checks, we're making ends meet and aren't in any immediate danger, but everything feels very precarious. My health has only just started to improve from the very low point of last year. I've been dealing with a triple whammy, in a sense, of my unemployment, DF's unemployment and my crummy health.

This summer has marked a vicious cycle of Anxiety-pain-Depression-Anxiety that I just cannot get out of. The Anxiety about all the life stresses feeds my pain, and the pain in turn feeds my Anxiety. While I'm having less pain overall (thanks to the acetazolamide for my IIH), I still have not had any break in my pain in several years, and I still have a long way to go to find an effective treatment regimen.

I saw Dr E for a follow-up appointment on October 1, the day after DF and I got home from vacation. As I sat in the waiting room writing down last minute questions, I wrote a note about my Anxiety. It was serendipitous that my appointment with Dr E was right after vacation, when I realized how much I've been struggling, so I was willing to bring up my concerns. Anxiety and Depression are hard things to talk about, even with a doctor whom I trust.

In fact, I have spoken with Dr E about this same issue in the past, which made it easier to bring up this time. When I saw him in February, we discussed my Anxiety as related to unemployment; at that point neither DF nor I had any job prospects on the horizon. Dr E prescribed a low dose of citalopram (Celexa), though I never started taking it since I did find a job not long after my appointment.

But now I find myself stuck in the same position. And it's just tiring to feel all this emotional upheaval on top of my regular physical symptoms. I feel so frustrated by the constant pain, the daily dizziness and nausea, that I often just want to scream. The longer all of this stretches on, the harder it becomes to cope.

Dr E wrote me a new scrip for the citalopram, leaving it up to me to fill it any time after the appointment if I felt ready for it. (He understands and respects my reluctance to try new medications after a series of really bad reactions.) I decided earlier this week to get it filled, and will be starting it next week. And I'm nervous about it.

It's so difficult to ask for help because it can be so difficult to admit to myself that I need help. I can't think myself out of my mood disruptions any more than I can think myself out of my Migraines. While I can do relaxation exercises and other non-drug therapies to mitigate my symptoms, they will not change the underlying chemical and neurological problems. So Monday evening, I will take my first dose of citalopram and hope for the best.

I'm learning, once again, how to ask for help when I need it, and trying not to feel like a failure for needing it.

Be well,