Sunday, July 19, 2009

Migraines & Headaches

I think that the real reason why I was able to find my strength through this treatment rather than through new motherhood was the end of my 20 year battle with migraines.

Toward the end of last week, once radiation was over, I began to wake up with headaches again after not having any since January. It really scared me because I thought about the fact that migraines go away when you are working hard at something and then come on again once the hard stuff is over. That's why you'll find migraineurs falling sick on weekends or vacations.

So when they started again, I thought, "Oh no! They were only gone for the hard part and now that it's all over they're back again!" At first I was thinking, "well, I guess this is the last thing I needed to learn before I have my complete healing" and so I tried to figure out what I did that I hadn't been doing over the last 6 months.

I thought it might be that the day the kids came home, I ran around doing lots of errands. First sharpening knives, then to the bank, then to Woodworm, then to radiation, then therapy, then home to make challah and a fabulous homecoming dinner for my kids. Rushing here and there with maybe lots of anxiety was the culprit and from now on, I just can't do that adrenaline rush thing anymore.

Then I remembered that I had been given a new cream to put on my skin 2 days before my headaches started. I stopped the cream. No more headaches. I even tested it (unintentionally) by running around too much yesterday and then tiring myself out making challah and a fabulous Shabbos dinner again. No headache.

I can't tell you how relieved I've been.

Migraines are so debilitating. I remember my first one when I was 30 years old and driving on the 405 south from Hermosa Beach to the eating disorders therapy group I led at the hospital in Long Beach. I don't even remember the name of that hospital anymore. It was the first of sometimes weekly and twice weekly migraines for 20 years.

When I had a miscarriage before Jason was born (I may have already told you this story), I went into a deep depression. That should have been a clue that I'd be susceptible to postpartum depression forevermore. At the time, I tried Zoloft to help me out of it since therapy wasn't helping. I was part of a study and got the meds for free because of that. They'd just come out with Zoloft. I remember being so happy that it took away my headaches. But unfortunately, I had to take sleeping pills because it got me so high I couldn't sleep at night.

After 6 months, I weaned myself off of it in order to try another pregnancy. Then my migraines went away while pregnant only to return again after Jason was born. So between the special needs baby and migraines and possible postpartum depression, I was in an impossible situation. Going back to work wasn't an option for me and work seemed like the only way to gain some of my self-esteem back. For the women of my generation, not having a career - and "only" being a mother - was seriously depressing.

Luckily I found the newsletter, "Welcome Home!" and the group that published it was called "Mothers At Home" and now are the "Family and Home Network". They work in the public policy arena advocating for parents who choose to give up or postpone full-time work outside the home in order to give "generous amounts of time to their children". They helped me to feel good about the choice I made. And when they developed some discussion group materials, I decided that I'd use those materials as a workshop to get my practice started again whenever I was able to get back to it.

They once had a bumper sticker that read, "Mothers At Home - It's a Work of Heart." That's where I got my email address idea. So now you know. They helped me feel pride in the work I was now doing.

About 5 years ago I finally started teaching that class for moms and volunteering with Maggie Muir at the Sutter Postpartum Wellness group. Still battling migraines with weekly Immitrex and having sought every natural solution I could find (chiropractic, diet, acupuncture, homeopathy, supplements, etc.) and getting my thyroid checked (it was fine, but the blood tests cost me $1,000), I started hearing Maggie tell moms about Zoloft. It's something that the medical community recommends for postpartum depression in moms who want to breastfeed.

I did think about Zoloft again after I had my kids - as a way to help my migraines but I had such debilitating insomnia, I couldn't imagine taking it and a sleeping pill - while breastfeeding. But here I was, 15 years later, hearing it was ok to take Zoloft while breastfeeding! I doubt I would have risked it though, even still, knowing my rigidity about natural solutions. Still, now that I was so far beyond breastfeeding, my mind started working.

I went to a neurologist and tried all kinds of different medications that are recommended to prevent migraines. None of them helped me and most of them made me worse with depression or insomnia. So I gave up the neurologist and went to a family doc. That's when I asked the big question that saved my life: is there anything like Zoloft that I could try that might help my migraines but not keep me awake at night?

I tried one and it helped a bit but made me feel funny. Then at the appointment where I got a prescription to the mammogram that diagnosed me, I asked to try Celexa for the migraines. I had heard that Celexa had the least side effects of all the SSRIs. Then once I increased the dose after the first chemo (I figured I might as well go up to the normal dose for depression since I was now in the hospital), I haven't had a headache, let alone a migraine since leaving the hospital. Well, maybe I got one here or there after getting off one drug or another after the hospital and chemo, but truly, migraines and headaches now are a thing of the past!

That is the real reason why I can be strong and happy now and have hope for my future. I don't have migraines terrorizing me.

Looking forward to the Bat Mitzvah next week and seeing the oncologist on Wednesday to discuss the Tamoxifen. No more sleeves! My parents come in on Friday. And I posted my view when I get to Hawaii in the photo gallery and on my desktop. Check it out! That's where I'm headed to really celebrate the end of this year of horrors.