Migraine Chronicles: A Pragmatic Approach to Pain

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

A few days ago, I realized it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a migraine post.  If only I could say it’s been quite a while since I’ve had a migraine… Ah, c’est la vie!

But they have been better. And I have medication that works so there is no room for complaint. Even still, I choose not to complain (much) because of one immensely comforting truth: my life is not about me.

Although I do forget this from time to time and need reminders (which is one of the reasons I write these things down!), life isn’t lived for me. I do not exist for my own comfort or convenience. I am a created thing – a literal jar of clay for the sole use and purposes of the One who created me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
(2 Corinthians 4:7)

So the trick, then, is not to escape pain but to use it for His glory and for encouraging others. That is why today I thought I’d share two of the most useful tips I’ve learned in my 14 or so years of dealing with chronic migraine.

  1. Find a pain scale chart that you can relate to (or make your own), print it out, and refer to it when diagnosing pain levels.
  2. Once you have a chart, stick to it when describing your pain.

That may sound simplistic, but especially considering the cognitive issues associated with migraine, it is a must. This is not just for your benefit but for the benefit of your family, your doctor, and basically anyone who’s afflicted by insane prodromal rages or the memory muddles I call migraine brain… or is that just my poor family?

From what I’ve seen, the two most common pitfalls associated with describing pain levels are a tendency to downplay the pain or a tendency to exaggerate it. It is at precisely this point where honesty and integrity are crucial.

Now my countrymen have a penchant for exaggeration. We don’t want 100% effort, we want 110%. We don’t have pain that’s a 10 on the scale of 1 to 10, we have a an 11. When we need something done, we need it done yesterday.

Or to rephrase: we deal in fictitious scenarios and impossibilities which render all useful terms meaningless. In short, we can be just plain silly.

If I’ve learned nothing else from my life with chronic migraine, I’ve learned to be honest and reasonable about pain.

Admittedly, chronic migraine can make the process dicey because of the cognitive issues involved during the prodromal and attack phases.  Another complication is when there are other types of pain. For me, the pain of arthritis in a joint does not present the same challenges as, say a Level 5 migraine. An additional muddling comes when there are no breaks in the pain and thus an 8 can sneak up on you while you’ve been studiously ignoring a milder level (which I am thankful to say is not currently true for me).

On the flip side, don’t cave into the temptation to exaggerate your pain. If the scale you choose is 1 – 10, stick with those numbers (or a zero for no pain at all). Resist the claim that your pain is a 12 if 10 means pain that renders you unconscious. Even if you could get to a 12, you’d be unconscious and wouldn’t know it!

Here’s where the importance of having a pain scale that helps define each level in a way meaningful to you, even if it means you have to tweak an existing one. With migraine, I’ve had pain which made me lose consciousness and pain which woke me from sleep. And of course, with migraine there are other factors to consider like cognition, nausea and/or vomiting, etc.

In my case, the smiley face pain scale so popular in hospitals does little but make me wonder what on earth that bald little guy is grinning or grimacing at.  Also, I don’t tend to cry because of physical pain; it’s the emotional sort which makes the salt water flow.

There are several others. Some humorous like the one below, others detailed. If you struggle with chronic pain, migraine or otherwise, I encourage you to find one that makes sense to you. Then use it. Your people will be glad.

 

 

Rejoicing in Hope

I love the photo above. It was taken roughly a year ago in March of 2017 during one of the two weekends of winter we had last year in Middle Tennessee.

Despite having been taken at the end of the winter that really wasn’t, I still enjoy the hope portrayed by this image. In part, it reminds me of  winters of the soul I have endured.

Yet even in the gloomiest and most frigid seasons in my life – actually, even if my entire life was spent in the icy clutches of physical pain and emotional distress – there is something growing beneath the surface.

Hope.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

No matter how much other reading I have done the last couple of weeks, the Lord keeps bringing me back to Romans 5 and the idea of rejoicing in suffering.

So today, I did just that.

It’s a beautiful spring day and I took a walk with my Father and my two dogs. Normally at such times, I will offer up prayers of supplication. And for the first 5 or 6 minutes, I did. But the verse kept playing like a broken record in my mind (for you young ‘uns, that’s roughly the equivalent of an mp3 file which didn’t download correctly).

So I stopped my requests and simply rejoiced.

As the occasional pounding behind my left eye grew more regular, I rejoiced that migraines have slowed me down enough to pay attention to what is important in life.

With each step, an ache set up in my left foot and my shoe seemed to tighten as it swelled, so I rejoiced that I can still walk anyway.

In fact, I was able to praise my Father from the heart and mean it for all my little grievances.

Not only because each ache and pain reminds me of the intense joy I will feel once this old body has finally worn down and been traded in for something better. But also because my God is using the time right now for His glory.

…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
(Romans 5:2b-3a)

Today, He had me back up a little and remember that my rejoicing is based in His glory.

His, not mine.

It is because of my physical issues that I am able to meet weekly with one of my part-time daughters, a teen who suffers from chronic migraine and has need of help in her home schooling.

Because of my suffering, I am available when another part-time daughter, also a teen, needs to talk due to family crisis. Or to help her mom when she’s trying to juggle her own reactions to the crisis, plus be a mom, plus keep her job, plus…

And you know what? I can rejoice because God does not need my efforts to provide financially for my family. He is fully capable of taking care of our needs, and He has never let us down.

So today, I took a couple of hours and laid down my guilt over the smallness of my financial contribution, the anxiety over rising tuition and a 20-year-old home in which everything is deciding to break, my frustration over the difficulties in parenting teens, and my weariness with pain.

I laid them all before the Throne of Grace and worshiped.

Because my God is good.

Because He has blessed me with these difficulties so I will never forget my need of Him.

Because my Lord Yeshua (Jesus) suffered pain on my behalf and overcame.

Because He can do amazing things and He doesn’t need me to do them.

And yet, He has given me the privilege of being a part of it all.

The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out…
…Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
(Proverbs 30:1, 5)

 

Then and Now

To all my blog friends and followers, I am in the midst of a new novel and working with a deadline. I asked the Lord to make His will clear and help me meet my writing goal last month in the midst of impossible circumstances. Contrary to all human logic, the goal was met!  But my blog networking/reading/commenting had to be sacrificed… Still love you all, though!

God has been reminding me of much. Below is a post I wrote back in July of 2008. It came to mind yesterday and as I read it, Psalm 126 continued to reverberate through my mind, in particular verse 3.

Have the battles I mention below been won? Not by a long shot. If anything, they have intensified. Yet God is good, and today I can praise Him because through it all, He has done great things for us!

” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
(Psalms 126:3)

My Father’s Love – July 2008

One summer evening, I was frustrated

An escalating discipline issue with our son left me feeling like a failure as a parent. The homeschool year was looming and I did not feel ready. My once healthy body seemed to be falling apart, treatments for one set of problems did not always work in conjunction with treatments for another set, and bits of me seemed to be aging prematurely in the most depressing ways.

I was (and still am) tired of pain, tired of medicines, and tired of being tired all the time.

There was more, but suffice to say that I was overwhelmed. After putting the children to bed, I trudged downstairs ready to attack chores which piled up during the all-consuming battle with Little Man and his great, big stubborn streak.

As I wearily prepared to wash the dishes, I felt a strong urge to go outside. I started to resist but recognized my Lord’s quiet voice urging me. So I abandoned the dishes and went.

It was beautiful out. The heat of summer had mellowed into a pleasant warmth. I began to pray, laying all my frustrations at God’s feet and trusting Him to know the ones I couldn’t voice.

As I prayed, tears began and I fell silent, gazing at the horizon. The sun was just setting and the sky was streaked with faint color. For a moment, I sat then stirred myself to rise and go back indoors.

Again, that urging, “Just sit. Wait. I have something to show you.”

I sat.

I listened.

The cicadas were beginning their evening song. I realized that I used to enjoy listening to the cicadas on summer evenings but had not had the time since moving into a larger house.

As I listened, I began to hear not only bird song, but individual birds and became aware of their locations around me. Always, the cicadas hummed their rising and falling song in the background. Peace washed over me and suddenly the pale colors in the sky began to seem a little richer… and a little richer… until the sky blazed a red-gold tinged with violet.

Still, all around me birds, cicadas, and frogs in the lake sang their goodnight praise to their Maker. Distant voices, rather than disturbing the symphony, were simply a part of it; the owners an unknowing participant in a harmony of worship.

I also began to worship, enjoying the show, enjoying feeling wrapped in my Father’s care.

When my husband arrived home from his errand, I was still lounging in the grass. I knew in my heart that my problems were not miraculously resolved. I knew that my health trouble was not over, nor was the battle to apply my son’s stubbornness to the correct path.

Instead, I had something better–my Lord had reminded me that He would be with me every step of the way. He had reminded me not to forget to praise Him through it all.

By bringing my attention to the song of His Creation, my Father caused me to remember that He loves me too much to remove the trials.

No matter what comes of it all, He has my best interests at heart. After all, no matter what happens to me here on earth, this is only the prologue. The chapters of my story are yet to be written – though God knows the words already.

I came away that night, not with solutions but with the peace that comes from understanding in a more complete and deeper way that I am in training for eternity.

Yes, the work is hard, but it will be worthwhile. And most importantly, my Father truly does love me. Me personally. That amazes me most of all.

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.

 

 

Raffle Winner Announcement and Other Things

First order of business: Congratulations are in order to the winner of the drawing for the book, Talking to Jesus by Jeannie Blackmer – M. Moltz!  I have already contacted you by email and will get your prize in the mail this week. Congrats!!

And now, on to some thoughts I had hoped to share before the US holiday of Thanksgiving last Thursday before a killer migraine disrupted my week…

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
(Psalms 100:4)

Here in the United States, it is officially that time of the year known collectively as “The Holidays.”

Although some shops begin small displays of Christmastime merchandise right alongside the pumpkin-spiced products and Halloween masks in early autumn (or even late summer), the biggest retail assault on the American wallet kicks into high gear almost as soon as the Thanksgiving turkeys are carved and before the gravy congeals.

Despite the commercialism, I still love this time of year.

I adore Thanksgiving – a day set aside to focus specifically on gratitude to the Lord,  and for me, a day to play in the kitchen with no deadlines. I even enjoy the irony that a nationally celebrated day dedicated to giving thanks for the bounty of the year is immediately followed by one of the most frenzied shopping days of the entire year…

Perhaps because of the national holiday or perhaps just because, Psalm 100 has been on my mind lately.  With those words as the backdrop, my heart has been convicted that for me, Thanksgiving should not be observed only once a year. Instead, Thanksgiving is the obedient posture of the Redeemed in Christ every single day.

For the Christian, every day is Thanksgiving. Every day is Christmas. Every day is Easter.

 

During the course of last week, I was deeply convicted about my prayer life. For years now, I have faithfully lifted up all my requests to the Lord – prayers for the salvation of loved ones who do not follow Him, prayers for daily needs, intercessory prayer on behalf of others.

Yet too often, I have entirely failed to enter His gates with thanksgiving; choosing instead to rush in and fling my “to-do” list at the foot of the Throne of Grace without taking a moment to simply adore the One who sits on the Throne.

No more.

Starting today, I am making a conscious effort to not only to make my requests known to God, but to do so with thanksgiving. I want to praise Him more. I want to love Him more.

Whether this is an official holiday season for you or not, will you join me? Together, let’s humble our hearts and focus on gratitude. Let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

Let’s give thanks in all circumstances – even the unpleasant ones – because we know that He is good and has already given us far more than we deserve. The opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to establish saving faith in Jesus Christ, to even approach the Throne of Grace at all… even just the opportunity is more than I deserve.

And yet, He has given me eternal life in Christ Jesus my Lord. Why would I not praise Him?

Today, even with an oncoming migraine scattering my thoughts and some persistent hip pain, I give thanks to You, Lord, for You are good! Your steadfast love endures forever, and Your faithfulness to all generations. Thank You for taking this rebel under Your care, for cleansing me of my horrible choices and adopting me as Your child!

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
(Philippians 4:6)

Signs of the Times

Well.

This has been a very heavy week for me in many ways. I wrote last about conflict in my family which has weighed heavily on my heart. Besides the emotional strain, I have also struggled with a hip problem which finally became noisy enough for me to visit my doctor. Hopefully, it is merely a strain or sprain, but x-rays have been ordered to rule out a possible problem with the joint itself.

Hurrah. As if it isn’t hard enough to stay in shape in your forties… <sigh>

So today I want to share some signs of the times we live in… signs that are worthy of a second look mainly because laughter is truly good for the soul!

FunnyPics

When visiting Tennessee state parks, it is wise to proceed with caution along the trails. Hungry packs of feral children may lurk nearby…

 

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Whew! I, for one, am greatly relieved to know that no one will be able to see out of my envelopes. It’s been such a serious problem in the past.

 

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Nothing says, “Welcome,” like a twisted, lichen-encrusted sign advocating speeds of up to 45 mph as you approach a blind curve at the top of a hill. If you could only see the rest of the road… hairpin turns and buckled and crumbling bits of pavement. I’m not so sure visitors are really wanted here…

 

And finally…

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I guess I am thankful for experts in any field, but I confess I have no wish to know what this car is hauling…

Happy Friday, everyone!!

Finding Purpose in Pain

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:6-7)

It’s been a while since I’ve jotted out a migraine post. In fact, I realized my last one was in early September when I wrote about my latest dietary experiment.  In fact, today is  my 49th consecutive day on the ketogenic diet.

So how’s it going? Well… not bad. My first two weeks were like a dream. I had more energy and fewer headaches than normal, and what headaches I did have were extremely minor. In short, I felt well for several days all in a row – something that has not happened since… honestly, I don’t know. Ask my husband. He pays more attention than I do.  For me, it was enough to actually feel like doing things rather than merely muscling through the day until bedtime.

Unfortunately, subsequent weeks were not as remarkable. It is possible I had a touch of the virus that went around our house, but my usual crazy fatigue was an unwelcome visitor during the last weeks of September. October did not begin well, either, and last Saturday saw the blessed end of a 6-day-long, slowly building migraine that left me feeling perfectly wretched.

But that is all over, this week is looking promising, and I am feeling as wonderful as my first days on the diet. Hurrah! I have sworn to give it at least two more weeks before ‘cheating,’ and my cheat will be minor – a signature coffee beverage from a friend’s newly opened coffee shop.  (By the way, this is a shameless plug for the Fainting Goat aimed at my local readers…)

Now on the other side of the month-long energy drain and the resurgence of headache issues, I can honestly say that this whole experience – from the meningitis when my middle child was a few months old all the way through today – the ups and downs and all the in-betweens has been good.

I mean it. Despite the unpleasantness, it is really, truly good.

Not to sound like a nutcase, but I am thankful for the pain. Even today as I sit writing with a clear head and an inexplicably aching hip, I can rejoice in my suffering.  Admittedly, a large part of that rejoicing comes from the fact that some of it is past… but also because in the midst of it all, God reminds me to give thanks in ALL circumstances – including the less enjoyable ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For one thing, as this morning’s reading in Isaiah 53 has reminded me, I do not deserve health, wealth, or prosperity. For countless past acts of rebellion against my Creator as well as for a continuing propensity to wander astray like some doltish sheep drifting mindlessly after what looks like a mouthful of greener grass far away from the Shepherd’s safe pasture, I deserve death.

But my gracious and incredible God gives me Life instead. And just so the spiritual ledger is not out of balance, He paid the penalty of my crimes with His own blood.

What’s more, He continually offers purpose in my pain. Though last week was discouraging and left me feeling physically spent and emotionally defeated, this week starts fresh, beginning with absolutely priceless time spent with a young lady, one of my part-time daughters, who also struggles with chronic migraine.

Because I can relate, she can speak freely and be understood – which I must say, is no small thing for those who struggle with an “invisible” disease. And because I love her, I am delighted to participate in the suffering so that I can encourage her as she fights through it and remind her that God is still good even when life looks bleak.

After all, if He did not spare His own sinless and perfect Son, the Radiance of His glory and the exact Imprint of His nature;  if the King of kings was not spared physical and emotional pain, why should I be? For I have sinned and fallen far short of God’s perfection, but by His grace I can share in my Lord’s sufferings – because even pain, when surrendered to Him, can be used for something glorious.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

 

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