Help! I’ve Lost My … Vanity?

I’ve always been vain. It was a trait passed down by my grandmother and further reinforced by both my step-mom and my mom. We are women; we are supposed to look good. At least, that’s certainly the message I received growing up.

As a teenager, I poured over magazines like Glamour and Cosmo. In addition to learning “5 Better Ways to Wear that Top” and the “10 Moves for Flatter Abs You Should Be Doing Now”, I also gained an unhealthy body image and an ongoing need to be thinner. In my early 20s, I read The Beauty Myth and for a few short years did my best to redefine what beauty meant to me. At 30, while I still didn’t read fashion magazines, I found that despite Naomi Wolf’s best intentions I wasn’t immune to the socialized part of us women that examines each deepening line in the mirror and pinches the extra skin on our hips each time we sit down. In short, while I no longer fell victim to the mind-numbingly dumb antics of the fashion industry, I was still vain. And the internet did little to help.

Pinterest, in particular, ramped-up my female fears that I wasn’t toned enough or small enough or big in all the right places. In those first few years on the platform, I pinned moving gifs of the newest Hollywood butt workout and tutorial after tutorial on shaping and contouring (which, to be fair, I never planned to actually try let alone master). But now, just a few years later, those things no longer hold my interest. Instead, I find myself scrolling past the pin after pin showcasing the perfect eyebrow, the trendiest smokey eye, and the women doing repetitive fitness moves in all their gif glory. Somehow those things are no longer important. So what changed?

I got sick.

Really sick.

Life alteringly sick.

And what I found was that when you are that sick ⁠— when you can’t eat without dropping your spoon or fork in frustration, when you can’t put on your bathrobe without wincing as you raise your arm, when you can’t walk without assistance or limping ⁠— a tighter stomach no longer matters.

Don’t get me wrong; I still look at those lines and sigh. I still don’t want to be too big or too thin. I still pinch that roll when I sit down. But the pins I’m focused on now have more to do with how to write when you can’t type and how to cook dinner when you can’t hold a spatula or stand for more than a few minutes than they do with fitness and beauty trends. And when I see other women my age pinning posts on winged eyeliner, celebrity hairstyles, and achieving a rounder butt I can’t help but think: How quaint.

For I remember when the size of any one body part was one of my most pressing bodily concerns. And while in some ways I appreciate this newfound freedom from socialized vanity, I sometimes long for the days when I was saving articles on new thigh workouts rather then searching for a rollator that doesn’t scream 90-year-old grandma.

But, then again, maybe I’m not too different from the other women my age because that not-looking-too-old part definitely still matters, even if it is geared more toward my assistive devices than my forehead. After all, I may have multiple autoimmune diseases but I’m still my granny’s granddaughter. Vanity, I guess, exists in all forms.

Falling Victim to Our Own Bad Habits

Last week, I posted a blog bemoaning my increasingly frequent (and increasingly painful) migraine attacks. I mentioned that I was unsure what to do and how to handle a ramped up cycle like the one I’ve been caught in without medication. My readers – kind souls that you are – sent me much-needed words of encouragement, as well as a few helpful tips. They also, it turned out, made me realize that I’ve neglected the majority of my self-care routine for at least a month now. Long enough, it seems, to aggravate my migraines.

Over the years, I’ve created a pretty good migraine-management plan. I try to avoid cheese and soy, keep my caffeine and alcohol intake down to sensible levels, drink at least 12 glasses of water a day, exercise regularly, relax for at least an hour a day, stick to a regular schedule, and get enough sleep. I also take CoQ10, B2, and Magnesium supplements on a daily basis. If I do all of these things consistently, I usually only get waylaid by a full-blown migraine maybe once per week.

For the past four weeks, however, I doubt I’ve done any of those things often enough to be considered “consistently.”

I’ve been working overtime to finish a book that is scheduled to be released in March. I also took on a few extra, time-sensitive projects to pay for the new car my husband and I had to purchase to replace our wrecked one.  I’ve also been preparing for a much-needed vacation, which always means a lot of extra hours beforehand. And, my final semester of school started earlier this month. A few mornings of getting up at 4 a.m. to finish a project or meet an important deadline led to a few skipped breakfasts, a couple of missed supplements, and a crazy schedule. Suddenly, I had a migraine, which led to an even crazier schedule. All at once, every good habit I’d established had flown out the window.

I’m glad my readers helped me recognize that I had forgotten what should be my top priority – to treat myself well. I had forgotten that if I don’t take the time to care for myself, then – very quickly – there won’t be any time or any energy for anything. If I don’t take time for me, everyone loses. Thank you all for reminding me of that.

I’m heading off on vacation this week, and when I return I will ensure that I firmly re-establish all of those good habits. I will go to bed and wake up at the same time at least five days a week. I won’t skip meals or dance class, and I will build time for relaxation into my schedule, even if it means getting a little less done that day. I’ll remember to refill – and take – my supplements every morning and every afternoon. Most importantly, I’ll remember to listen to my body and not to push myself further just because I can.

Again, thank you all for the gentle – but much needed – reminder. Someday, I hope to do the same for you.

Redefining “Wellness”

I stopped posting to this blog in late 2008 because I was tired of perceiving myself as “sick.” I wanted to be a “well person,” someone who doesn’t spend hours of each day worrying about how to save up enough energy to make it to bed at a reasonably adult hour (rather than 6 or 7 p.m.) and still get everything done that needs doing. Someone who doesn’t have to think about what she drinks, when she eats, or how a late Saturday night might translate into a sick Sunday afternoon. Posting to this blog only served as a reminder that I was not (am not) that person.

So, here it is more than two years later. For a while there, I thought I could forget about this whole “migraine business.” It’s not that I was better per se, I just got tired of thinking about it. I learned to power through, grit my teeth, and pretend things weren’t so bad. It helped that I made some lifestyle changes: I quit my job and went back to full-time self-employment. I left a toxic relationship, and moved back to a city where I have a number of very close friends. I met, moved in with, and became engaged to my soul mate.

Now, in early 2011, my headaches are less extreme than they were several years ago, but they’re still pretty constant. The doctors still can’t fix me, and I’ve pretty much given up on medication because nothing I tried seemed to work. My auras have intensified and, though I find them scary at times, they do, at least, keep things interesting. Perhaps, most importantly, I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that “wellness” for me is never going to amount to my definition of a “well person.”

I do have to watch what and when I eat. I do have to make the time for relaxation and exercise. I absolutely must keep my schedule relatively stress-free. This last one is the hardest for me. As a full-time freelance writer and editor (not to mention my roles as fiance and mother), my schedule stays full. I feel like I am constantly researching, writing, editing and handling clients, and there is never enough time to sit and quietly read or take a walk. But, too much work means more migraines. Which means even less time to check off the multitude of tasks on my calendar. Which means more stress. And so, the cycle continues, until I make the effort to break it.

I’m slowly learning to turn down the assignments that I don’t need and don’t want and to take time for myself, but it’s hard. And, I’m not quite where I need to be yet. I still look at my calendar first when a client calls to see if I can “squeeze in” a new assignment rather than at the assignment details to see if I want to take it or at my bottom line to see if I actually need to do so. Perhaps redefining my idea of “wellness” to include the active acknowledgment and management of my illness will help. Perhaps I’ll learn that my “me-time” is not something that can be moved around to appease a client, but is actually something important – something medically necessary even. We’ll see.

Grief and the Search for Whatever Lies Beyond

Through three and a half months of the migraine that just will not go away the hardest thing for me to face is that I’m depressed.

Hard to believe that that’s what I have the hardest time handling in the face of ten different medications, numerous side effects, IVs, injections, blood tests, an MRI, specialists, and of course – the chronic (now – official) intractable pain. 

It’s not so strange though: in the depths of migraine madness I can no longer seem to reconcile the image of who I am with the person I’ve lately become. The person I remember is chipper. Outgoing. Optimistic. She laughs. The person staring back at me, tries.

It’s hard to do or be any of those things when every morning is accompanied by a relentless, pulsating nightmare of confusion, nausea, and pain.

I’m exhausted. And angry. Frustrated about the many – simple – things I’ve had to give up to the monster in my head for the sake of a peace I still haven’t found. Music. Lights. Singing. Yoga. Red wine. Beer. More than one margarita at a time. Running on Saturday mornings around the Lake with my SO. Chocolate. These are things I loved. 

But most of all, I feel guilty. 

Guilty because my disease could be so much worse than it is, and I should feel grateful that I’m not faced with one of hundreds of ailments that people all around the world struggle honorably with daily.

Guilty because I can’t pull myself up and shake myself off and be the chipper, bubbly personality every day that I (and those who love me) know, love, and depend on. 

For those who know, however, It’s difficult to function in the usual manner in a state of constant, severe pain. It’s not so easy to “manage” when all energies feel drained by mid-day.

What do you do when you can’t get out of your head because your head won’t stop screaming?

 

 

A Little Hope

After a day full of drugs: a (second) 500mg I.V. of Depacon coupled with a 60mg I.M. shot of Toradol and a 12.5mg dose of Phenergan to top it off; I begin to feel a little better.

This morning was the morning to increase my Topamax to 50mg per day. And, though I awoke with an instant pain of around a five on a ten-point scale, it is now 3 hours later and the pain has tapered down to a persistant and throbbing – but dull – 2.5.

While this could very well be the result of my morning cup of tea – caffeine has some instant (though fleeting) pain relieving effects – I’m hopeful.

 

Morning Run

Though my wish was not granted, the weekend went well. For the first time in four weeks, I found enough energy to get up and run Saturday morning. Three miles – felt like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Stomach churning, head pounding . . . but I did it.

Afterward, the pain came in rushing waves – breaking, one on top of the other, until finally it dulled to a persistant knocking.

 

Cascading Trepidation

Sitting, staring at this bottle of pills, I am terrified. Afraid of what this next dose will do. Frightened of who I may become; of all the things I may lose.

What will become of my relationship if one of my most essential characteristics melts away? If I am no longer a woman capable of grasping the truly important things, if I, instead, begin to fret and fight about the little shit that no one cares about – if I jump at every opportunity to snap – if I bitch and moan – if I throw things – my relationship will not survive. 

I am his complement because I do not do these things. Because I take life lightly. With joy and empathy. Without anger, without complaint. In ecstasy. What will happen to me, to us, if this medication makes me lose that? 

And, writing. What of that? I am a writer. I spend a vast portion of my time immersed in words – writing, editing, reading. Losing my ability to concentrate long enough to finish a thought, to find a word, to remember yesterday – these things are not acceptable, not tolerable, not an option. 

I’ve been warned the relief will not be absolute. The pain will still come – often, probably, though less than before. It may hurt less, it could hurt more, but it will still come. Eventually the medicine, even if it works, will stop working and I’ll have to find another temporary patch. Is all of this worth it? Can I bear the pain? Should I?

Ahh, this vulnerability, hurt, confusion, and lack of assurance are so unlike me. 

I have a wedding to go to tomorrow. All I ask is a day of no pain, no side effects, no complaints. Can such a wish be granted?