I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in the seventh grade, in Physical Education class. We were playing dodge ball and suddenly it occurred to me that the headache I had had all day was getting much worse. In retrospect I'm sure it was due to the volume in the gymnasium and forced participation in sport that did it to me. Mr. G was not a teacher I particularly cared for and thus I generally tried to avoid talking to him whenever possible. I approached him and attempted to explain that I was in tremendous pain and wanted to go to the nurse. Request denied. In his defense, I was a 12 year old girl in gym class. Weren't we always looking to go to the nurse? I should have said I had my period, but I hadn't learned that trick yet. Anyway, I told him he didn't understand, it felt like someone was hitting me in the side of the head with a hammer. He asked who was hitting me. I said no one, it wasn't funny, it feels like it. He asked again who was hitting me. I said, "Forget it," walked straight into a flying dodge ball so I could be out and went to lay down on the bleachers. (For the record, I don't know if it's lay or lie down, but I don't care.)
And that was the story of my first migraine. Another one arrived not long after, this time at home. My mother told me to take Tylenol and put my head down. A few minutes later I was throwing up the Ecto Cooler (remember that stuff?) that I used to wash the medication down. Good times.
The headaches went on for years. By the time I was in high school, they coincided very conveniently with my Lady Times. The accompanying cramps were not your ordinary variety. I missed a lot of school, spent a lot of time in the nurse's office and took a lot of over the counter medication. My mother, the type of woman to not get worried about anything, simply told me that my aunt used to get the same way and it got better after she had a baby. Awesome. Need I remind you I was in high school? I was not planning any babies any time soon.
When I turned 17 and got my driver's license, the first thing I did was make an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get birth control pills. I had heard they would help. And they were only $3 a month, so I could afford them too. They did help to an extent, but the pain was always still there. At some point along the way, I started developing migraines outside of my special week. I'm sure it was lifestyle related - erratic sleep schedule, smoking, drinking, excessive caffeine, not eating right. Trying to juggle college life, work, an internship and my responsibilities at home with my mother were all taking a toll on my health.
After a headache wouldn't go away for 14 days, I finally decided to see a doctor. He said they were migraines and gave me a prescription. I took the pill, took a nap and the headache was gone. I stayed on this medication for years. The problem with it was after I took the pill, I had to take a nap. And if I didn't, I might as well have, because I was useless. This meant that I had to schedule my pill-taking around driving and work. It was not terribly unusual for me to find an empty office at work and take a nap on the floor during the day because my head would be pounding so badly. Coworkers were given instruction to wake me in an hour if I didn't emerge by then. Like I said, good times.
In 2005, at 29, I had been on the pill for 12 years and Maxalt for about 5. We decided it was time to try for a baby. I got off the pill and looked up the safety of Maxalt. Maxalt is in Class X, which says, "Studies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and/or there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational or marketing experience, and the risks involved in use of the drug in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits." Yikes! Buh-bye, Maxalt.
Throughout my pregnancy, the headaches and other assorted period symptoms subsided (as did my period!), but they returned shortly after I gave birth (as did my period!). Since I didn't know if we'd have more kids and I wasn't "using adequate birth control" as the package said I should, I tossed the pills and went back to suffering. I hoped that once my hormones equalized I'd feel better as my mother suggested, but I did not. In fact, without the birth control pills, everything went back to the high school levels. And a woman in her 30s, doubled over in pain, tears in her eyes for a few days every month is not a pleasant sight. Stumbling around, grabbing onto furniture so that the pain in my head wouldn't cause me to fall over was not only irritating and disruptive, it was downright dangerous.
Somewhere in the nearly 5 years since giving birth, I've noticed a new issue. My hands get extremely cold, turn white, lose sensation and hurt. In the last few months it's gotten worse and now they also turn a lovely shade of bluish-purple. It's rather disturbing. As the weather has gotten colder, my circulation has decreased and this is happening multiple times each day whether I'm outside or inside. If you've ever been unable to feel your finger tips, you know how annoying it is to try to do stuff when they're numb.
My husband started going to acupuncture a few months ago and had been suggesting I try it. I had heard about it for migraines, but I was apprehensive. I did a little research and there were people who had seen a decrease in period symptoms as well. I made an appointment with a "regular" doctor, but it was going to be nearly 6 weeks before she could see me. I guess if I had mentioned I couldn't feel my hands she might have gotten me in earlier, but I didn't. I agreed to give acupuncture a try. What's the worst that could happen, right?
The acupuncturist looked at my hands, heard about my period and told me my symptoms were Classic and he was certain he could fix it. He said he rarely tells people that, but he really meant it. (I checked with my husband, he only told him that he "thought he could help.") He said it would take more than a few sessions, maybe some herbs, maybe some other stuff. He asked that the week before my period I come in as many times as possible. I agreed.
Robbie's theory was that my digestive system wasn't working properly and therefore wasn't pulling the needed energy from my food. This was causing an inability to produce enough blood. This lack of blood was making me tired and craving bad food and caffeine. My improper diet and lack of exercise was causing that cycle to continue and get worse. And all that lack of blood was causing my hand symptoms. Enter my period. As it would approach, my body would know that it couldn't afford to lose any of it's precious blood, so my uterus would hoard it. All this blood hoarding meant there was now even less for my hands and brain, causing more food cravings, more exhaustion, more numbness.
My first, second and third sessions were similar. I laid down on a massage table (heated, yay!), rolled up my sleeves and pants, shoes and socks off. He used a bunch of needles in each foot, leg, arm and hand and one in the center of my forehead. I was surprised at how little it hurt. It didn't even feel as bad as getting stuck with a pin. There is one spot on my right calf that feels weirder than the others. Honestly, that's the best way to describe it: weird. It's an odd sensation, not really tingly, but you can feel energy flow. If you do it, that will make sense to you. If you don't, you can sort of imagine it, but once you do it, you will say, "Oh, THAT'S what she meant!"
That fourth visit though, well, that was something different. I had read, and it was confirmed for me, that as you get closer to your period you can feel the needles more. He also "stepped things up a bit" by putting the needles in more sensitive places. This is not to say it hurt. It should not and it did not. But it felt weirder and was uncomfortable. When that was done, Robbie and I had a conversation that went like this:
R: Did you tell me that you were OK with drinking unpleasant things?
M: Uh, no, I did not.
R: Well... are you OK with drinking unpleasant things?
M: How unpleasant?
R: Like hot dirt.
M: Yeah, I guess that's OK.
Robbie explained to mix the freeze dried herbs he gave me with 1/3 cup of boiling water, let it cool, toss it back in one gulp (because it's unpleasant) and then eat a cookie. Then he said it's not that bad, even though I didn't ask. Clearly he knew it WAS that bad. I did as instructed and immediately vomited. This did not taste like hot dirt. This tasted like hot dirt and rotting leaves with just a hint of corpse. The next day I did try again, adding more water and chasing each mouthful with juice. It's tolerable at best. Thankfully I only have 2 days left in this cycle. All I could think was that this better work.
My fifth visit was back to normal, easy and not uncomfortable at all. Robbie was thrilled with my early spotting and was glad to hear that my almost migraine wasn't that bad. This was to be my last visit before my Aunt Flo came to visit for Thanksgiving. We figuratively crossed fingers that things would be better.
I almost can't believe this myself, but it worked! I had a headache one day, but it was nothing like I've had for years. I took 3 Advil and it was gone. And my cramps were annoying at worst. The fact that I was able to stand for 7 hours and cook Thanksgiving dinner without having to grab the counter and cry was astounding. Usually I'm taking 3 Advil and 2 Excedrin Migraine at least several times during this week. I was tired, but I didn't have the feeling that I was going to lapse into a coma at any minute. It was, dare I say it, tolerable. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought for sure I'd wake up feeling horrible this morning, but I feel fine. I am shocked. I was hopeful it would work, I WANTED it to work, but I couldn't believe that it actually would and it DID.
My hands are still cold and I'm still struggling with the circulation thing. I did go to see the doctor, she thinks it's Raynaud's Phenomenon. Google it, it's basically cold hands that turn colors inexplicably. She's doing blood work to rule out anything more serious but since I have no other symptoms that would accompany something serious, she's pretty sure it isn't. As long as I don't let my hands get too cold that I develop gangrene, I'll be fine. And obviously I try to avoid gangrene routinely anyway, so that shouldn't be too hard.
I'm going for another appointment today. I don't think I will need to keep going with this frequency for much longer. But if getting poked with needles weekly and drinking hot dirt/leaves/corpse water a few times a month is all it takes to get me functioning like a normal human, I'm all for it.
After I wrote the above, I went to my appointment. My regular guy wasn't there, so it wasn't the same. This chick likes to do belly needles for circulation. You would be surprised how little it hurts to have needs stuck in your stomach. And they use these really cool "blankets" made out of Mylar - the same stuff balloons are made out of - to hold your body heat in. It's light enough to rest on the needles without causing discomfort. Pretty amazing process, I must say.
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