Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's a slow day at work

Wow, time flies and nothing really happens. I've been filling in at work this past week, so I haven't had a real day off since last Friday. Just a couple more days to go. I've stopped taking my composition lessons. There seems no point when I can't devote enough time to them to prepare for an exam, and they're too expensive to take just for fun... though I really miss my teacher's stories and tangents. Progress has slowed to a bit of a stop, essaywise. At this point, I'm just tired of school and assignments. I would love to just go home from work and not feel like I should be reading or researching or writing. I'm just about finished my current class, then next term I'll be taking a Humanities Computing course as my final course requirement. I'm pretty excited about it, especially because it seems like I could easily fit in a project on Year Zero into my coursework. I haven't revisited it since my talk at the UCLA conference a year and a half ago. Lately I've been daydreaming a lot about having a garden (probably because I'm usually hungry, and the grocery store by my place isn't big on produce).

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Migraine Post

In which I expound upon my migraines, including their causes, effects, attempted treatments, and proposed treatment through lifestyle alteration, with much verbosity.

This post is for my own sake. Maybe there are migraineurs out there who can derive some use from it as well, but primarily this is for me to try to track, make sense of, and deal with what has become the primary feature of my life. I came across this quotation in an issue of Scientific American, from Didion's "In Bed": "For I had no brain tumor, no eyestrain, no high blood pressure, nothing wrong with me at all: I simply had migraine headaches, and migraine headaches were, as everyone who did not have them knew, imaginary." I've had both the phrases "just a headache" and "just a migraine" tossed my way. I know I've written what seem—even to me—like whiny, self-pitying posts over the years. If you were annoyed by them then, I advise you to stop reading; this is going to be exhaustive.

The History

I never used to get headaches, migraine or otherwise. Some time in the summer before my final year of undergrad (the summer of 2005), I started having to pull over on the side of the road during the hour-long drive home, and take a quick nap. It wasn't tiredness, it was nausea; I had no headache-type pain, just this nausea that made my body want to shut down and sleep until it subsided. It wasn't frequent, and I didn't think much about it.

In the fall, the pain started too. Every single day. Sometimes I would go to my morning class and then pop some ibuprofen and go straight to bed. More often, I'd skip the class part. Sometimes my cafeteria meal would consist of some packets of crackers and ice cream. Sometimes I would work my shift in the library with the office lights turned off and my head on the desk.

A friend of mine was into reiki, and offered to try to help. I didn't set much store by it, but eventually I caved—no harm in trying— and asked him to do his thing. He seemed physically affected when he touched my head, and said "you've got a lot of pain, kid." I borrowed one of his energy crystals—you'll try anything when you're desperate—and later when I gave it back he handled it like a hot potato and ran to the sink to cool it down. Another friend gave allegedly great massages; when she tried to work on my neck, she quickly became reluctant to touch me because of the immense pain she sensed.

I didn't even think of getting medical help until that winter; I wrote one of my final exams with my head lying on the desk, handed my paper in after half an hour, walked out the classroom door and into the nearest washroom, and promptly threw up. That night, I called my Mom (who was conveniently in town for a conference) in tears, and she took me to the emergency room. They gave me a triptan through IV, and diagnosed me with migraine. The nurse also suffered from migraines; we asked her what she did for hers, and I think of her words often: "I die. Every time, I die."

When I went to see my family doctor with my new diagnosis, she advised me to just go to the emergency whenever I got a migraine. Later, in the university clinic, the doctor on duty started me on my first preventative medication: amitriptyline. It did wonders, almost immediately! It was incredible to feel the evening coming on and have no pain. It didn't last, though. Another doctor gave me a prescription for Maxalt, which the doctor in ER had recommended I look into. He also referred me to a neurologist.

The neurologist's eyes boggled a little when I told him how frequent my migraines were, and again when I told him what my family doctor had "prescribed." I began on topiramate, and it too worked for a little while, though it had terrible side effects, primarily the deepest depression I have ever known. I changed to propranolol, which did help, even if it didn't "cure" me entirely. It helped so well, in fact, that he thought it safe to wean off, and said he was glad to have helped me. This was after quite a few visits, trials, and errors, and by this time I had graduated with my BA and had moved to another province to commence my MA. And it wasn't without its side-effects: I had trouble searching for words; I couldn't think quickly (and am well aware that I came across as a fool in my seminars).

So I weaned off, but the headaches became more frequent. Moreover, the nausea became a huge problem. I had a bad first year in grad school, so by this time I had temporarily withdrawn. But I was planning to return, and there was no way I'd be able to do so in that state. So I went back to the neurologist, and resumed the propranolol. That's where I am today.

Dealing With Pain

Before I was diagnosed, I dealt with the pain by sleeping until it went away. I took copious amounts of ibuprofen—four 200mg tablets at a time, sometimes 16 of them in a day. Of course I could never break the cycle; I'd wake up feeling well but the pain would inevitably return later that evening, or the next morning.

Once things were a little more in control, my method of dealing with my migraines was (and currently is) as follows:
  • take daily preventative medication
  • wear earplugs whenever humanly possible
  • sleep with an icepack for a pillow
  • get fresh air by walking to Starbucks for a blended drink (curiously, the only thing I can stomach when nauseated)
  • hide in a fetal position in bed and shirk coursework for the day
  • try taking a couple acetaminophen, or a Sudafed if it feels like my sinuses are involved
  • take a triptan if I need it to get through night-class
  • never go out for fun, ever; if it's necessary to do so, make sure I have a holiday the next day so that I can recuperate
When I imagine that I'm one of the world's lucky migraine-free inhabitants, I don't think I could conceive that a head pain could honestly have such a big impact on a migraineur. Such a pointless pain. Truly, it is unfathomable just how much it impacts one's life. Everything in my life is weighed around my headaches. Want to go out to a movie? Want to go out to a pub? Want to get together with friends for board games? Want to go to a concert? And yes, I play MMOs; Want to go on a quick adventure with gaming friends? —I usually decline all of these.

Because I know the next day will find me wallowing in bed, the blinds closed and the lights off, earplugs shoved in my ears, my hands clamped around my temples, an icepack caressing the crown of my head, interrupted by the occasional mad dash for the washroom when the nausea gets to be too much. I know I will die the entire day long. I know that a few gulps of water will be enough to violently upset my stomach. Heck, it'll probably happen regardless of whether I go out or not, but I'm not about to aggravate an already unstable head.

If I may indulge in a π-type moment, here are my failed treatments to date: high-dose ibuprofen, massage, caffeine, antidepressants, reiki, marijuana, beta-blockers, feverfew. No results.

My Own Triggers

Migraine diary? What am I supposed to write in it? The fact that I can't identify any common thread to my migraines? Tracking triggers has seemed like a fruitless endeavor, but here are some of them:
  • Foods: certain foods could be triggers for me, though I don't know what at this point. I'll expound more on diet a little later.
  • Pressure changes: I'm fairly certain this is one of mine. When the barometric pressure changes, my head gets angry.
  • Hormonal changes: again, pretty certain. I can't really predict this, because for some reason I don't follow the lunar calendar.
  • Muscle tension: my neck and shoulders seem to be in an unsolveable knot. Whenever I stop to think about it, I become aware of this enormous tension.
  • Eyestrain: I now wear glasses whenever I'm at my computer at home, and occasionally at work. They are probably the subtlest prescription possible since I have better-than-perfect vision, but they are supposed to save my eyes from doing all the work.
  • Bright lights: not so much a trigger as an aggravation. I wear sunglasses even when it's cloudy.
  • Noise: like I mentioned, I wear earplugs very often. Even the tiny physical pressure it exerts can relieve a bit of pain.
  • Stress: most of the time, I'm a very stress-free person; I don't have a lot of the responsibilities (e.g. work-related, etc) that most people have. I do occasionally get severely upset/stressed, but I'm not sure how to measure the impact.
  • Dehydration: I know I should drink more water. I know that nausea can erase all my efforts to drink more. It's gross, but water actually induces vomiting if I'm already nauseated.
  • Irregular sleeping habits: as a rule, I'm a poor sleeper. This is high on my priority list.
  • Irregular eating habits: I also need to work on this. Sometimes I find myself in night-class without having eaten a proper supper. Other times I find myself at home without having eaten a proper supper. Totally preventable.
  • Sinus problems: to my surprise, I recently found that a Sudafed relieved some of my headache pain when my other standbys had failed. We had mold in our apartment over the summer, and I suspect it aggravated my sinuses (which now feel permanently 'fuzzy').
And then there are the other well-known triggers like smoking and alcohol consumption, neither of which really come into my life.

Eradicating Pain?

The top migraine medications can only take me so far, and perhaps I'm as far as they'll go even now. The number of things that can be triggers is pretty disheartening. Jane McGonigal recently described her experience of conquering a concussion through a game, and I was inspired to take on my own Nemesis in a more proactive way than previously. It comes down to a complete lifestyle revamp.

It appears that, at this point, I need to set myself a very strict daily schedule. What time to get up, what time to eat meals and what to eat, how many glasses of water to drink and when to drink them by, what vitamins to take, when to take some time to exercise and how long, when to do homework, when to go to sleep. Something practical.

So here's my plan, and I'll evaluate it as I go along.

Diet: I'm starting off by primarily following the guidelines here as closely as possible; this means avoiding caffeine, MSG, foods containing tyramine. Cutting out as many potential triggers as possible, then eventually reintroducing things 1 or 2 at a time to figure out which (if any) are my specific triggers.

Water: to start with, I've scheduled in 3 glasses of water throughout my day. Sadly, that is a start for me. I don't like the taste of water, and it's all too easy to postpone it, so I need to force myself into this habit.

Exercise: I used to do pilates every day, and I'm going to resume that in the mornings. Running is a bit too strenuous and has triggered headaches in the past.

Other: I'm going to invest in some top-notch sunglasses to replace the near-disposable ones I currently use. A massage to unkink my shoulders and neck would probably be beneficial. I really want to try to solve my sinus problem, but I have not heard favourable reports about having them unblocked at a clinic. I hope to try reflexology within the year. Acupuncture is also on the list. Everything is fair game when you're desperate: meditation, prayer. Maybe even hypnosis.

I dream of a life where pain doesn't rule. If this new approach doesn't work, I can only hope that I will eventually outgrow my headaches.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Everyone loves pumpkins

Thanksgiving is probably my favourite day of the year. Everything about it is straight from my list of favourites: pumpkins, roasted fowlbeasts (or something equally delicious), cranberries, garden vegetables, the colour of the leaves, the perfect autumn weather, the harvest atmosphere, cats... etc.

Thanksgiving dinner yesterday was relatively small—only 6 of us—but delicious! There's something intrinsically cozy about my relatives' heritage home. I stumbled across this recipe for pumpkin loaf while browsing (and drooling) through Tastespotting, and 3/4 of one of the loaves was eaten in the couple hours before we left for dinner.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

drawings only nominally from the library

I finally got around to uploading a new batch of drawings, but I also created a Facebook page (cmon, be a fan!) that now has all recent drawings (recent = starting February 2007). For the archives, you still have to trawl through the drawings website.

The whole MA essay thing is shaping itself up rather nicely, and things are no longer in the hypothetical, will-think-about-looking-into-it stage. So, I'm now working through all kinds of books on virtuality and animality. Pretty slow going, since I've always hidden from theory. I'm sure it must be possible to write theory books in an accessible manner... the point almost seems to thoroughly muddify an already obfuscated concept. I'm a bit at a loss about how to start searching for serious work on digital animals; is pretty much my hero.

No summer should really go by without some sort of birthday rant. In addition to New Year's Resolutions Hypotheticals every year, I usually make a sort of Birthday Resolutions. Things that I hope to have accomplished by the time I'm 25, or 26, or whatever. Things like, you know, it would be nice to not be in the exact same spot come next year. This past birthday cycle turned out to not yield any accomplishments whatsoever X( Oh yeah, something about someone's birthday, somewhat recently. My birthday has historically been a lowpoint in my year, like the time I didn't see or hear a single human during the whole day. Or the time I turned 18 while sleeping on a metal slab in a pig barn with a bunch of Frenchmen in Quebec (only days before I was abandoned at the airport after my plane had already departed). Or the time I turned 21 on the last day of counselling at camp (during which time a teenager inadvertently stomped on my ribs and I couldn't stand up straight for a month afterward) and the liquor stores weren't open so we got me a handful of Red Bulls for the staff party, and then I had to keep pulling over on the way home to nap because they made me so drowsy. Great birthday memories... Anyway, Birthday Resolutions 2009 include a good deal of composing, as well as finally becoming Master of Arts (I will of course refer to myself as Magister Artium).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Going home, and going to school

In mid-July I took a 2-week trip back to Saskatchewan. It was wonderful. Something about the landscape there is just easier on the eyes, and I felt a strange sort of relaxation washing over me even as we drove away from the airport. I didn't get a hint of headache during the whole two weeks. (Of course, the second day back on the island I was bedridden with nausea and pain >< ) I saw my neurologist again and I've started back on the medication I had weaned off of. Hopefully it will work. Hopefully I won't get so drowsy this time around. I got to do some great family bonding while at home, and play with all my nephews and nieces—up to 3 of each, now, one of which I had not seen in person before. It's tough being so far away from everyone, but every time I go back it's like I haven't been away. The cabby who drove me to the airport gave me the ol' Victoria-is-awesome-I-bet-Sask-is-crappy speech (alongside a speech on how I should help him find new boarders). I'm so sick of hearing that. It now makes me form an insta-grudge against the person.

This summer I reawakened the notion of going into Pharmacy. I had thought about it when I finished up my B.A. (and even applied to U of S, who took my application fee but otherwise didn't acknowledge me) but then the SSHRC kind of decided my route. I'm tired of being poor and unsuccessful and having no real career expectations, so Pharmacy is very alluring (other than the prospect of 5 more years of school). But just when I figured I'd apply as an undergrad to do some pre-pharm classes, I finally got my supervisory committee for my M.A. (almost) sorted out. At least, I have my supervisor and department reader lined up. The rest will hopefully sort itself out come September when things get back underway. In the fall I'll be taking on my second-last grad class (then the last will come in the spring). As always, I worry that my health will get in the way of everything else. I very rarely feel truly well, but maybe nobody does (I wouldn't know).

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The pocket of bad news (and other things)

A little over a week ago, my uncle (and godfather) Paul died. Here are links to articles in the Leader Post and CBC news, and a CBC podcast from the day after. For some reason, the accident gave me a little bit of existential clarification: I've spent so much time trying to "figure out" existence, and I feel quite certain now that it never was a riddle. Just is, I guess.

Back in April, I entered a choral piece I had spent some two years writing avoiding (but ultimately completing) into a big competition in the US. When I say big, I mean winning would have involved a $5000 prize, flights and hotels in New York paid for, sessions with the conductor/choir to talk about interpretation, a performance at Carnegie Hall, an archival recording, a big gala event—and no entry fee, even. After not hearing for months, I figured my entry must have miraculously gone astray or missed the deadline despite my ExpressPost precaution, but lo and behold I finally got a congratulatory email saying I'd made it to semifinals (and still going strong). I guess I got my hopes up a little too much, but it seemed pretty optimistic at the time. Anyway, the follow-up email said I got through semifinals again, but missed the very final cut. The final cut! Well, that in itself is pretty encouraging, considering my expectations in my last blog post, but at the same time the biggest letdown. Because I got so far, I do have the option of applying for their $10,000 recording grant (which is not really an option for me). Better luck next year, perhaps.

In grad school news, I am not nearly as on top of my MA committee/paper as I ought to be (or ought to already have been 2 years ago). I've always felt like I'm bothering profs by asking them anything, which has made me pretty self-reliant but out of touch with the department (and, needless to say, completely unknown to them). But honestly, a single email got the ball rolling in a matter of days and things are looking like they're at least moving forwards (none too soon, since I'm supposed to have my committee and topic mapped out and submitted for scrutiny by the end of August (which is about a year's extension already)). I've been getting headaches more often, accompanied by the worst nausea yet, which makes me even more leery about keeping up my studies. I found it very hard, in the first year, to think with the quickness and profoundness required in seminars, and speak with the eloquence that seems to come so naturally to everybody else. Depending on how (or if) my next headache-inspection goes, I might be on some equally thought-obfuscating medication this time around, as well. At least I can turn out "exceptionally well written" papers, even if they don't really have anything new to say. Sigh.

But despite these troubles, life is good; I just have a tendency to obsess about the same old concerns-of-the-moment (probably because they're so chronic). In a little over a week, I'm going back to Saskatchewan for a two-week vacation, which I'm looking so forward to.

On a completely unrelated tangent, the most popular page on my website—by a very large margin—is I am awesome. People like to use it as their forum avatars/signatures, hehe. Lot of awesome people out there.

Friday, May 01, 2009


My song cycle was indeed performed during Canada Music Week (way back in November) and they did a great job. I finally finished a choral setting of an Anglo-Saxon poem, but am told that although there's much to admire in it, it just doesn't work. Recently I've been thinking more about Tintinnabulation (because Arvo Part is my compositional hero, hands down), but figure that anything I try will probably be a repeat of the Anglo-Saxon thing. It's pretty disheartening, but maybe I'll wise up someday and learn how to write 'properly' or something. In December, we went to see Nine Inch Nails again (non-festival this time), which was superlative. It was neat to see how the show had changed over the months since we saw that very first one. You know it will be awesome when there's a marimba on stage. I still marvel at Year Zero every few months when I remember to give it a listen. Year Zero also makes me feverishly want to continue working on my conference paper. Speaking of which: I can't say I had an overwhelmingly great grad experience last year (despite a couple awesome classes) so I withdrew for the fall term to think things over. Ideally, I'd like to develop the paper I did for the UCLA conference into a Masters-Essay-worthy piece, but that doesn't look too promising. This past spring, though, I took a fantastic zoo-texts (generally multidisciplinary) class and could envision my final paper as my Masters project... if only I wasn't forbidden to elaborate on it when anybody asks ):< At Christmas I flew back home, and I had fully intended to recount the horrors of the trip. I ended up stuck in Calgary airport for some 13 hours with nothing but Charles Dickens' Dombey and Son and a blank notebook. Charles Dickens. For thirteen hours. I halfheartedly started doing some Drawings from the Airport, but have let drawings slip as well. I have the best intentions of doing the Aphex Twin transcriptions that people keep asking about, maybe over the summer. Who can say.