Stress, Headaches, and the Miracle of Life

My head has not always been kind to me. In fact sometimes my head is downright cruel. I have blogged extensively here already about the internal working of mind, the negative thoughts, depressive cycles, cognitive distortions, and general stinkin’ thinkin’ I have endured for so many years.

I have not written much about the physical pain my head causes. I used to get migraines so extreme that I would go to the Dr, worried I had a stroke. I can recall the sharp pain, the blurred vision, the tingling/numbness that went down my cheek and arm. And the vomiting. Hours of retching and wishing for death to release me from the torture. That was when I first had Prozac, because I was obviously depressed and stressed out by college classes, my Doctors told me. Partially true. Definitely depressed and stressed – but not by my classes. Although suddenly having to keep a 3.8 GPA to keep my scholarship was stressful, even though I had never had a GPA that low.

Anyways, I had one doctor tell me that migraines were a warning signal and should be taken seriously. He said that our nervous system can only handle so much, and basically a migraine was central nervous system temper tantrum. Like a toddler threatening to hold his breath to get his way, my brain was telling me to relax, or it was going to hurt me. Now I am an unusually quick learner when it comes to most things – except my own brain.

I suffered with crippling migraines all through the years of my first teaching job, where I was still in Grad school, had 2 other jobs, got our first mortgage, got back-stabbed repeatedly by coworkers, and eventually had a complete and total nervous breakdown. I was 24 years old, never had any parental help, managed to get a degree, a husband, a house, a dog, and what I thought was my dream job all on my own. All I had was my strong internal drive to go-go-go. Which apparently has a limit. I ran out of fuel. The stress of my past, combined with the stress of the current (what? problems did not disappear when you graduate college and get a job? I was so disillusioned) was too much for me. I just could not do it anymore. I could not do ANYTHING any more. I called off way too often, and last minute when I could not get dressed in the morning. My principal put me on Administrative Leave and sent me to work in the Admin building and gave my classroom to a sub. My students emailed me and told me how terrible she was and I felt so guilty for leaving them. I did this for 4-6 weeks and finally convinced everyone to give me my class back. Big mistake.

I wasn’t ready to handle it. The other teachers all seemed to abandon me, even more than before, like I was diseased. (Not sure if I only imagined all the conspiracy and avoidance and whispers – My depression and anxiety were severe then, and I was heavily medicated for both. I had panic attacks every time I left home – if I managed to leave home. Then one day, while taking my new dog out for a walk, he pulled me too quickly and I fell on the stairs of my new back porch. Between my weak leg and the snow-covered steps, he tugged and I followed, landing sharply on my back on the steps. It didn’t hurt that badly at first. I was fine. But that night the ache turned into roar, and by the next day, it was a full on scream. I made it to my classroom, because I had promised not to call off any more when they returned me to my duties. I tried to sit in my chair and not move, and eventually the tears started falling.  Not the tears of actually crying, but the occasional tear that leaked out as I tried to hide my misery. Which I could not do. One of my students snitched on me and the principal came in, and told me to go to the hospital. (That may have been my last day in the classroom – strange how I can’t remember) I thought the hospital was silly, but I did get in to see a family doc, who sent me immediately to the hospital for a CT scan. He didn’t quite believe me that my leg was already sluggish and the obvious nerve damage was not recent.

The doctor saw my scans, saw my spine, already damaged from scoliosis, already damaged from the spinal fusion surgery. He saw the huge metal rods along my spine. And he saw my second disk – about to burst. He said he had never seen a disk so herniated without a complete rupture and declared me lucky. He gave me pain pills (which did nothing),  muscle relaxants that were nice but wore off quickly, and said to see an orthopeadic specialist. You’d think I had one, with my back troubles, but see that was a pediatric ortho that did my spinal surgery in 1988 and refused to see me. I tried. So I chose a provider from my insurance book, and hoped for the best, keeping my back on ice and popping muscle relaxers. Things were much better by the time I saw him, but he thought a cortisone injection would help. In my spine. Good God did that hurt! The needle was so long, it seemed impossible to be real. But I felt the cold relief spreading even before he withdrew that freaky needle. I bounced home, so happy to be able to move without tears. This lasted for several hours. Until the numbing agent wore off. And then I was in so much more pain than the original accident ever caused. I panicked. I cried. I completely flipped out. Hubby brought me fresh ice packs, pillows, blankets, food, drinks, and even escorted me upstairs when nature called. I don’t know how long that terrible pain lasted, but way too many hours, that’s for sure. I promptly cancelled the other 2 cortisone shots scheduled in the upcoming weeks. No thanks, I can torture myself in some other way.

At some point in those months, I lost hope. I stopped getting out of bed. All I knew was pain. Pain in my back, pain in my head (though not the acute migraines-more of a diffuse aching headache), pain in my soul. I know it was winter when I fell on the stairs. I know it was a sunny and beautiful spring/summer day when I attempted suicide. I can’t recall much else though. Except that I remember watching ER, and Sally Fields was on there, and her brother (I think) was bipolar and overdosed on sleeping pills. That was what gave me the idea. It sounded so nice to lay down and sleep forever. I remember the calm, peaceful feeling I had when I formed my plan. I was proud of myself for finding a solution. A way to end my painful, miserable, worthless existence – and stop bothering everyone. I didn’t want to burden Hubby any more, and I felt so guilty with all the medical bills when I lost my job and insurance. I thought Hubby could find someone new – someone who could work, who could function, and wouldn’t be such a rotten, terrible bother.

Digging my way back from the pit of despair, I again can’t recall much of those months, even years. So many meds, so many docs, so many therapy sessions. Slowly, but surely, I became ready to try again. I wanted to be alive. I wanted another chance. My internal drive was returning – but I was not healed yet. I still wanted to appear perfect. I suddenly became concerned about the gap on my resume. How would I ever work again? Then I figured it out. No one would have to know of my failure. I figured I could list my employment as a school year, and no one would see that I left a few months early. But I would need some reason to explain why I left. THAT is how I decided I wanted to become a mother. To hide my failure. I figured it would look noble to quit teaching to become a Mom. And so, just a few short months after attempting suicide, I convinced Hubby I wanted a baby, and started a new life just like that. No waiting or guessing for me, first time off contraceptives did the trick. I was relieved, and put myself wholly into being a PERFECT mother.  He did not know all my faulty reasoning, and was just so happy that I seemed to be all better, so he went along with it.

Pregnancy hormones brought along a new type of headache – ocular migraines. I would see these sparkly rainbows crossing my field of vision, but had no pain. I laughed out loud when I self-diagnosed on WebMed. Headaches without pain, and a lovely light show to boot? That was my kind of headache! (Hubby was self employed when I lost my job and so we had no medical insurance for the first pregnancy – I went to a free clinic for the prenatal care, and basically ignored anything else in me unless I thought it could affect the baby)

Late pregnancy introduced me to yet another type of headache. This one was not so fun. This one was caused by high blood pressure, and was a symptom of Pre-eclampsia. No! I could not fail as a Mom. I had to have a perfect pregnancy. I had to. If something happened to my baby, I would never forgive myself. Depression started again. I thought I was stupid and selfish for ever thinking I would be capable of producing something so precious and beautiful as a baby. I started having daymares of mutant, rotten babies.  I was unable to believe something as rotten, worthless, and disgusting as me could do this right. And that I did not deserve my own miracle. I was convinced my baby would be born disfigured and soul-less.  I was off my meds in late pregnancy, and the darkness was returning. I was back to nearly constant headaches and regular vomiting. Doctor said let him know if the vomiting became uncontrollable, and get to the ER, as a sign the pre-eclampsia was worsening. I asked him how I would know that type of vomiting from the already constant vomiting? He said Hmmm, and signed me up for some more tests.

A week or so later, my blood pressure was just staying too high. They had to induce me. Labor was the most painful and frightening experience of my life. Pitocin is an evil creation. The Magnesium they pumped in my veins to lower BP burned. My spinal cord injury made it impossible to push. But somehow, after an episiotomy (another evil word), my baby girl came to be. And she was perfect. But I didn’t get to see her. I was hemorrhaging dangerously. I heard her cry, and heard the Apgar announced – a 10! she really was perfect! but could not see. I was blinded by all the doctors working to save my life. I remember being annoyed that they wouldn’t let me even see her, just move aside!, I remember thinking, and straining to see around them. Of course I got over it once I understood. The headache after delivery was unbelievable. All those meds, dehydrated, high blood pressure, no sleep, so much pain – it felt like a train was running through my skull.

Until someone finally brought my girl to see me. She opened her scrunchy little eyes, and met my gaze. I thought I sensed relief, and immediate understanding – like there you are! Instantly, I felt no pain. I practically heard  angels and harps. She was OK. No, she was better than OK, she was a tiny, beautiful miracle. Sometimes I can channel that moment of in time, forever cemented in my memory, as my place of calm, joy, and happiness. That spark has carried me through the past 10 years of ups and downs, and is my reminder that life is beautiful, even with the pain.

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