Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Migranes: Controlling My Life?

Last weekend I had an attack of migraines. I woke up on Friday at 6:30am with a migraine. I had to lecture that day as well as finish writing a CHI madness video, finish writing a lecture, and do other work. Basically I had a full day of work. I left the house at 9:30am (after getting up at 8am, trying to sleep off the migraine) and got home at 7:45pm. In between I also went to a concert of the North Central ACDA convention because I couldn’t bear to not see the the St. Olaf Choir and the tail end of the Luther Norsemen. So I took excedrin. Because it was too late for the imitrex, the ibuprofin wasn’t working, and I didn’t have the time or energy for the urgent care.

Excedrin works not because it’s tylenol and asprin, but because it has caffeine. BUT caffeine is also a trigger. In the short term, caffeine constricts blood vessels. However because it’s a trigger this for me means that two days later, I get another migraine. So I took three excedrin to make it through Friday. Then I took a benedryl to be able to sleep that night. I knew I was taking a risk and I’d likely get another migraine on Sunday.

Sunday I woke up and felt a migraine coming on. I took one excedrin, ibuprofin, imitrex, and omdansetron. Then I went to choir. I was feeling dizzy, and had mild nausea. I also was overheated and couldn’t concentrate...basically all the neurological non-pain migraine symptoms that I get. But thankfully, not the pain. So I went home and took a one hour nap. Only it lasted for four hours, because my body was that exhausted.

My brains felt kindof like these dehydrated apple chips (even after my nap)

When I woke up I had to write a lecture, a lab, and a homework assignment. But my brains were still a little scrambled from the medicine. So it was rough. This got me thinking though. This is the first time since I’ve gotten headaches that I have been in control and have gotten out of control because of my life. That is, my medicines work well. I haven’t had an “urgent care” migraine in months. I’m doing well overall. But I had to give my lecture. I had to write my assignment. I couldn’t get out of it. I can’t turn my teaching work in late. I can’t work from home, aka take a day off and sleep my migraine off anymore. Even on the days I don’t teach, I’m frantically keeping up with my research, going to meetings, or the like. So what do I do? I take pills that give me migraines. Because I can’t think of any other alternatives.

So that Sunday I ended up calling my parents. They’re quite worried about my headaches, rightfully so. And at the end of the conversation my dad said, "Maybe you need to start thinking about different sorts of jobs." Sure I could work in academia, but what is the potential cost. I've been planning this my entire life, but the more I think about it the more it scares me. Well, I guess the right way of wording it is that multiple things scare me. First and foremost, I am scared by the fact that migraines could control me to the point where they could change my career trajectory. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. It kindof feels like if I were to change it would be because of the headaches and then I'd be letting the headaches win and that would be like letting the terrorists win, which would be bad. Second, I wonder if perhaps the healthy and responsible thing to do would be to change career paths. Not drastically, but perhaps think more about industry than academia. or more about less-teaching intensive academia than I was planning.

Until this point I’ve been planning to apply for jobs at teaching colleges, colleges where the teaching load will likely be 5 or 6 courses (or more?) a year. With that type of course load, I can’t imagine trying to a) get through migraines or b) managing the rebounds that are inevitable if a) works. There are some other factors as well, but this is the sort of thing I’ve been thinking of. It’s also interesting, because I don’t really think much about my headaches as a hinderance, 99% of the time.

I was talking to a colleague a week ago and he was impressed that I managed to get so much quality work done with headaches pervading through my life. Granted most of them aren’t migraines and they are less frequent than in the past, but they are still there. This year I have my headaches under much better control than in the past (believe it or not) but part of the reason for that is topiramate. A side effect of the medicine is tingling, like pins and needles, in my feet. It comes and goes at any time, sitting, walking, whenever, but there is nothing I can do to make it go away. But still, this colleague being impressed surprised me, because I think of myself as normal. I don’t want to make adjustments or lower my standards because of my headaches.

So what will I do? I don’t know. Hopefully this spell will pass and things will continue to improve like they have been. But I think that my headaches will always be in the back of my mind, even if they aren’t pulling the puppet strings.


Reid said...

I think you should chase your dreams.

My feeling is that in the long term, the drugs and your ability to manage the problem will continue to improve. So for example, when planning for 10 years out, assume that headache management will be going significantly better.

p.s. 5-6 classes? That's a lot. I haven't seen any more than 4.

Katie said...

I probably will, it just seems hard at times...and I think that while 10 years out I may be fine, those first 10 years may be incredibly hard. And planning for a rocky start seems odd. That said, I'll probably do it anyways.

Berea's load is 6. Another school I looked at recently is 7-8. Granted you can get course releases by doing other things and these are schools that require much less in terms of research, but they're definitely out there. And that's along the lines of what I'd been thinking. Maybe research + teaching would suit me better. I'll have to think about it more.