It was three years ago today that I sat down to do some reading after wrapping up a busy week of projects for my graphic design classes and 35 hours of work at the flower shop and was overwhelmed by a massive let-down migraine. That headache set off a cycle of migraine sensitivity that has remained unbroken, banishing the future that had seemed so tangible in the previous weeks, one of happiness, independence, and creative challenges, and replacing it with a life of pain, seclusion, and dependence.
Bummer, as they say.
This year has not been without positive developments, such a gradual recovery from last summer's unlucky head injury, new dog-sitting clients, my growing involvement with horses, and my recent trip across the country. But it hasn't been an easy one, either. Our long, wet, gloomy spring made me feel too sick and dull to invest effort in my photo shop (or much of anything else, either) and led me to the tearful conclusion that I couldn't bear to spend another winter in Seattle. As the wet and gloomy weather continued into summer, I was discouraged by my lingering fatigue and cognitive dullness, which made living independently impossible. It looked like moving to a sunnier clime was out of the question, at least until my parents retired, something they don't intend to do for another eight years.
Once the sun came out in August, however, I made considerable gains, maintaining energy and good spirits despite my foot injury, and it was sunshine that helped me power through the rigors of my cross-country trip and its social demands. Seeing how much better I did when the sun was shining has reopened discussion on moving me to southern California in the near(ish) future. It seems senseless to keep me in Seattle, where rain is the norm and sunshine the exception (Seattle averages 226 cloudy days per year, and rain falls on 155 of them), when I might be able to function much better and with less pain somewhere else (Los Angeles averages 35 days per year with measurable precipitation).
The trip did catch up to me, it should be noted, and I spent five days in bed last week. The dry spell that extended into October has come to a wet and blustery end, and I find my life once again dictated by the state of the weather: my activity inside is determined by what is happening outside. Thus, when the wind blows and rain falls, you can find me slumped in my armchair, listlessly watching undemanding shows (I've been viewing a lot of "How It's Made") or retiring to bed with a book and the dog. When the weather is fine, my mental functioning is restored and at least for a few hours before fatigue sets in, I can take photographs, write blogs, make decisions, and draw enjoyment from my life despite its restrictions.
Things happen slowly for me, of course, and something so drastic as a move to another state will take time. I do, however, think that is where my future ultimately lies. We've decided that at the very least that my mom and I will take a trip to southern California (my parents grew up in the Los Angeles area and much of my extended family resides in Orange County; prior to the migraines, I spent a portion of my summer vacations there every year) in February, giving me something to look forward to as the days get shorter, darker, and wetter.
Maybe one day the migraines will stop. It's not out of the question. But it's also not to be expected; it's the kind of thing I can't hope for. I must live my life as it is and that means catering to every whim of my hypersensitive system. It gets me down from time to time; a few weeks back I spent several hours sobbing out some of my keenest feelings of loss. But having acknowledged that grief, I'm back to my day-to-day acceptance. I do what I can to treat and reduce the headaches--medication, acupuncture, physical therapy and massage, diet, special glasses, sensory interventions, trigger avoidance--and otherwise seek to fill my hours with photography and animals and other things that give me pleasure. I devote much more time to feeling grateful for what I have than bemoaning what I do not.
If you'd asked me, on October 19, 2009, prior to 5:00 in the evening, what I thought my life would look like three years later, this certainly isn't what I might have imagined. But then again, I've always had an almost superstitious aversion to predicting my own future, something that has spared me the pain of not having to compare where I am to where I had hoped to be. Also, I don't have time for regrets. I can't waste any of my energy on wishing things hadn't happened the way they did. My decision to start studying graphic design was a good one, even though the intense visual, creative, and intellectual involvement it required may have been a precipitating factor. And I absolutely refuse to wish that I was born with a different brain. Yeah, its inability to properly produce and process neurotransmitters the way most brains do has resulted in my bipolar II disorder, my sensory sensitivity disorder, and my chronic migraines, but it also has a lot to do with my intelligence and creativity, my wit and wisdom, my empathy and understanding, my writing ability and artist's eye, and my unique and invaluable way of looking at the world. On the days when the weather is fine, I still have access to all of that (though not to the part of my brain that handles creative writing; most writing I do for this blog is but a faint reflection of my talent at its fullest, and I do miss my ability to write at my best) and I would rather have migraines than sacrifice what is great about my brain. Also, changing my brain is not an option, even if I wished to. Thus, this migraine choir is mine whether I want to hear it or not, so I might as well spend my time on cultivating gratitude and pleasure. It's a highly rewarding way of spending one's time and I recommend it to everyone.
So, yeah, I have a disability. But it has forced me to live in the moment, which turns out to really be the best possible place to live. It has freed me from clocks and calendars, from the artificial stresses we place upon ourselves in our society to achieve things by a certain date or time in our lives. It has reinforced the value of simple pleasures. I have a roof over my head, good medical care, a family that loves me, a dog for company, internet access to the outside world, and deeply satisfying creative work. When the wind isn't blowing, I tend to feel lucky and I often feel happy. While I wouldn't wish my life on anyone, I get by okay.
Last year I chose, on this day, to write about what I've lost, and it's all still valid. But this year, despite being forced to spend most of last week in bed and being able to detect, yesterday evening, the falling of the barometer by my rising headache even before the storm hit, I'm feeling fairly positive. Perhaps it's because I see sunshine in my future.