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.

Music and Meaning

(Written Thursday afternoon) For me, many pieces of music hold distinct memories. Some are unlocked simply by the title, composer, or performer, but some are held within the music itself. Music that I spent hours with in college, but had since forgotten. I’m at the North Central American Choral Director’s Association convention this week and there are lots of concerts involved. This morning the Dordt College Choir sang a song called Ngana by Stephen Leek. On paper, it rang no bells. But then came the first notes, and my voice wanted to cry out. I knew every single note. I don’t know what semester we sang it, but I remember wrestling with it and, subsequently falling in love with it.

This past Sunday, we sang a setting of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, as the middle hymn. All I could think of was singing it with the choir at Berea. Holding hands with two tenors, surrounding the congregation, and singing my heart out. To me, that song meant concert choir. It meant that I was part of a community and that I was bound to the people next to me, both literally (during the song) and figuratively (during the semester). It also meant that my eyes wouldn’t necessarily be dry at the end of the piece, but that, five years later, if I needed a favor, I could email or call many of those choir members and they would be more than willing to help me out. Because that’s the way choir works. And while I still have some of that in my choir today, it’s a little different. Because in some ways I feel like a church is supposed to be like that anyways.

The Iowa State Singers are singing right now. I first encountered them at the national convention in 2005, and, amusingly, one of their cds is the ONLY overlap between my and Ben’s cd collection. But they just sang a piece by Cyrillus Kreek. In 2004, I went to six King’s Singer’s concerts in Germany and Austria over eight days and 1000 kilometers. The first of these was in Waldsassen, a tiny German town on the Czech border, in a massive cathedral. One of the most wonderful and eerie songs they sang in their religious program was Onnis on inimene by Cyrillus Kreek. Kreek’s music was getting slightly more well known, but I could only find one group that had recorded Onnis. To remember how the haunting Alleluias went, I wrote the notes in their relationships to each other, in my journal. That was my introduction to Cyrillus Kreek. A massive Eastern European Cathedral on spring break, sung by six English men. (For fun you can also imagine I was surrounded by Germans, I don’t speak German, no one clapped during the concert, and I had arrived two minutes before the concert started, after ten hours of travel.) It’s amazing, in some ways, that these college students from Iowa can transport me halfway around the world and six years back in time, but they can. That’s the power of music.

And because you made it this far… here’s a video clip for you of the Real Group. Because I am kindof obsessed with them now. And I was contemplating starting my own Swedish Acapella Jazz Group. But then I remembered I wasn’t Swedish, so there was another failed life plan. Enjoy!


P.S. ACDA conventions are more fun as an interloper (i.e. non choral-director) with Kate and Keith to stalk famous people with hang out with.