Massage Masochism (October 30, 2012)

Several months ago I wrote this post about my ongoing battle with alopecia. The hair loss which follows the line along my left temple turned out to be an aesthetically horrifying side effect of chronic cluster migraines, the condition with which I was finally diagnosed in mid-August. Though the diagnosis brought about irritating lifestyle changes (less wine consumption, reduced outdoor activity in hot weather, more sleep and less demands on my limited free time), the verdict was certainly preferable to that of an autoimmune disease or brain tumor, which were the other two options.

The team of doctors who helped me looked for answers decided upon a fourfold treatment plan: one emergency medication for sudden headache onset and two daily pills, the aforementioned lifestyle changes, a topical steroid spray intended to regenerate hair growth and treatments as often as I could afford them with a craniofacial massage therapist. Through a series of a medical exams, it was ascertained that copious knots located at the base of my skull, scalp, neck and jaw might be limiting the healthy inflow of blood and oxygen while causing a retention of impurities and other waste. It was also hypothesized that these knots developed over time, likely due to the effects of 2011 stress – cancer, divorce, and a schism with close family members.

I went AMA and took myself off those daily pills within a month, The prescriptions were causing reductions in my heart rate, breathlessness and chest tightness. During light jogs, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and worst of all, the tablets did nothing to restrain the monstrous headaches that often appeared out of thin air. I held onto the emergency pill, and still do, as it has proven effective at limiting the discomfort if I act with alacrity.

But about those craniofacial massages. They have been a horrendously uncomfortable miracle. It turns out I had an expert right in my own backyard, a longtime friend with an established mobile therapy business. He specializes in the treatment of those with chronic conditions like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and yes, migraines. Because many of his clients are homebound or otherwise limited in their motility, Pat comes to them. As a sole proprietor with his own equipment, without the expense of office space, his rates are highly attractive.

But I digress. I booked my first 90-minute treatment in the middle of August. Pat started with my scalp before moving to the base of my skull. For a person who has built a career out of presumed self-awareness, I knew not until he touched me exactly how sore, rigid and entangled those muscles were. Hell, I didn’t even know they were used for anything. However it wasn’t until he slapped on a pair of latex gloves and began digging around my jaw inside and out that the actual tears began to flow. As Pat began to isolate grape-sized kinks in the muscle groups which permit talking, eating, brain and neck support, I couldn’t believe I had been walking around living day-to-day life like this. I am certain the tears were shed in equal parts sorrow over the ignorance which led to needless suffering, as well as temporal pain.

At the conclusion of that first session, I had watery eyes, sneezing and a two-day runny nose that ejected copious amounts of weird green shit. Was that mess literally stuck inside my head? Never had the dire warnings that a stressful lifestyle impacts overall health seemed more obvious. I had the mucus-filled tissues to prove it.

As I walked out Pat’s front door, I was resolved never to endure another bout of his sadist “massage therapy” again, but I certainly couldn’t deny that I had more movement in my jaw and neck than I ever remembered. I also couldn’t ignore that as he worked through my jaw, tiny shoots of pain were refracted at the front of my skull – exactly the point from which the migraines emanated.

Nearly three months and one regenerating bald spot later, my belief that prescription drugs often only mask the problem, and bring about their own pitfalls is stronger than ever. I’d stop short of labeling myself a New Age homeopathic hippie, but I am a logical being and if something works, I stick with it. I haven’t suffered a migraine in 12 weeks and the new hair growth, even if entirely white, offers encouragement that this past summer’s informal wig shopping may have been premature. I no longer obsessively pet the smooth spot that shouldn’t be, as if enough rubbing could awaken the dormant follicles.

If short-term pain once every three weeks means getting my life back and a reprieve from repetitive, expensive doctor visits, then it’s a true pleasure.

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