This is the kind of winter that migraine sufferers dread. Take last week for example. Here in Chicago the temperature touched 61 degrees on Tuesday, the warmth punctuated by springlike showers. By Thursday morning, the mercury stopped climbing at 10 degrees with brutal winds and icy road conditions.
Remember when the El Nino weather pattern was the subject of much news coverage back in 1997 and 1998? Well as a native Chicagoan, I never saw what the fuss was about. It’s El Nino here all year-round. Many times we cycle the four seasons all in the same Windy City day. As a child and young adult, the varying climate was either a fun adventure or a wardrobe challenge, but as I enter my mid-30s, in peak mental condition, but somewhat hobbled physically, the volatile elements have a similar effect on my temperament.
Back in November of 2012, on Election Day to be precise, I fractured my coccyx and sacrum in a bad judgment call involving L’il Red, a yellow light and an SUV. As an avid gym goer and infamous pain intolerant, the long recovery of this injury, aggravated by the bipolar nature of a Chicago winter, has left me rather short on patience – with myself and others. Midsummer last year I was also diagnosed with a debilitating cluster migraine condition that has been stubbornly difficult to regulate. The worst fate for a control freak is the body’s capricious tendency to dive into a tailspin of throbbing pain and nausea that can endure for days. In the worst moments of these episodes, I cannot talk or write. The ability to communicate, an attribute I value so highly, drowns in suicidal levels of painful inertia. To look at my scientific, solutions-oriented partner in the eyes and see a helplessness I can’t comfort may be the cruelest turn of all.
As I sit here typing these words, it’s a manageable 32 degrees outside but freezing rain has been dropping in sheets since the middle of the night. I know this because I awoke with a dull pressure ache in my sinuses when the downpour began. My physician, the eminently patient and kind Dr. Gong, has theorized that the parts of my brain which trigger a migraine don’t seem to know how or when to shut themselves off. This could explain why the headaches can last for days and are immune to all the usual remedies. My brain just ignores what’s good for it. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Throughout two years of recovery and convalescence, which began in early 2011 when I said goodbye to my ex-husband and our broken marriage, I was warned about the mind-body continuum. While I was in survival mode, on constant high alert, the ability to function without food, sleep or emotional balance was a phenomenon to be taken for granted. It was only paradoxically as I began to relax and morph into the new, less self-defeating person I am on the inside that the body started to give way: a battle with cervical cancer, the cluster migraines, alopecia, insomnia. If my psyche is in large degree healed, why can’t my body get with the program? It seems it feels the need to follow the arc of this typical Chicago winter: up, down, all-around and completely outside my jurisdiction.