Monday, 20 February 2012

One step forward, two steps back

I really thought I'd cracked this headache thing of mine. The day I've spent in bed appears to tell a contrary tale.
She looks rather serene I think
Nearly 5 years ago now, I woke up one morning feeling rather rough. I had a pounding headache, I was insanely tired and bright lights made me squint and wince. During school, my symptoms worsened. At lunchtime I decided I'd had enough and went to the medical room and, after keeping me for an observation hour, got sent home. The next three days I spent in bed. The curtains were tightly drawn, my parents brought water and I declined all food. There were no electronics, no music, no books, no activity for those three days. Just pain. Hammering. Drilling. Stabbing. Shooting. Rippling. Vice-like. I experienced so many different types of pain and no part of my head was left unaffected. It was terrifying, like nothing I'd ever known before. Keep the paracetemol coming was my motto. My parents understandably were worried but a call to our GP allayed their fears with the explanation that sometimes, these very severe headaches just happen and one episode is nothing to be concerned about. At some point during those days, the pain started to recede. It was a slow process, like water dripping from a vessel, but eventually I was pain free and my life resumed.

A couple of months later I experienced a repeat episode. In the intervening months we had come to the conclusion that it might have been a migraine-type headache and thus we were more prepared. We followed the same procedure as the last time, total isolation, and eventually the pain receded. However, that time something was different. Instead of being pain free at the end, there was a slight, niggling twingle remaining.

And the cycle repeated itself. Every few months I'd spend a few days in bed battling the intense pain and the rest of the time coping with the low level pain. To make matters more interesting, the low level, regular pain would fluctuate seemingly at random and the location of the pain would jump about my head affording reprieve to one area only to take down another.

Eventually I saw my doctor and to cut a long story short, we concluded nothing. I tried so many different medications. Triptans (6 kinds) and anti-depressants and anti-epileptics and amitryiptyline and beta-blockers and different combinations of analgesics (until it was decided I was dependent on them and had to cut them out completely) and nothing worked. Onto further testing. Brain scans, multiple blood tests to check organ function and hormones and minerals, general physiological checks, accupuncture, osteopathy and still nothing. Onto psychological causes and weekly visits to a counsellor. Eventually the side effects of the different drugs and the emotional turmoil of counselling got to be too much with too little return and my parents and I decided to quit. Why put your body through that circus when it's not helping? So we resigned ourselves to this endless cycle.

After a few years of learning to live with the headaches and other associated symptoms, we noticed a decline in the frequency of the severe episodes. Yes, the daily ones were still there but I could manage those with no additional, pharmaceutical help. The bad ones I could manage with a little help, provided I was very careful about only taking what was absolutely neccessary as I didn't want to fall back into the rebound symptoms trap. Through my A-levels I felt positive. I was able to up my attendance from 68% at GCSE to over 80%, I was able to go out clubbing and stay up until 5am without being laid up for the next few days. I was making progress.

However, the decline in frequency was compensated for by the severity. When the migraine-type episodes hit, they hit hard. It was awful luck that I ended up in a Portuguese hospital this summer and was only able to enjoy the first 2 days of our holiday as the time out of hospital was spent in our appartment, shuffling between the sofa and my bed.

And then there was uni. Freshers week seemed like it would be a minefield but somehow, staying up until 4am every morning and partying every night didn't cause me to relapse.The first semester went smoothly with only 1 lecture missed due to a headache.

But this morning, at around 3am, I felt the familiar pounding. The incessant and increasing knocking on the side of my head. I consciously unclenched my jaw. I steeled myself against the pain and willed sleep to take me. It did but only briefly. I'm fairly certain that getting up at 3.50 and then 6.45 didn't help matters but, after queueing for tickets, I collapsed back into bed at 8.30 swallowing a handful of tablets. I forced myself to rise for my lecture and went promptly back to my darkened cave until 8 this evening when my flatmate texted me that I should probably get up for a bit so that I would sleep through the night. Begrudgingly I did but the smell of food made me queasy and so here I am. Sitting infront of my computer, screen on the darkest setting with only the glow of fairy lights to alleviate the gloom.

And all my hopes that I'd seen the back of this problem. Well, lets just say I'm not feeling that optimistic anymore.

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