look on the (ouch) bright side

migraine headache.

It's not that bad. Okay, maybe it is.

AS AN ON-AGAIN-OFF-AGAIN SUFFERER of debilitating migraines, I’ve learned to focus on the positive side of being ill, if only to prevent me from offing myself, which has obviously worked so far.

Take blind spots as an example. Prior to the onset of a migraine, I lose some of my vision. While it can be dangerous if it hits me while I’m driving home from Syracuse at seventy miles an hour on Route 81 (which it has), my partial blindness is blissfully pain-free compared to the agony I’ll endure in about an hour, and it alerts me to prepare for my impending episode of prolonged uselessness.  If I’m at home during this invaluable time, I blindly wash my face, brush my teeth, drink some water, eat a snack, pull down the shades, cancel appointments, and brief Leah on whether or not I picked up the dog poop that morning or if there are wet clothes in the washer.

And then, as quickly as I lose my vision, it comes back, and with it, pain. Migraines are both physically overwhelming and emotionally devastating. Light hurts my eyes, the tiniest sounds rattle in my ears like snare drums, and it feels like my forehead is about to give birth to an angry, out-of-control alien creature who is pounding on my skull from the inside. Where’s Sigourney Weaver when I need her?

The bright side? In my sea of pain I enter a semi-conscious state for twelve to twenty-four hours. When I feel a migraine starting, I kiss my partner Leah good-bye as I slip far, far away.

It’s strangely peaceful in a cocoon of pain. The world stops. I couldn’t function if I tried, so I give in. I lose days sometimes. During the few minutes I regain consciousness here and there, my eyes don’t work well enough to read, my speech is slurred and I can’t complete sentences.

When else do we get to shirk our responsibilities without getting in trouble, except when we are sick?  Forget about emails, phone calls, Facebook, dirty dishes. Sick people are allowed to be cranky and selfish. We might even get some sympathy.

Being sick is almost Zen. When we are ill, we live fully in the moment, unable to escape our aches and pains by distracting ourselves with either work or pleasures.

Unless we’ve scored some good drugs. So far I have not found a migraine medicine that stops the pain, but I carry a precious prescription of anti-nausea pills in my purse, pleased to have my drugs stealthily stashed on me at all times, as if it’s the Prohibition Era and I’m carrying a flask of top-notch hooch. As far as I know, Promethazine has no value on the black market, but I don’t care, because I would never part with even one little pill. I’m so relieved that I don’t vomit during my migraines anymore that I want to cheer.

Catch me on a bad day, and I’ll tell you my migraines are a curse. Today, though, when I’m not in pain, I count my lucky stars. I focus on how migraines have made me eat better and exercise regularly and drink more water. At least I haven’t landed in the E.R. or lost control of my bowels. Yet.

During a recent out-of-town trip to visit family, I realized I was getting a migraine when I gazed across my hotel room, caught sight of the welcome folder on the dresser, and read its title:

Supe  8.

I couldn’t see the “r.” I looked over at Leah, who was sitting on the bed next to me, and she only sported one eye. No, I was not asleep and dreaming of a Picasso-like painting of my lover. I had a blind spot, and I knew what would come next:

I got out of coffee with the in-laws.

-Amelia Sauter


flying phobia

flying phobia

You want me to get on an airplane? Drugs, please.

ANXIETY RUNS IN MY FAMILY. So do large foreheads and potbellies, but those don’t prevent me from getting on an airplane. I’d avoided flying the anxiety-filled skies for the last ten years, but now I would feel like a wimp if I told my best friend– who was 600 miles away, alone with a newborn, and in need of my assistance–“hey, I got the weekend off and found a really cheap plane ticket, but I’m too scared to fly, so sorry, you’re on your own.”

I would do it. I would go. But to board a plane, I would require drugs.

When I was a psychotherapist, I discouraged clients from relying on psychiatric medications. Meds are Band-Aids, I would say. They don’t fix the problem; they mask it. You should only use meds if your life is at risk. Like when you are getting on a plane.

My mom – who hates to fly – said her neighbor Sally attended one of those get-rid-of-your-flying-phobia classes that involved facts, relaxation techniques, a tour of the airport, and at the end, a fear-free flight. “Are you kidding?” I asked my mom. “Why would I want to convince myself that I’m not going to die?” That would be tricking myself into a false sense of security while speeding through the clouds at forty thousand feet in a flying tube of death. I did not want my last thoughts in this world to be, “Feet relax. Feet you are relaxing. Feet you are relaxed.” No, I would put my affairs in order, say my final goodbye to my partner Leah, and take my Xanax.

The day of my flight, I posted my last will and testament on Facebook and hugged Leah tightly at the security checkpoint, assuming I was about to plunge to my death in the ocean because the plane’s engines will fail due to some human error, like a mechanic confusing a bottle of personal lubricant with WD-40 – “oops.”

Boarding the rickety commuter plane was as easy as ripping out my own heart with a pair of pliers, but at the last minute, I surprised myself by forgoing the Xanax so I could take Promethazine, a travel sickness pill. This would prevent me from throwing up on the woman sitting beside me, who kindly offered me the window seat and then leaned as far as she could into the aisle to distance herself from my growing pile of grieving Kleenex filled with tears and snot. I tightened the lap belt over my potbelly and prepared to face my death without the assistance of a mind-numbing psych med. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to face my mortality and have my affairs in order, I thought. I tried unsuccessfully to convince myself  of this as the plane bumped along the runway gaining speed.

I survived the two-hour flight, this time. No plane crash, no death by panic attack. And due to my thoughtful drug choice, the other passengers would remember me as the anxious woman with the big forehead who cried hysterically, which is better than being known as the woman who puked on the plane. Did I mention travel sickness also runs in my family?

-Amelia Sauter