Friday, May 24, 2013

The Folly of Pain Avoidance


Psalm 119:67-71

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law. 
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.

My rebound headache situation worsened so I decided to go cold turkey and not take anything at all for my migraines for 30 days straight. Rebound headaches, also called medication-overuse-headaches (MOH), are the third leading cause of all headaches, though they're still poorly understood by most physicians. 

How do they start? Over-the-counter headache medicines (and prescription headache medicines) are not designed to be used more than twice a week. When a tension headache or migraine headache sufferer begins to use them more than twice weekly, the headaches come back (rebound) as the body develops a tolerance or addiction to the medicine. If the cycle continues--have headache reach for medicine--eventually the headaches occur daily, and sometimes more than once daily.

We tend to think of addiction as something that comes with serious prescription medicine, but the fact is even Tylenol can be a culprit, especially if it's paired with caffeine. A Tylenol/caffeine cocktail is what I've taken for 17 years for migraines. Otherwise, I am not a caffeine consumer; I avoid coffee, tea, and soda, and only get a tiny bit of caffeine in a handful of semisweet chocolate chips. Caffeine is a definite culprit for many headache sufferers. If you don't get your morning brew, do you get a headache? That is a rebound headache--your body pleading with you to give it what it is addicted to, in this case, caffeine.

I never sought prescription medicine because for the first years of rebound pain, I didn't know what was happening. Then later I either hoped to get pregnant, or was pregnant, or was long-term breastfeeding. 

Now that my last child has mostly weaned herself, I can seek something better, but I know it wouldn't help unless I break the rebound cycle first, since a prescription medicine will cause the same issue.

To cure a rebound pain cycle, go without medicine for 30 days straight. To avoid a rebound headache cycle, remember the 2-5 rule. You can take something for two days straight, but then don't take anything else for 5 full days. You can't cheat and take Tylenol for two days, and then take ibuprofen for the next five days. No, you have to go five full days without any medicine, no matter the pain level.

I knew living life with a raging migraine was going to be extremely difficult with four children around making noise, needing me, and sometimes squabbling. How would I keep up with meals and chores, I wondered? The ideal mother, in my mind, was not someone frequently lying down with ice on her head, pleading with everyone to be quieter and to stop shaking the bed. Light, glare, noise, and motion aggravate a migraine. Eventually, a migraine leads to nausea and vomiting and this can be scary for children. I wanted to avoid upsetting my children and husband, and I wanted to avoid severe pain.

When you go cold turkey in your approach, it can take between 2 days and 10 days to feel better, and some people will continue to have daily headaches for weeks or months. If you take prescription medicine, check with your doctor first, as some will cause seizures if stopped abruptly.

This has been and will continue to be very hard on my family and on me, but hopefully by one month we'll be through it. When the cycle is broken I will still get intermittent migraines, probably until after menopause, but I'll be a lot healthier and my family will have developed strategies to endure mom's migraines.

The huge lesson for me and for my family has been this: We can't avoid pain. 

Modern medicine has been such a blessing in coming up with vaccines and antibiotics, and with medicines and protocols for treating diseases like my daughter's juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. JRA used to be an awful life sentence for children, but now there's so much they can do.

Sometimes though, medicine can be a curse. It makes us forget something important about life: that it is painful. It's smart to judicially avoid some pain, but trying to avoid all of it is a serious character flaw.

Have a difficult marriage or a difficult child or relative? Have a difficult boss or coworker? Do you have chronic pain, either from headaches or from an injury or disease? Life will entail pain and it will take many different emotional and physical forms. Sometimes, we just have to endure it, rather than pop a pill, get a divorce, or change jobs.

Pain avoidance comes from what, mostly? Cowardice and lack of faith. And sometimes from shame; we don't want to be perceived as sickly or weak. We avoid the pain because we assume we won't be able to endure it. That God is not big enough to get us through it. 

But in truth, our pain leads us to the Lord more often then we'd otherwise go to him  And our Lord? Where does He lead us? To peace and joy of soul.

My 9-year-old Paul keeps saying he wants me to be happy, and why did God have to give me migraines? It's been a wonderful opportunity to teach that even though my face shows pain, not happiness, my soul is ever at peace, finding joy in my Lord and in my family.

Don't look to someone's outside, my son, and check for happiness. Happiness is fleeting, like your short turn on the trampoline. But look instead at the soul, and check for peace and joy. When you're looking for friends and later for a wife, don't be deceived by happiness, which can hide a whole lot. People addicted to happiness won't be along for the long haul; they don't have what it takes.

It's peace and joy of soul--having a heart that beats for God--that makes a person healthy...that makes marriages last...that allows cancer sufferers to thrive...that makes a grieving parent want to live again. 

It's peace and joy of soul that make a life rich. 

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps 23)


Tesha Papik said...

Wonderful truth that peace and joy are so much better that happiness! Praying for healing for your headaches.

Christine said...

Thank you for the prayers, my friend. Have a wonderful Memorial Day!