Faith From Pain

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Feb 1

Faith From Pain

This is an archive site for anyone interested in my story. Feel free to ask a question, but no new posts are being written.

Start with the first post, here.

Then, ready the story.

Then, read the conclusion.

Bicycling

If you haven’t read the first post, you should probably go back and do so.

But to summarize, about 10 years ago I was diagnosed with Migraine. It hit hard, nearly disabling me for 18 months. Over the course of several years I was able, with the help of medication and prayer, to get to a point where the pain and symptoms were livable. Of course, I was always striving for a “100% cure” for this incurable disease.

Friends were always giving me suggestions on what to try and someone suggested bicycling. I had tried exercise before; in fact the link between exercise and Migraine is well established. However when I joined a gym all I did was lose $50 a month.

But bicycling. I love bicycling! In Jr. High I would cycle all over the place. Down to the beach, up and down the hills of downtown Long Beach, along The Strand with my mom. Yeah, I could do this!

I had an old mountain bike in my garage so I filled up the tires, found my helmet, and got it ready the night before. That morning I woke up early and went for a nice one mile ride. I came home and threw up. Man was I out of shape. But I did it every day that week.

Normally I get a weekend Migraine. This is a well known phenomenon among Migraineurs. I normally get mine Friday evening or Saturday morning. I still had a Migraine that weekend, but the pain was noticeably lighter. Hmm.

A friend of ours owns a bike shop. We paid him a visit and went home with a new 2004 Trek 1000C. I continued to ride every morning eventually getting up to 5 miles a day. I knew it was helping and I tried to ride as much as I could.

In mid 2005 my neurologist took me off one of my primary medications. The effects were awful. I had to take a week off work and I wound up in the Emergency Room. Of course, I couldn’t ride. The headaches came back but I attributed it to the switch of medications, not the lack of riding.

In late 2005 we moved from California to Georgia. I didn’t ride at all in December 2005 while packing up the house and finishing up at my office. Christmas Eve I wound up at the Emergency Room again. Slowly I was starting to see that there was a stronger relation between cycling and Migraine attacks then I had previously thought.

I started to log when I got attacks and when I rode. I thought “I should make a web site for this”. But then Ian Smith beat me to it and made Joe’s Goals. It was just what I would have made! (No, really!) I switched to using Joe’s Goals for my logging.

Every three months I see a neurologist. They always ask, “What causes your Migraines; what makes them worse; what makes them better?” It’s different for everyone. I’ve mentioned to them before that bicycling makes them better. The response was, “Exercise makes you healthier? Well, duh!” But last time I printed out the Joe’s Goals 90 Day Report.

The results surprised both of us; me and my neuro:

image

Let me explain the graph. The green is positive, the red is negative. Joe gives me one point for waking up on time (also known to help stop my Migraines), he gives me another point for cycling. I get negative points for having a Migraine, another for having to take medication for a Migraine, and another for having to take stronger medication (Vicodin) for a Migraine.

Joe’s Goal’s report clearly shows that every Migraine attack corresponds exactly to a time when I stopped cycling. Furthermore, there are only two times when I had a Migraine on the same day that I went cycling. Each dip in the report, for a Migraine, corresponds to a time when I stopped cycling for one reason or another:

8/15 to 8/18 – Business trip to California
9/12 + 3 Weeks – Vasectomy
9/19 to 9/22 – Business trip to California
9/23 to 9/24 – VW trip to Chicago
10/13 – Got a cold, stopped ridding

My neuro also rides a road bike, so I thought he’d be interested in this. He looked at the graph a bit and then said, “Why would you ever stop cycling?” I jokingly replied: “I’m very very lazy.” Truthfully I think I’m just not making cycling enough of a priority.

My doctor makes a good point, and I think it took Joe’s Goals to reveal it. Why would I ever stop cycling? I try not to. Since moving to Georgia I’ve found myself riding in 100 degrees and 30 degrees, humidity, storms, and next to all kinds of road kill. And I love it. I finish every single ride thinking, “Man that was a blast!”

I have no plans to stop. I’m convinced the more consistent I am with riding the less frequent the attacks will be. This has been my best month so far, I’ve riden 6 days a week with only 3 exceptions. I’ve only had one Migraine this month; for the first time in 10 years I went 20 days without an attack. As I mentioned before, last year was the first year in 10 years that I haven’t been to the Emergency Room. I never imagined the solution to my problem would be something so simple and enjoyable. But I thank God every day that it is.

My Story

So about 10 years ago I wake up in this intense pain. Just indescribable. My head is going to explode. I wake my wife, Dawn, and we go to the nearest hospital. They do a spinal tap, MRI, CAT Scan, blood tests, and some X-Rays. They’re all clean. They ask about my family history. My mother gets Migraines. “Ah, that’s probably it.” They want to admit me to make sure it’s not anything else but my HMO won’t pay for it. I’m sent home with some Vicodin and that’s the end of it for another 4 or 5 months.

Then it happens again and I’m sent to a neurologist who makes the formal diagnosis. It is Migraine. I’m put on Elavil in an attempt to stop future headaches and given more Vicodin to take for the pain.

They keep coming. First, every 4 months, then 2, then weekly, then daily. Eventually it’s just one big constant headache.

Migraine is more than just head pain though. Along with a sharp stabbing pain next to my eye, I get sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, confusion, muscle spasms, fatigue, nausea. Sometimes I’ll get minor aphasia, the inability to put together sentences. I can still talk but it feels like walking under water – it just takes forever. In about half my Migraines I get Aura before the pain. Aura is a visual sensation – I see it even with my eyes closed. (Press your finger against your eye, it looks like that.) It doesn’t hurt; it’s actually very pretty. The dizziness is awful. I have to stop driving and when we moved into a two story house I managed to fall down the stairs a few times.

When I first got Migraines Dawn and I hadn’t been married very long and shortly afterwards we had our first child, a little girl named Alex. Fortunately, we both worked at the same place. We worked out a schedule where Dawn would wake up, get ready, get Alex ready, and then wake me up at the last minute. I would get ready and then go to sleep in the car on the hour drive to the office. I’d suffer through work (mainly just clerical stuff) and then sleep in the car on the way back. When we got home I’d go back to bed and Dawn took care of Alex and the house. This went on for about a year and a half.

The pain was unbearable. As I said, my mother has Migraine. When my younger brother was born the doctor was late and my father had to deliver him. She wasn’t able to get any pain medication. Comparing the pain to Migraine, she says the childbirth was a lot easier, and a lot less painful.

Every couple of weeks it would get so bad I couldn’t stand it and we’d go down to the Emergency Room for some Demerol. I think during that 18 month period we went about 15 times. They’d have me tell them my pain on a scale of 1 – 10. During that time my pain was never less than a seven or eight. When it got to 9 we’d go down to the ER.

They said 10 was “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced”. I’ve only ever had 4 or 5 “10s” in my life. The Vicodin did nothing; the Demerol only took the edge off. The only thing I could do was cry out to God to either take the pain away or just kill me. I really didn’t care which one. I just wanted the pain to stop. I can remember openly weeping during these times, and Dawn says I would sit there banging my head against the wall.

Although I was in the worst pain of my life, something amazing happened. As I sat there and prayed I physically felt the presence of God – a hand on my back. And then the pain would lessen. Not completely, but to a point that I could handle it. I’d be okay until the next day. I’ll tell you this: I believe in God, if for nothing else, because of those 4 or 5 headaches.

Let’s back up just a bit. I said I didn’t care if I died. During the worst of the pain that was true. During more lucid moments I was more rational. There was one moment where I considered suicide. I was not depressed. But I’ve tried many things to get rid of these headaches and, rationally speaking, that would definitely do the trick. So I thought it out for a night and decided to not do it. I was sure God would heal me at some point. I didn’t need to give up. But I’ve never met a Migraine patient who hasn’t had these thoughts at least once.

So we just kept trying different things. Every three months I saw my neurologist and they’d try a different set of drugs. Eventually I switched to a nuero smart enough to get me off Vicodin and that helped tremendously. It took a while, but we got it down to about one headache (attack) per week. A great improvement.

Getting rid of that last weekly attack took some work. I received tons of advice. Hypnosis, chiropractors, acupuncture, an All Orange Juice Diet! Even my church wasn’t much help. Didn’t I know that if I just ASKED for healing, I would be healed?

We continued to try difference things to stop the last weekly headache, but after 18 months of straight pain Dawn and I were pretty happy where we were. We went ahead and had a second child. I started my career as a software developer. My new employer wasn’t thrilled when I told him I had Migraines, but the once-a-week attack was almost always on the weekend so we didn’t really think it would affect him much.

I don’t remember whose idea it was but about 2 years ago we tried yet another idea: bicycling. I had an old mountain bike so for a week I rode in the mornings before work. That very first weekend I noticed a decrease in pain in my weekly attack.

Skip forward to today. I’m now riding my bicycle six days a week. I still get Migraines, but each month they get farther apart. It’s been over a year since I’ve gone to the Emergency Room and in the last six months I’ve only taken Vicodin once. When I saw my nuero this week he felt I was doing well enough to stop seeing him every 3 months. After 10 years of these quarterly visits I’ll now just see him annually to make sure I haven’t relapsed.

It’s been 10 years and a very hard journey, but it’s giving me faith and an undeniable belief that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Why This Site?

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while now. It’s been hard but I’ve always believed that at some point I would be on the other side telling this story. I also knew that in the end I’d be healed. I just didn’t know how. And I guess to some extent I still don’t. I’m still going through this. But I know enough to start telling my story.

This will be the story of how I was diagnosed with Migraines – how God gave me the faith to endure the pain, and ultimately saw fit to heal me. It’s also the story of how bicycling played a huge role in my recovery.

I don’t think it’ll take long to tell this story. When I’m done I might keep posting, or I might just stop and leave the site up for whoever will stumble upon it in the future. Give me some feedback and let me know what you think.

I’ve given some thought as to what I should include in the site. I’m going to be honest, but I’ll try not to be too dramatic. Feel free to call me on it if I get that way.

Much thought was put into whether or not to post anonymously. I almost lost a job over Migraines and I don’t want to have to go through that again. I’ll post on all those thoughts later. For now I think I’m just having faith that if God gave me the story he wants it told. I’m not going to post my date of birth and social security number, but I’m not going to jump through hoops to hide many details either.

DISCLAIMERS:

For those without Migraines:
I use the terms “Migraine” and “Headache” interchangeably. When I say “headache” I generally mean the pain portion of a Migraine, even if that’s not technically correct. Migraine is a medical condition that should be diagnosed by a physician. Those of us who suffer from this condition find it insensitive when others call “really bad” headaches “Migraines”.

For those with Migraines:
I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on the Internet. Some of my posts may sound like medical advice, but it’s all just personal opinion. I may speak of “Holistic Health”. I may even drive a VW Bus. But I am not a hippy. You need to be under the care of a neurologist. Take his advice seriously and don’t underestimate the serious power of today’s modern prescription drugs. If you choose to use medications, be careful not to abuse them.

For everyone:
Let me be the first to say that I have no idea what I’m talking about. This is free advice I’m giving… and you really overpaid. I’ve been a Christian for just over 10 years and I’ve had Migraines for just under 10 years; but I’m not an expert in either. I do not have scripture memorized; I cannot tell you the biblical view on disease and healing. I’ve done no studies on the links between Migraine and exercise. But I know what I’ve lived through and hopefully my experience will help someone else.