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The headache that never went away: Part 4 – Watching my life unravel and knitting it back together

It’s odd to be sitting in bed writing an entry about how my chronic headache started destroying my life because right now I feel fairly fine. I’ve felt fairly fine for two weeks. I’m still working on the world’s record for longest headache, but it’s dialed down to a level 2 or 3 instead of a 5 or 6. I’m able to go about my life without thinking about my pain ever 5 minutes. When the headache is bad, all the normal thoughts I have during the day get pushed out, like flood waters washing possessions out of my house. The only thing that exists is the pain. It’s nice to have my brain back, at least for now.

However, there have been times in the past couple months when I’ve not been grateful to be in possession of my brain considering how badly it has been hurting. It’s made my life suck. Oh, let me count the ways.

The emotional toll

When I started crying alone in the parking lot of the doctor’s office in the rain last April, I knew I was starting to lose it. There was so much snot running down my face that I had to reach into the back seat and grab a white t-shirt to wipe my nose on that I’d been planning to give to Goodwill. Later I cried on the phone to my mom who felt bad that she couldn’t kiss the receiver to make the pain go away. I’ve laid in bed wondering if I’d have a stroke in the middle of the night and die, which would suck, but at least would stop my suffering.

Several people have told me they admire my level-headed, sensible approach to weight-loss. So, the fact that I’ve been blowing snot on t-shirts for the poor should give you a sense of how far gone I’ve been in my worst moments. One day I was so befuzzled after two hours and three different attempts at finding an open lab to do my blood work, that I turned the wrong way down a one way street.

The eating

My headache is like being locked in a room with a TV that is endlessly looping a movie starring Tom Green or Adam Carrola. It’s absolutely awful and I can’t turn off the TV, but I can sometimes tune it out. In the same way, my headache always hurts, but I can sometimes ignore it. I’ve found that the best ways to distract myself are to 1) keep psychotically busy or 2) eat pleasurable things. (Hence, the weight gain in my sidebar this month. That’s seven pounds of pain, baby.)

The intravenous drugs haven’t done shit, but the cookies n’ cream milkshake from Steak N’ Shake sure did make me feel better. I mean that in all seriousness. After I’ve been in pain all day, if I eat a bowl of ice cream or a chocolate bar, I genuinely feel better for those few moments. The agony is drowned out by the other sensations, like turning up the radio to drown out the sound of your neighbors having sex. Last month I was chomping on some chocolate chips, knowing I should stop, but also knowing that as soon as I did the pain would come back. Chronic pain or extra calories? Headache or huge jeans? I really don’t know which is worse.

I started half-seriously thinking about starting a drinking habit instead of binge eating, but I didn’t know how alcohol would react with some of my headache medications, whereas blueberry bagels don’t seem to cause fatal drug interactions.

The laziness

It’s hard enough to get myself to exercise when I’m feeling fine, but when my head feels like it’s imploding, good luck getting me to pull out my weight bench. I record all my exercise on a wall calendar. Flipping back, I can see that my Pilates and weights sessions started to drop off in frequency a week or two after my headache started. After a month, they disappeared completely and I was focused only on completing my training runs for my half-marathon. After I finally ran the race, I barely exercised for three weeks.

Thankfully, I have exercised regularly for the past two weeks. It’s felt really good, getting back into the familiar routine, almost like I have my life back. I believe the exercise makes me feel better too (even though running two miles is never un-painful). Activity is good for the body and lying around wasn’t helping make the pain go away anyway.

Missing out on fun

A couple weeks ago, I could have seen a sneak preview of the Indiana Jones movie for free, but I had to come home to do a drug treatment. Last month the band Stars was in town and I wanted to go see them, but I felt tired from suffering all day and I didn’t want to be stuck in a smoky room that could inflame my headache. Several times I have been out with friends or coworkers and I can’t help thinking, “This would be a lot more fun if my head didn’t hurt.”

The hopelessness

I used to wake up and feel happy driving around town or running errands, but at my worst I was just trudging through as best I could and trying not to go more than two weeks without doing the dishes. I wanted to stay in bed all day or curl up watching TV on the couch. I watched the TV show House and I started cheering on his Vicodin addiction. (I fully support your narcotics habit, you crabby doctor, you!) My attitude to live life to its fullest became Operation: Just Getting By. It was shocking how quickly my life completely unraveled. It sucked the happy right out of life.

While I try to keep a positive attitude, living in constant pain beat me down over time. Some days I felt like fighting and other days I felt like lying belly up on the floor playing dead. I think of Jack Baur from the TV show 24 when he’s been tortured by the Chinese for years. Jack didn’t break, because he’s Jack Baur, damn it! But I was ready to tell the Chinese all our nuclear secrets if they would give me acupuncture.

On the bright side, I feel like I can now empathize with people who suffer from chronic pain and depression better than I ever would have been before. You really don’t know what it’s like until it happens to you.

The money

MRI’s aren’t cheap. When I was watching those episodes of House, he started ordering MRI’s and CT scans and I literally yelled at my TV, “OH MY GOD! Do you know how much that’s going to cost?!?!”

The medical system

Oh, yeah, this has been fun. Filling out lots of form, getting lost in medical facilities, trying to figure out who to see and what type of doctor could help me, hoping this would be the magic test that would diagnose my problem, the long delays between prescribing a test and getting in the schedule to take the test.

Retelling my medical history to several different doctors has been like playing that alphabet car game. You know, the one where the first person says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing an apple.” And the next person brings something with the next alphabet letter like, “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing an apple and bagels.” Then the next person says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing an apple and bagels and cream cheese.” Except in the medical system it goes, “I have a headache and I tried antibiotics” and then you tell the next doctor, “I have a headache and I tried antibiotics and beta blockers,” and then you tell the next doctor, “I have a headache and I tried antibiotics, beta blockers and I’m willing to try crack cocaine if it will help.” It’s gotten to a point where I don’t know who I’ve told what or if I left out a part of the story because unfortunately I did not try things in alphabetical order.

But now I’m feeling better, if not fantastic

So, that’s what was going on behind the blog for the past few months. During April I kept thinking, “Dear God, how am I ever going to get through May?” But as I discovered, being incredibly busy helped because it didn’t leave me time to think about my headache. At the end of May, things started to slow back down to a reasonable pace, which left me plenty of time to think about how I’d gladly bash my head against a wall a couple times if I thought it’d stop the God damn pain. 2007 was a really great year and every day I drove home from work happy and excited, but I’d also think, “You’d better enjoy this feeling because something shitty is bound to happen to you eventually.” And it did.

But, the last two weeks have been okay, partly because the pain has lessened and partly because I’ve stopping hoping that it will go away anytime soon. It’s me and my headache for who knows how long – maybe for the rest of my life. In my research I discovered there are people who’ve had headaches for decades. I might one day be one of them. I will still keep looking into fixing my headache, but I’m sort of tired of dealing with the search for the cure right now. I’m taking a break.

Chilling out the past couple weeks has helped. I didn’t think I was that stressed despite the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, promoting a book, working a full-time job and writing a blog, but looking back and comparing it to how I feel now I’m thinking, “Um, yeah, maybe I was a little bit stressed out.” I was just so used to being stressed that I didn’t realize how bad it was until it let up. Sort of like how now my headache probably isn’t all that less painful than it used to be, I’m just so used to it that I don’t think it is as bad as I did when I first got it. If it were to go away, I would probably be surprised to realize how crappy I feel, just like I was surprised by how much better I felt when I first started eating healthy and exercising.

One of the worse things about this experience has been the feeling that I had no control over my life. I was in pain, gaining weight, not exercising, and unable to work as hard on my promotions as I wanted to – and it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was victimized by my central nervous system.

But I haven’t eaten any milkshakes lately. And I’ve been hitting the trail. And I can lift almost as much weight during my strength training as I used to. Things started spinning down into a tailspin for awhile there, but I feel like I’m pulling up on the stick now. We’ll be flying normal again soon, if with a bit of turbulence.

I hope the stewardess will serve painkillers.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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75 Comments

MB • June 12, 2008 at 9:20 pm

I feel so bad. I wish there was a magic pill or something to make it all go away.

Dealing with doctors and medical facilities can give a healthy person a vicious headache with all the forms and referrals and medical b.s.

I’m glad the pain has dialed down in intensity (or maybe you have just increased your pain threshold).

Have you thought about a nice relaxing vacation? Maybe you’ve been more stressed about the fast paced life you’ve been living than you realize.

Anytime you want to visit VT, sit next to a bon fire and watch shooting stars, just let me know.

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jancd • June 12, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Just vote for Obama and believe him that changes are coming. That includes help for your headache. Just get in line for an appointment in his socialized medicine change and in a month or two, you may get an appointment. This is a joke….a very scarey joke.

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Julie • June 12, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I’m sorry to hear that you’re still having such pain. I’ve lived with chonic illness for the last eight years, and I’m only 26, so I completely empathize with you being so young and in so much pain.

My best friend is working on her D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy). I’m not sure I could explain to you what she does, but if you’re looking for another option you might look into it. I know she’s helped to alleviate a lot of my pain and with much less cost than I’ve spent going to other doctors. I had never heard of it before she studied it, so I wanted to share just in case it was something that could help you.

Anyway, I hope that you do feel better soon. I’m a frequent reader and enjoy your blog very much. :)

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Tricia • June 12, 2008 at 9:49 pm

yay third comment! pq. its good to know that youre human, loosing all that weight, and still drinking a cookies and cream milkshake. mmmm. bah on that 7 lbs. you still look fabulous! im seriously so sorry about your chronic headache. ill send you a batch of brownies if it will make it go away! you are truly an insperation.

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Tricia • June 12, 2008 at 9:51 pm

darn, i was #4.

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Ashley • June 12, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Hey Pasta Queen, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, first I want to say what an amazing person you are and I am really sorry that you are suffering like this.

I’ve been meaning to comment on your never-ending migraine. Last year around May my mother experienced the same thing (ironically she was also in the midst of completing her first half-marathon) she developed a migraine that wouldn’t go away and just like you, for months she tried everything. All the things you have done. Then all of a sudden, after 4 months, it just went away. Poof, gone. She has no idea what did it. She does think stress might have been involved, although she also didn’t think she had been that stressed out. She has also been going to massage therapy for the past year still and she thinks that it actually has helped a lot, she just has to be consistent in going. But ultimately she couldn’t pin down one particular thing that would have made it stop the way it did.

This might not be very helpful to you, but I just wanted to let you know there is hope that it will eventually go away, and I really hope it does.

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Emily • June 12, 2008 at 10:43 pm

You’re totally right that you can’t understand chronic pain until you’ve had it. A year and a half ago I somehow managed to wreck my back – I was 21, healthy and an athlete, and the pain just came out of nowhere – and was in severe pain for about four months. I also had moments when I would just burst into tears, in part from the pain and in part because I felt like either I actually was crazy or that all my friends thought I was! So I’m really sorry that you’re going through something similar.

I also know what you mean about even a slight improvement making you feel so much better. I still have back problems some days (not every day, woohoo!), but I try to focus on “hey, I used to feel even worse than this 24/7,” and that helps get me through the day. Wishing you continued recovery!

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Tanya • June 12, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Hello-I am sorry you are feeling so bad. I use to have horrible headaches that nothing would work for until I took a biofeedback class–it really helped me. I was also wondering if you might be dehydrated and your system be out of balance? I know after I did the Danskin triathlon, I had a horrible headache that was caused from getting too dehydrated.

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starbird • June 12, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Maybe our prayers helped, too.

When I had a serious and scary operation several years ago, after I got out of the hospital I developed a horrible headache. On a hunch, I called the hospital and asked what they had given me to put me out. They were pretty scared to tell me, but I insisted on knowing. My skills as a pushy reporter helped me through that part!

I took the list of drugs, went to the local college library and looked them all up. Yes, this was pre-Internet! When I saw that side-effects for several of them were headache, I relaxed, drank tons of water to flush my system, and the headache went away after ‘just’ a month.

So, you and your posters who are guessing stress is a component of your pain are probably right. I’m still praying though, just in case. :-)

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cheryl • June 12, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Hi- I sure hope that the pain gets better and that the headache goes away. You might want to consider seeing a spine specialist because it could be your neck or something. I went to see my surgeon today and I’m getting started on physical therapy. The docs say it could take as long as a year to totally heal.

I have lost 4 lbs. since surgery,but I am WAY over what the BMI (Big Mama Index) chart says I should be. 5’6″ and 195lbs. It sucks. The new goal is to lose a pound a week. I figure that if the pasta queen can drop nearly 200 lbs, I can lose 35lbs or so. I won’t ever be on the cover of shape magazine,but I will be healthy. Hang in there, Jeanette.

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Jolene • June 12, 2008 at 11:40 pm

I’m glad to hear the worst is over- and hopefully forever! I’ve never experienced bad headaches but your experience sounded excruciating in more ways then one.

Cheers to getting through the pain and unknown and here’s to a celebratory and fun summer.

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suzanne • June 12, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Oh i hope your feeling back to normal soon! At least your feeling better than you were. My husband deals with chronic headaches and i know sometimes there’s just nothing you feel like doing but eating and vegging!! Hopefully this is over soon for you ;)

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Lydia • June 12, 2008 at 11:55 pm

I am truly sorry for what you’ve been going through. I go through periods every month where I have crushing headaches for about a week. This is after having several children, and I think hormones play a role in my particular situation.

Maybe if you had several children, it would work in reverse in your case, and you’d stop having headaches!

Well, anyway, I’m glad they’re a little bit better.

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Tara • June 13, 2008 at 12:14 am

I’ve suffered from cluster migraines since I was 8 years old (I’m now 26) and I can sympathize with what you are going through. There were times when I wished there was something tangible wrong with me, just to have a diagnosis that could be dealt with in a “real” way. I tried everything, including Topomax, acupuncture, beta blockers, yoga, massage therapy…none of it worked.

You just have to keep plugging through and hope that the moments where you feel good are going to be more frequent than the ones where you want to rip your eyes out to avoid the light. It will get better, I know it. In the darkest moments, it’s hard to believe it, but it will.

I’ll send some good thoughts your way.

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Laura Brandon • June 13, 2008 at 1:14 am

i asked my husband if he’d rather have a headache for the rest of his life or be obese. he’d rather have a headache. i can’t decide which i’d rather have. i can’t imagine dealing with it for as long as you have. as i’ve said before, i’d have gone insane by now!

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DDWT • June 13, 2008 at 6:43 am

Oh man, PQ! That totally sux. I was thinking about your headache, and wondering if you still had it. Hoping you didn’t. I’m so sorry!

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Pam • June 13, 2008 at 8:14 am

I know when I get those nasty nasty headaches, where I feel like taking an icepick to my forehead in hopes of getting some relief, I find I eat more carbs. It does seem to help, and I think it has something to do with serotonin.

Also, you may consider yoga. A good yoga class will give you a good workout and is medatative and de-stressing. Our rec center here in town has a great one, but I’m guessing a class in MA is maybe too far for you.

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Jill • June 13, 2008 at 9:14 am

“I was ready to tell the Chinese all our nuclear secrets if they would give me acupuncture”

This made me lol! So sorry about the headache – maybe you should try a strawberry vicodin margarita? I’ll bet House has tried that a time or two (that is my favorite show btw!).

I’M TOTALLY KIDDING ABOUT MIXING PAINKILLERS WITH ALCOHOL!!!! (if I don’t put that disclaimer in there someone will surely get ticked!)

I figure you don’t need any more advice about getting rid of your headache, so I’ll just say I’m sending happy pain-free vibes your way!!

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Marla • June 13, 2008 at 10:36 am

Every time I have some minor little illness I think “How in the world do people with chronic conditions manage??” Because my life can be totally destroyed just by a stupid flu.

Do you think there’s anything significant in the ice cream helping? Seriously, is there some ingredient (possibly sugar) that helps? That would be a hilarious prescription for a doctor to write: 1 pint Ben and Jerry’s taken orally qd.

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SusanTW • June 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

Just last night I read that in Nov 2007 Rosanne Cash had brain surgery for a congenital condition that caused headaches and loss of balance. Certainly I don’t wish brain surgery on you – but perhaps it’s worth asking your doctor(s) if perchance you have such a condition.

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e • June 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

I’m soooo sorry to her of your suffering. That totally sucks. One suggestion: type up a one page “hand-out” on your headache history, dates of procedures, medications tried etc. Then hand this to each new doctor you see. You can still have a conversation with them, but you won’t have to worry about getting all the details right (which would give me a headache!) since it’s all there on paper.

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deanna • June 13, 2008 at 10:44 am

I can’t empathize but I cam sympathize, I hope you get your life back soon. Just like your other amazing accomplishments…one step at a time. Hang tough! We’re pulling for you.

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Dinah Soar • June 13, 2008 at 11:30 am

Glad you are improving some. Just putting this out there: I went off all artificial sweeteners for a couple of months just because they are not natural…wasn’t having any problems physically.

Then had a diet soft drink…got a headache. Didn’t connect the two. A week or so later, had another diet soda…shortly after, another headache. Makes me think the artificial sweeteners triggered it.

Decided, perhaps the artificial sweeteners did affect me, but I’d gotten used to them over the years.

Now I avoid all diet soda…if I crave soda I have a small regular one…12 ounces is 90 calories…it’s an occasional treat now.

For years I ate a lot of sugar. When I started my current diet last fall I cut way back on high sugar foods, eating them only on occasion. Now I notice when I do eat a lot of sugar it makes me feel like I’m hung over.

Experiment with eliminating certain foods/things one at a time…see what happens.

Also, one more odd thing you might try–it sounds “quacky” but…if you use antiperspirant switch to deodorant so that your body can rid itself of some toxins through your armpit sweat.

I switched during menopause—supposed to help with the hot flashes…and it did help me feel cooler. Deodorant kept me from being “offensive” as in B.O… But I did notice my armpits had a chemical odor (even deodorant clogs your pores and inhibits the release of toxins)…so out of curiosity I tried natural mineral salts, also called a crystal—it works better than deodorant! My armpits, when sweaty have no odor…makes me think it’s because my body was finally able to rid itself of the toxins in that area.

I know this sounds flaky—I’ve heard stuff like this for years and discounted it…but my hot flashes were so miserable, and having had cancer and unable to use hormones, I was desperate to try anything…

Now I am a firm believer that we should allow our bodies to sweat via the arm pit area and anything that clogs that area inhibits the release of toxins..over the years, they accumulate…true some are released through “over the body” sweat, and other bodily elimination.

Anyhoo… a couple of things to try..you never know what the magic bullet is…sometimes it’s not just one thing, but a combination of things…trust me…I know from life experience.

You are a trooper and I think you are an awesome example and human being. You are going to get better…believe it.

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EG • June 13, 2008 at 11:50 am

Oh, I can relate. I fell off the Weight Watchers wagon when I was hit with an unexplainable case of chronic hives. Luckily I can’t relate to the medical bill part of that, ’cause “We don’t know why they come, or when they’ll go.” Fast forward 4 years to today, when I’m almost back at my WW starting weight from 4 years ago. Sigh.

I can relate to the crying at the doctor’s office – I was doing a drug test. The highest category was “7+” for # of hives. I showed them the 100+ hives on my back alone. The largest category was “Quarter-sized+” Among those on my back was a hive the size of my fist. Oh yes, there were tears.

The good news is that the hives did go, eventually. Sometimes I get mental itching, but the little beasts have not come back. I hope the same happens for your headaches!

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Catherine • June 13, 2008 at 11:53 am

Jeannette, I just recently found your blog and read your book! I am so sorry you are living with this pain. It sounds like you have tried everything. I am a massage therapist, and I did see that you had tried massage with no effect. Have you seen a chiropractor? I also have a lot of problems with migraines and usually it is relieved by getting my spine in proper alignment. If that’s the problem, you’ll know immediately after the treatment. (If you’ve already tried this and I missed it, sorry for the redundant suggestion).

Your blog/book has been such an inspiration. I wish you weren’t dealing with these headaches. How frustrating that you don’t have a diagnosis/solution for them yet. Hang in there, and keep seeking answers medically for what’s going on with you.

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Catherine • June 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm

One more comment…I went back and saw your previous entry saying you were thinking about chiropractic, but hadn’t tried it yet. I read your entry about how you have poor posture at your desk, the TMJ possibility, and then the fact that you are running…because if you are out of alignment, that’s just going to make it worse with the jarring that is happening to your spine. The best way to find a good one in your area is to ask friends for referrals….or even with your company insurance office, they often have someone they use…and sometimes it is covered! I had carpal tunnel and thought I would need surgery….was referred by my insurance to a chiro who did a deep massage treatment for 6 weeks and it cured me. Also had to reassess my work environment, make sure that my monitor was placed high enough that my neck wasn’t strained, that my wrists were at comfortable angle, had a proper chair with lumbar support, etc. This stuff sounds so basic that it probably seems absurd something so simple could be the cause for your pain, but if you repeatedly work with bad posture etc (like I did), it can cause your vertebrae to shift, impinge on nerves and cause headaches, nerve damage, etc.

The chiro will probably do an x-ray of your spine to see if there is any compression of disks, etc. My mother has C5-6 degenerative disk disease (you are pretty young for that, but could be early stages) and traction helps her. There is a device I got her that she wears (a little collar that inflates and elongates the neck gently) that helps her.

Anyhow, I’m mostly a believer in chiro because I have so many clients and family members who benefit from its effects. I hope you’ll check into it and maybe see if your friends or your company HR department have some recommendations for you.

Sorry for the wordy response…it just really bothers me to think you have been suffering for so long. I hope you have a resolution of it soon, in whatever method works for you.

Take care,

Catherine

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Liz • June 13, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I am de-lurking to tell you that I had a headache that lasted for about six months. Nothing helped and no reasons were found. It went away when I stopped eating meat. I thought it was coincidental, but if I fall off the vegetarian wagon the headache returns. Just wanted to share my experience….oh and I love your blog. You are my hero.

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Abby • June 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm

I have no tips or stories to share, but I’m sorry this is happening to you. You’ve put so much work into genuinely improving your life and now this. I very much hope it miraculously goes away and never returns, just cuz you’re awesome.

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Katharine • June 13, 2008 at 12:41 pm

That you were still functioning enough so that the world didn’t know about your monster headaches says quite a bit about how amazing you are, PQ. I wish all of us who read your blog and who bought your book could collectively send some magic your way that would permanently vaporize your headaches. You’ve put yourself out there all through your weight loss and have helped so many people in doing so.

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Allison • June 13, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Well, with drinks costing $2 on U.S. Airways these days, I bet airline painkillers will only contribute to the money issue. :)

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K. • June 13, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Hey pastaqueen,

Sorry about the headaches, hope you find a solution soon. At least you have a valid excuse for the weight gain… had none and still managed to put on 12 lbs, just indulging in everything under the sun for weeks and weeks…Good thing I finally faced the scale and got my act together, wo we are on the same path…do feel better AND I got my signed copy of your book about a month ago, will read it over the summer. thanks!

K.

PS: Glad to c we like the same shows-24, House…

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scone • June 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Oh hon. Speaking from experience, the alcohol route only seems to make it better, then the next day, it’s far worse. Alcohol + vicodin = death risk. The other narcotics are even more dangerous, or illegal, or both. Medical marijuana does help, not because it kills the pain, but because you just don’t care about it. But living life as a stoner would be impossible for a software engineer like you, IMO. Carbs do increase seratonin, but so does exercise. For me, running is hard on the spine, and can start the inflammation process going until it reaches my head, triggering the headache. Swimming helps me– it dials down the muscle tension that also triggers the inflammation process.

My own trip through chronic pain hell has taken years, sorry to say. It’s been trial and error, lots of error. But I’ve got a “management plan” that works for me, and I’ve reduced the incidence and severity of the attacks. So, don’t give up hope, and all that.

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Riley & Tiki's Mom • June 13, 2008 at 8:57 am

I think you’re on to something. De-stress, more pilates & weights, less running. Good luck!

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Angi • June 13, 2008 at 2:01 pm

PLEASE READ THIS, I HAVE HOPE FOR YOU! The EXACT SAME THING happened to me and it went on for THREE years (sorry about all the caps), and I just got over it late last year. I found out that it was rebound pain. I finally cured it when I stopped taking Tylenol. STOP THE TYLENOL AND STOP THE INSANITY! Tylenol causes terrible rebound, and so does anything that has a narcotic in it. I was in the same predicament, gaining back all the weight I’d worked so hard to lose because I couldn’t get out of bed. I just want to give you my phone number or call you up myself because I believe so passionately that you have REBOUND headache. It sucks to go completely without medication except Advil for a few days, but that’s the only cure. Advil doesn’t cause rebound, but Tylenol and narcotics do, and getting that out of your bod takes about 3 days. Take Advil and just grit your teeth. YOU CAN DO IT! Also, I stopped eating/drinking these things: red wine, chocolate, all cured meats (that was a huge headache aggravator), aged cheese, aspartame (bad one! Splenda is okay.), nuts, and all caffeine, even decaf coffee and especially Excedrin (because of the caffeine). I know it’s so hard to give up these foods because they make the South Beach diet so much easier, but I promise this works! Those foods are what initially caused the pain, and then the Tylenol kept it going for YEARS. I was on meds for three years and saw ELEVEN doctors before we figured out what it was (did my share of crying with frustration in the parking lot). I’m sure people say it all the time, but e-mail me if you want, I’d love to talk! (Silly of me, but you never know.)

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Angi • June 13, 2008 at 2:05 pm

And please read Buccholz’s “1-2-3 Heal Your Headache”

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Tena • June 13, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Hey, PQ, glad to hear you are feeling a little better. I used to have horrible headaches till I figured out I was sensitive to MSG. It is in a lot of foods, more than I realized. Now I only have the dreaded PMS headache or the sleep-deprived headache. :( I’m a night person and never want to go to bed! Anyway, I feel ya!

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Angi • June 13, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Last post, I swear, but I just can’t help myself. While you are “de-toxing” from the Tylenol and narcotic, your doc can give you a steroid to take to help you through the pain of those 3-4 days. I needlessly suffered from a headache for three years. Sometimes I cry when I think about the three years of my life that I missed because I was holed up in my room and taking Tylenol at every opportunity because I thought it would make me better. And stay away from those foods I named. PLEASE read this and try it because your situation just sounds so similar to mine. I tried everything under the sun: regular doctors (eleven of them), acupuncture, chiropractic, everything, and finally an angelic neurologist told me she believed it was the Tylenol. I stopped taking it, and I was cured in 3 days after THREE years of paid. Withdrawal was not fun, but the steroid helped, and I haven’t had a headache one time since. I have been reading your site for a few days, and I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished and it breaks my heart that this BEAST of a headache could undo it all for you, all because of rebound from meds that are supposed to help you feel better and foods that you don’t suspect because they’ve never bothered you before now. Those food senstivities came on very suddenly for me too so I didn’t believe it at first, but avoiding those foods and the Tylenol are the only things that have helped me. Don’t lose years of your life and newfound health to this!!!

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Greta • June 13, 2008 at 2:33 pm

You might consider a trip to a dentist. I had chronic headaches for more than a year which finally went away for good after having 2 root canals. Physicians NEVER consider teeth as a possible problem because that is not part of the body they cover. The fact that you see a dentist 2X a year is meaningless because normal checkups don’t reveal what is going on in each of the root canals.

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K • June 13, 2008 at 4:17 pm

When I have a headache, I tend to crave carbs too, and it does often have a slight lifting effect. (In fact, I had pasta for lunch today for this very reason.)

Stress does cause all sorts of physical symptoms – I know my headaches are often brought on that way and I also used to get IBS (nice). I have also cried because I felt so bad. I hope your head continues to improve as you get your life back. Maybe worry about what was causing the headaches was causing a vicious cycle?

As you know, my husband has drug-resistant depression, so I can very much relate to the difficulty of trying to remember your medical history for yet another doctor…

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PastaQueen • June 13, 2008 at 4:41 pm

What would be more awesome is getting my health insurance to pay for my ice cream. I have a prescription!

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KK • June 13, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Good luck PQ! I have have a chronic daily tension headache since I was 13 (I am 27). In other words, I have had a headache every single day for the past 14 years. Some weeks are unbearable. Some okay. Unfortunately, nothing really works (tried tons of medicines, therapies, etc) and I will have them for the rest of my life. I now have a pretty high pain tolerance and turn to ice packs and Head-On when things are really bad. I hope things get better for you.

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Robin K • June 13, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Hi there: I had commented on one of your earlier posts about their being a legid, nothing-odd, headache-cure diet in Dr. Fuman’s book, Eat to Live. I know my entry was one of just gazillions sent to you (well maybe not that many) with well-meaning but perhaps slightly annoying to you advice. I do not work for Dr. Furhman or anything, I am just someone who went on his weight loss diet and did very well, never felt better and was at the peak of health–and so were many others on several forums where his info is passed around. Again, besides the weight loss diet in the book, he has a headache diet with a 95%+ cure rate in his practice and I believe it! In case you do not want to go trouncing to a bookstore to check out the book, I copied the diet for you here. It is a strict vegan diet. When you go on it, he warns that the first week symptoms could get worse before getting better as your body gets rid of the harmful chemicals. Here you go:

Breakfast: melon, apples or pears (a few if you want), natural oatmeal+water, yeast-free whole wheat bread

Lunch: huge green salad (the whole bag if you can) with 1 tsp flax oil, 1 tsp olive oil; one starchy grain or veggie (corn, peas, potato); grapes, pears or apples

Dinner:

large green salad with same oil mix as above; 1 starchy veggie or grain (like brown rice)

No processed food, no salt, no dairy

you can eat extra fruit or greens if you get hungry

For a week or so you may experience worse headaches as your body rids itself of chemicals, etc., but then they will go away; follow this for

at least 4-6 weeks. Then if your headaches have disappeared, you can gradually add other fruits and beans next and then gradually other natural foods, but staying clear of dairy, meat as much as you can (minimal) and yeast breads/sweets, etc.

I hope this helps–if it is impossible for you to follow, I think as much as you can follow it, it will help you…Take care

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Robin K • June 13, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Oh darn, regarding my big post I just made a second ago on the vegan diet, for dinner I left off two things you can add– you can add tomatoes to your salad and you can also have one steamed green vegetable too–like Zucchini, Broccoli, spinach, etc. Sorry–again–hope this gives you food for thought of nothing else– pun intended.

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sb • June 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Since this is a blog about PQ’s journey, out of respect for her, I’d like to request that we please try to refrain from political commentary on this blog. I’m sure PQ has readers from all over the political spectrum, and in the heightened emotions of this election year, these kinds of comments could lead to a nasty flame war. That would not be fair to PQ or the rest of us readers.

For the readers that feel the need to comment on their political views, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of political blogs that would be a more appropriate forum for those comments.

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anji • June 13, 2008 at 9:14 pm

For the first time in five years, I know someone else really, truly, honest-to-God understands how I’ve felt. Five years of chronic pain, five years of trying to find things that’ll work — no matter what the F&#* they were. Five years of depression, of feeling no control in my life… of feeling like a failure because I thought this was all my fault (the pain, the weight-gain, the depression). And it wasn’t.

Thank you :)

P.S. I fully support House’s vicodin habit as well! Okay, so you’re the second person who really gets it… but House isn’t real and thus, that’d really make you the first… but second… but first person to ‘get it’ :)

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Bonnie • June 13, 2008 at 9:56 pm

PQ,

My husband is a Chiropractor and sees patients for headaches all day long. Have you ever thought about seeing a gentle technique chiropractor? http://www.GentleChiro.net is my husband’s website. He would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. I wish you the best of luck with your health, I know how frustrating it can be. I suffered from severe migraines until I started regular chiropractic care. GOOD LUCK!!!

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Heather • June 13, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Hey PQ, hang in there girl! I have hope that things will get back to normal for you. My mother deals with chronic pain, and I work in a pharmacy, so I know how the story goes. Wish there was a magic pill to make it stop! Anyway, keep up the good work, and kudos for starting the workouts again. Maybe they’ll help?

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Carol • June 14, 2008 at 10:31 am

My sympathy for your headache. I, too, had a continuous headache at the same age, though, now at 50, it has been gone for many years. I was prescribed Atenelol, a blood pressure medication. Even though I did not have high blood pressure, it had the side effect of easing the cluster tension headaches. They are very different than migraines. I also found mediation to be very helpful.

On another note, I discovered your writing through your book – the title picqued my interest at the library. You are a gifted writer, and I wish you the best.

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Patty • June 14, 2008 at 10:52 am

Glad you headaches are easing up! That must be horrible. Stress could be part of the culprit….it does some strange things.

I’m reading your book but had to stop due to college….but now I’ll pick it up again this week…..

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Lisa • June 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm

I hesitate to suggest the following but who knows. In one of these well-intended replies may lie the answer to your problems.

My husband had chronic headaches from the time he was twelve years old. After going to different doctors all during his adolescence and no one finding a cause they simply gave up. He eventually ran the gamut of diagnostic tests and nothing showed. When I met him he was 30 and he’d had headaches almost daily for eighteen years.

Fast forward five years later, we were out on a drive through the local state park and at one point when we reached a higher altitude he had to pull the car over his headache was so intense. It lasted the rest of the day and he went to bed early.

During the course of the night he woke me up twice having petite mal seizures I didn’t recognize because they looked like instances of sleep-walking. He’d sit up in bed as if still asleep and dreaming, ask some bizarre incoherent question involving the time, and point to the clock frantically as if he were late to an appointment. Shortly thereafter he’d seem to fall back to sleep.

What makes me want to kick myself is that he’d done this off and on for the past five years I’d known him, but these seizures were nothing like I’d seen before even though my mother was epileptic. The situation was made worse by the fact that they only happened at night and didn’t last very long, so it’s doubtful anyone else had seen them either. Since he’d been single up until the time we met they’d been missed completely by the doctors and he was unaware they occurred and so couldn’t report them.

All he knew was that some nights he felt he hadn’t rested well. Other symptoms were occasional difficulty sleeping and increased fatigue during the day for no apparent reason. This was simple chronic sleep deprivation caused by the seizures, but since everyone can complain of sleep deprivation now and then I can see the doctors found it difficult to see as a serious consideration during diagnosis.

Finally that same night he had a grand mal episode and I realized what I was seeing, called an ambulance, got him to the hospital and related what happened to a doctor. He was again given scans but this time they found evidence of a very tiny blood vessel in his brain that had been bleeding out periodically, causing a bit of pressure and bringing on the seizures and headaches. It was most likely influenced by atmospheric pressure and the weather as well as his stress levels and occasionally blood pressure, and since it was so small it had to be found while the bleeding was occurring to be picked up by a scan.

He chose to have corrective surgery and although the headaches still occur occasionally – caused now by minor scarring left over by the operation, but at least we know – they happen with less intensity and frequency.

Having said all this I hope something similar is *not* the cause of your problem. But hey, who knows. Every little bit helps. Personally I hope they find the cause in your teeth as another reader posted. That would be so simple to take care of and reasonably painless.

Wishing you continued good luck in finding a cure!

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Adult Weight Loss Camp • June 14, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Hi, I found your blog by accident. I’m sorry I don’t have any words of advice for you. I wish you well. Sending prayers your way.

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Bonnie • June 14, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Hi PQ-

I’ve gone through something kind of similar, myself, last summer. Rather than being a constant headache (it was close, though…), I was getting migraines 5+ times per week. That got old. I went to an allergist, to see if I had any allergies contributing to this (nope, but I did turn out to have a previously-unknown allergy to almonds). I went to a neurologist, who determined that it was not a tumor.

I now control them through a combination of diet (I avoid onions, MSG, artificial sweeteners, and chocolate- although you might want to read “Heal Your Headache” for some more info/options before you try an elimination diet) and supplements (fish oil, magnesium glycinate, and a good multi). I also tried a medication called periactin for a while- it was AMAZING at stopping the migraines, it also made me want to sleep ALL THE TIME.

So… good luck, and hang in there.

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debby • June 15, 2008 at 10:11 am

Hi PG, Hate to be another to add to the long list of suggestions over the past 4 posts, but I don’t think someone mentioned this: birth control pills. I was in the breakroom at work, and headaches came up, and I told about your headache that never ends, and two girls (women) said they had had undending headaches and thought it was caused by the type of birth control meds they were taking, and the headaches ended when they stopped the birth control.

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PJC • June 15, 2008 at 11:55 am

Wow, I never expected to learn so much from this blog! This has been the year of the MIGRAINE for me. I keep wondering if it’s an allergy thing. I’ve gotten nowhere with doctors and tests and am limited in the type of exercise and activity I do to avoid triggering more tightness in my neck, but I love endorphins! My sisters (nurses/chiropractor/naturpath) are practially chanting ‘toxins — cleanse’ at me, although one thinks it’s a thyroid/iodine function issue and another one argues that there is a hormone imbalance issue. ACK.

Chronic PAIN = DESPAIR. Thank goodness for better days.

All I can say is try to tune in when you want to tune out, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you (I know, far easier said than done). You will probably be your own best doctor because you know your body. I hope the pain releases its vise grip SOON!

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Jacqie • June 15, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Headaches….!!!! Hope you are soon able to pinpoint the cause…it seems many replies with ideas of what might cause them. Enough to give you a headache reading all the suggestions (lol).

Your weight loss is amazing and a great inspiration. All will be well, PQ. Be blessed.

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starbird • June 15, 2008 at 5:58 pm

PQ – if you do that, I hope your doctors are more attentive than ours were. My husband was told to type up a list of *every* medication, vitamin and herb he was taking. I said, “We both take many vitamins and herbs. What are you looking for in particular?” Blank look. No answer. After being asked several times to produce this list, we did. It took up a whole page. Gave it to doctor. Doctor glanced at it briefly, put it aside and never looked at it or referred to it again.

My daughter in law had similar experiences with a much worse situation, as she went about the same round you have done before she was finally diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

So, all I can say is Good Luck!

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Sadie • June 15, 2008 at 9:10 pm

I hate to add more commentary, but I thought it might be helpful to say that your current response is probably the best thing you have done yet. I have a chronic pain disorder, and when I first got it, I spent months rushing from doctor to doctor, trying to communicate my symptoms and the treatments I had tried (eventually I typed a short narrative account of the illness, plus names and doses of medications and diagnostic instruments that had been tried. I give it to every doctor I see, and it has improved my relationships with doctors a hundred percent). I ordered a book on chronic pain from the Mayo Clinic (on Amazon), and the first words I saw when I opened it were, “you must accept that you live with chronic pain and that your life has changed.” That sentence set me free from the exhausting, pain-aggravating, soul-destroying search for a “cure.” Don’t get me wrong: I still see doctors, and research new treatments. But I have accepted that I have to manage my pain, and try to live the fullest possible life that I can. The chronic pain community is large and well-informed, and can be helpful; I found them welcoming and filled with good information. After a while, I found the stories too painful to read and had to take a break. Best of luck to you, and I’m very happy for you that the pain has lessened.

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Online Health and Fitness • June 16, 2008 at 1:28 am

I pity on what you feel, I can relate on the things that you wrote. yeah even me i am not that big sometimes felt the same way, but if you have a determination to get out from that feeling I think this is the time. cheer up there is still hope.

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Melissa 233 • June 16, 2008 at 9:33 am

I am trying to loose the weight I gained while my daughter was in chemotherapy this year. I gained 55 pounds in all. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

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Danielle • June 16, 2008 at 10:49 am

I’m sure you must be loving all this unsolicited advice?

I have no medical opinion, but it makes sense to me that you should go back to doing what you were doing when you felt good – moderate running, eating healthy, pilates. Once you get back on a nice healthy routine, maybe the headaches will stop, or at least you’ll have eliminated the (high-stress?) preparation for the marathon as a reason for the pain? Well done on that, btw. Very impressive.

I think stress can manifest itself in all sorts of physical ways – I’m sure that having the book written and published now must be quite a relief also! You’ve got so much to be proud of.

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victoria • June 16, 2008 at 11:45 am

I respect you so much for your honesty about the pain and how it has affected your life & your weight. Thank you, thank you so much for telling the truth about anaesthetic eating, even though this truth might seem to complicate your public persona, “Amazing Weight Loss Guru.” It means a lot to me that you’re willing to go public with your “imperfections” when there’s all this pressure on you to be perfect.

It helps me because I have such a rigid, black & white approach to everything I try to do. “If I can’t do it perfectly, then I can’t be bothered to try.” Of course that thinking gets in the way of my fitness program. It helps me to see you keep plugging away even when things are really tough for you and you have setbacks.

And, I really, really hope the damn headache goes away pronto. Good luck.

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cherie • June 16, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I have never had headaches like the ones you describe. I dont even know you and I want to give you a big hug you poor thing!!!! Well I do know that for regular headaches the strangest things help. Eat green grapes (specifically). I dont know why but they always seem to help. Also eat seaweed. Just a small amount but its possible you are lacking in certain minerals. Best of luck!

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Laura N • June 16, 2008 at 1:16 pm

I’m glad things are a little better, even if they aren’t great yet. Hope things continue to turn around.

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Carla B • June 17, 2008 at 4:20 pm

No suggestions (and I don’t think you need any *more*) but heartfelt hopes for feeling better. If a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane, then surely all these well wishes can alleviate your headache! Feel better, PQ!

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Sonya • June 17, 2008 at 5:52 pm

(((((PQ)))))

I’m so sorry that you are continuing to have your headache. I hope this is the beginning of it quickly fading away, never to return.

I read my autographed copy of your book. *smile* It was awesome!! I plan to write a review on Amazon soon.

Sending lots and lots of good thoughts your way!

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alison • June 20, 2008 at 10:10 am

hello,

I found your blog by happy accident, and I have to say I love it! Your journey is so incredibly inspiring.

I also have to say I fully understand what you’re going through. Since November-ish of ’07, I have been having the same sort of problem, only mine had the additional issue of wanting to sleep all the time every day. I figured it had to do with the low light levels in winter, but when I had to drop out of my morning yoga class because the pain was too much, and I couldn’t wake myself up enough to go, I knew there was something else going on. After multiple specialist visits – optometrist, opthamologist, neurologist – and both a CT scan and a lumbar puncture, we now know what’s wrong with me.

The nature of my headaches felt like there was something trying to push its way out of my head, sometimes through my eyes or ears, sometimes just everywhere… And sure enough, I have elevated intracranial pressure (or Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, which is not high blood pressure, but often causes high blood pressure as a side-effect). No one wanted to believe it because, well, I don’t fit the mold (I just turned 26, I’m slightly overweight, but very muscular, active and not on any medication beyond multivitamins). Neither do you necessarily, it is an affliction of women in their reproductive years, often on birth control pills, high dosages of vitamin A, tetracycline drugs or some steroid treatments, also it is primarily an affliction of obese women. BUT, I’ve been informed, sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it happens in response to major body changes (e.g. losing a lot of weight). It’s relatively rare, but if they haven’t looked yet, maybe it’s worth getting your retinas examined to see if there’s any signs of papilloedema (or swelling of the optic nerves) … maybe. Do you hear the roaring of your heart beat in your ears? Does your head throb? … if you’re lying down for the night? and/or particularly if you put your head lower than the rest of you? – downward dog just about killed me one day.

I know this is your experience, and yours alone. And no matter what all us well-meaning readers have to say, it may not have any bearing on you whatsoever. I do not mean any harm, nor am I attempting to force you to look into this particular avenue all that seriously, I just thought it might be worth it for you. The medication (and spinal tap) I’ve been given has made the difference between continuous pain and a semblance of a normal life. We are still sorting out the dosage, but being ‘normal’ again is fantastic. I haven’t felt ‘normal’ for over a year, maybe two. And I fully understand the bawling into t-shirts experience. Often, if I can, if I can’t do anything else, I go for a walk, and on those walks it is highly likely that some stranger will see me crying my eyes out. I thought I was going crazy (still am some days), I was so desperate for any sort of cure. It’s amazing what pain can do to a person. And it is amazing what lengths a person will go to to resolve that pain.

So, it is with good will and solidarity that I am thinking positive thoughts and wishing you a hasty recovery. All the best, and keep on blogging, your story is so very motivating!

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Brian • September 23, 2008 at 11:52 pm

Found this Blog by accident. My wife has had a headache for over 4 months and we’ve gone basically through your same journey to no avail.

Do you still have the headache? WOuld love an update.

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Kim • December 30, 2008 at 8:52 am

I just read your book–awesome title–which is why I bought it! You are adorable and, as a 52 yr old menopausal, who gained 30 lbs and haven’t been able to get it off for 3 years no matter what, I really appreciate your honesty in sharing your journey! I am going to loan it to my sister and also, I ordered your recommended kickboxing and Pilates (beginner) DVDs this morning.

BTW-as an old person who is pretty computer illiterate, I have never blogged before this. (

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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