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A different kind of before and after

Can you tell if I have a headache in this picture?

Last month I was standing in line at Kroger, just like I’ve spent days of my life standing in line at Kroger. I was tired, I didn’t want to be there, and the lady in front of me was paying with a check.

As I shifted my weight from foot to foot, I was surprised, not by Jessica Simpson’s weight gain flashed on the tabloid covers, but by how I felt. My headache isn’t that bad right now. Weird. The same constant pressure was in my skull as it has been 24 hours a day since February 2008. Normally a long line at the grocery store and a bad mood would make it scream, but it was just holding steady at its normal background hum.

The headache clinic I have been going to since January (and not blogging about for my sanity and yours) makes me keep a headache diary. I record the level of my headache in the morning, noon, evening and night. They use a 1-5 scale where the numbers mean:

1 – Low level headache which enters awareness only at times when attention is devoted to it

2 – Headache pain level that can be ignored at times

3 – Painful headache, but can continue to function

4 – Very severe headache, concentration difficult by can perform tasks of an undemanding nature

5 – Intense, incapacitating headache.

When I started keeping the diary my days ranged from 2 to 4, most days being 3, the really bad days being 4, and the occasional “good” day where I had a 2. My neurologist adjusted my meds in January and there were no results. He adjusted it again in February and slowly I started to have mostly 2′s. Just as I was gaining hope of having a, you know, LIFE, again, my brain ratcheted back up to a 4 for a whole day, making me want to flush my seemingly worthless pills down the toilet. Then I went back to 2′s most of the time, except for a rainy day, which knocked me back up to a 3.

So the point of me spewing out more numbers than a bingo caller is this – my headache is currently dampened. It’s not gone. I still have pain. But I can do stuff now. I can come home and work on my blog without wanting to stab my eyes out with a ballpoint pen. I can go shopping on the weekends and not collapse on the couch in amazement that I’ve completed my tasks. When I drive to work, I do not spend 80% of my drive thinking about my headache and why did this happen and will anyone be able to fix me and oh my god when will this pain end? I think about what podcasts I should download and should I renew my lease and how much should I spend on my spring wardrobe and hey, I haven’t been thinking about my headache, how weird!

Out it goes, not with a bang, but a whimper. It slowly retreats, but does not completely give up ground. And gradually I have begun to get my life back, piece by piece, gluing it back together like that shattered oatmeal bowl that got broken in the mail.

I have been very hesitant to mention any of this for three reasons. First, I didn’t want to jinx myself. I’d hate to tell y’all I felt better and then get a level 4 headache the next day. Second, the pills could stop working at any time. For six years prior to the start of all this I took a pill everyday and it kept the headache away. Then it stopped working. Kapoot! And that could happen again. I am not cured. They still cannot tell me why I have this ridiculous, meaningless pain in my brain. Third, I made a vow to NEVER mention the headache on the blog again. I didn’t even mention the fact that I’d decided not to mention it because that would require me to mention it. Occasionally I have gotten emails that said, “Hey, you haven’t mentioned the headache lately. Are you better?” No, I was not better, I simply learned life was better if we didn’t bring it up anymore. But, I’ve been mostly all right for about a month now, so I’m going to take the risk and announce it publicly. I’ll cross my fingers that posting this won’t make the headache worse.

And since I know you will ask, the answer is 75mg of Nortriptyline and 40mg of Nadolol taken once at bedtime. My abortive of choice is 550mg of Anaprox, which is essentially industrial strength Aleve. If anyone has a time machine, please write down that information, travel back in time to February 17th, 2008 and slip it into my PO Box, will you? It will save me from having the WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE.

Yeah, sure, I’ve grown and learned a lot from this experience. I understand depression in a way I never did before. I have greater empathy for the old and disabled and the suicidal. I appreciate little things like a bright cloudless day without pain in a way I never did before. But seriously, screw that. It’s been fucking awful and no one should have to suffer like I’ve suffered. I’ll just hope the worst is over and savor ever second until that hope is proved wrong.

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

Helen • April 14, 2009 at 8:54 am

I am so happy for you… may the dullness continue!

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lynne • April 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

AMEN.

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Ray • April 14, 2009 at 9:40 am

I am *so* keeping fingers crossed for the worst to be over.

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Karen • April 14, 2009 at 9:51 am

I second Lynne’s Amen. I am hoping that up next is the best year of your life, you know, to compensate!

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Kate • April 14, 2009 at 9:52 am

Hi! I just wanted to say, I’m really glad you decided to update about your headache. Although most people can’t relate to it the way they could to your weightloss journey, I think that the people who have followed you for a long time really want to know how you’re doing.

I was thinking perhaps you could disable comments on your headache entries? Maybe that way you could post updates but not have to wade through tons of well-intentioned but exhausting responses.

Either way, really glad to hear that you’re doing better!

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PastaQueen • April 14, 2009 at 9:59 am

@Kate – But then people just email me. Even after I’ve asked not to get emails about the headache, I’ve gotten over 130 of them. So, God only knows how many I’d get if I solicited information.

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Naantje • April 14, 2009 at 10:09 am

Well, PQ, I’m happy for you, and I hope the drugs will keep doing their job. My own headaches are hell, and though not constantly present, I can relate. Banging your head against the wall doesn’t seem quite as crazy during headaches, I’ve litteraly thought “just drill a hole in there, it’ll be over then” or “if they’d remove this particular part of my skull, the pain would go away, right”?

Feeling as if somebody poked an ice pick through your eye or as if a butchers knife had been banged into your head, splitting your skull… It’s terrible! I hope we’ll never have to experience them anymore (but as for now, I’m sure I will, fysiotherapy is my next option, hoping it will work).

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Tara • April 14, 2009 at 10:11 am

I’m really glad you’ve gotten some relief! Congratulations and I hope it just gets better from here.

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Kyle • April 14, 2009 at 10:11 am

YAY, that’s awesome!!!!! Sorry to sound so cheerleader-y for a minute there but I’m truly happy for you. I hope it continues to downgrade even more until it disappears into a black hole never to be heard from again.

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? • April 14, 2009 at 10:22 am

I’m really hoping this is the beginning of the end of the headaches for you… headaches suck royally!

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Elizabeth • April 14, 2009 at 10:32 am

Amen x 3. So glad to hear you’re feeling better! :o)

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Lydia • April 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

Good. I hope you continue on this track. HOpe you get a long string of “1″ days soon. And then maybe “O” days, permanently.

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deanna • April 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that you go through day in and day out. I am glad you are getting some relief, and I hope it continues and disappears forever. I thought of you this morning when I saw this snipet on the Today Show: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/30207864#30207864

I am not sure if you saw this, and if you did… please do not ban me from the blog!!

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Shelley B • April 14, 2009 at 11:12 am

I’m so glad to hear that SOMETHING is working for your headaches…I remember the days of having tons of Rx bottles on my counter, all failures at easing my headache. I’m sure you can relate.

Happy to know that you are feeling better – may it continue ad infinitum!

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Another Kate • April 14, 2009 at 11:23 am

1) I’m so happy you’re feeling like you can function again!

2) (totally narcissistic comment) I’m taking the first part of the medical licensing exam next week, and I’ve been reviewing pharmacology a lot for the past few days, and I was very excited to recognize the drugs that you’re taking and know their mechanism of action. So thanks for making me feel like my studying’s paying off.

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victoria • April 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

Oh, thank god! I am so, so happy for your relative improvement. I know you’re not cured, and it could come back at any moment, and this is a qualified celebration, but a celebration nonetheless. Thank you for this post!

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PastaQueen • April 14, 2009 at 11:37 am

@Another Kate – Pop quiz! Do you know the other names those drugs go by?

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Kudret • April 14, 2009 at 11:57 am

I’m crossing my fingers for you!! May the headaches diminish!

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mo. • April 14, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I’m so happy for you, and I’m glad you mentioned it. I don’t ever comment on your blog, but I’ve read all of it and was saddened by your headache news. My fingers are crossed for you.

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g • April 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I also saw the Today Show segment (Botox? Who knew?) this morning and it made me think of you. I’m so glad you posted an update, and I’m happy for you that you’re making progress on this thing. I wish you many days in the low numbers :)

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Shelbney • April 14, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Glad the ache is a little BUT lets talk about that HOLY FLAWLESS SKIN! Ur complexion is gorgeous!!! Any secrets besides good genes?

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K • April 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Yay!

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Kate • April 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

@PastaQueen – mercifully, I don’t need to know any trade names at this stage – only generics.

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PastaQueen • April 14, 2009 at 12:40 pm

@Shelbney – Sorry, it’s just genetics. I don’t even wash my face on a regular basis, and for most of my life I used bar soap instead of facial soap. My hair is naturally that curly too. I just lucked out.

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Zoey • April 14, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Ha, I so know what you mean about jinxing things. Remember when I wrote and said that I was finally getting better after 1.5 years of health crisis…well, I got worse again. But only for a time, and tho I keep having setbacks, I’m definitely moving in the ‘getting better’ direction. Like, 3 steps forward, 1-2 back, but generally forward. It teaches many things, even if you never wanted to learn them, I’ve found. Like making meaning in your life even when everything is pretty darn meaningless/hopeless. Gah. Keep moving forward.

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JennC • April 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I’m so happy for you to have some relief! (finally!) Congrats!

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Gretchen • April 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Here’s what I’ve got to say about jinxes-

I hear NOTHINK, I see NOTHINK, I know NOTHINK- NOTHINK! (spoken in my best Sgt. Shultz accent…) ;)

Here’s to living your life again!

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kristi summer • April 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Glad the pain has subsided some. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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Lynn Haraldson-Bering • April 14, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Just wanting to say hello and to share in your good(?) headache news. I’m whispering this, though, as not to jinx anything. Shhhh….

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scone • April 14, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Sending up a prayer that this improvement sticks, permanently!

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Niki • April 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Yay!! I cannot begin to imagine how good this feels considering everything you’ve been through this past year.

Great news!

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Lori • April 14, 2009 at 3:50 pm

I have my fingers double crossed for you!

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Quix • April 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

You look super happy and a little bit spunky in that lovely pic, so I’d guess you were feeling better! Glad you’re feeling mostly better and I’ll cross my fingers for you that it sticks.

I just have to thank you again for being one of the folks that really inspired me to start running, and now I’m training for a half marathon in June. Thank you thank you thank you! :)

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Robin • April 14, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I’m doing a little happy dance for you. We all have our challenges, but I can’t imagine being in your shoes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the headaches stay in the low numbers and eventually fade away.

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Sarah • April 14, 2009 at 6:07 pm

So did you ever see that episode of Grey’s Anatomy where this guy has a constant headache for 7 years and they checked his nose and found there was a nerve up there bothering him… Just thought, you know, maybe?

I know I know, you don’t want to talk about it… just thought I’d mention…

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cindy • April 14, 2009 at 7:25 pm

That is so awesome! It gives me hope they will find an answer for mine. :)

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Sharon • April 14, 2009 at 7:42 pm

What wonderful news.

Good for you.

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Blue • April 14, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Good to read. Best wishes.

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gfe--gluten free easily • April 14, 2009 at 9:13 pm

First, I am so very glad you are feeling somewhat better and can function. Second, I hesitate to say this at the risk of it sounding like I think every person’s medical condition is related to gluten intolerance/celiac, but headaches often are … even mind-blowing debilitating headaches like yours.

http://www.celiaccentral.org/About-Celiac-Disease/Symptoms/32/

Most of us with celiac or gluten intolerance experienced headaches before going gluten free. I used to have daily headaches … and the ran the gamut. Some were just daily, dull headaches, some were tension headaches, some were sinus headaches, and some were migraines. All wiped me out. Now I only get headaches if I accidentally ingest gluten. Others in my group share the same stories. It’s so nice not to have those headaches any more.

Worth checking out. You may have other symptoms or this could be your only one. You could do a little test run seeing if eliminating gluten affects the headaches. Some people see them disappear immediately, but not everyone, so I recommend getting tested because that gives you validation and the commitment to stay gluten free.

Best,

Shirley

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Jen • April 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Yeah! I’m so happy for you! I hope this doesn’t jinx it.

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anji • April 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

That’s so awesome! You must be totally, totally happy about it.. or, at the least, mildly amused!

I hope I find my combination someday :)

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alli • April 14, 2009 at 11:38 pm

I am thinking PQ is not a celiac because she loves her oatmeal. I am a celiac and can’t have oatmeal. PQ looks lovely in the picture and you don’t look like a woman with a headache and that’s a blessing.

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Merry • April 14, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Woo Hoo!!!!

Oh, sorry. Didn’t meant to shout so loud. I’ll be effusive in a much quieter fashion. Is it okay if I just go jump up and down in the corner in jubilation? I’ll try to do so verrrry softly :)

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Deb • April 15, 2009 at 12:11 am

@PastaQueen – I agree with Shelbny. Every time I see any picture of you I am like “Damn, that girl has gorgeous skin!”

Really glad your headaches are getting better. Wishing you continued and PERMANENT recovery! I can’t even BEGIN to imagine what you’ve been through.

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Ashley • April 15, 2009 at 12:54 am

This has nothing to do with the entry really, I was just going to tell you that your hair looks fabulous in the picture.

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PurpleGirl • April 15, 2009 at 5:03 am

That’s great news! I hope it gets even better. I was wondering the other day how you were doing, because I was having essentially a month-long headache and was thinking I didn’t know how you functioned that way for so long!

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sarah • April 15, 2009 at 6:21 am

I am so glad to hear the the pain is going away!!! woohooo happy dance!

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sue • April 15, 2009 at 11:27 am

I’m so happy for your progress.

Here’s to many days of 1′s and 0′s; much like programming language. 1100101010110000 (or at least how I picture programming language.)

Soon, you’ll be strolling down the Champs Eysees enjoying Paris in the springtime with a spring in your step, and your pretty curls bouncing. :)

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Nancy V. • April 15, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Wishing you a pain free future!

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Kelly • April 15, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I’m SO glad you’re feeling better!! I’ll knock on some wood for you so that this post won’t jinx your recovery.

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Laura N • April 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Great news. Thanks for sharing. Completely understand why you had stopped talking about it on your blog.

My daughter has had dizzy spells since she was 2 1/2 (she’s almost 8). She had a spell last year when I couldn’t come to your book party, remember? Anyway, we saw a new neuro last week in St Louis & the doc thinks they are migraine precursors. So she’s now on a preventative med for migraine (which she just started a week ago). Who knows if it will work. She’s had 4 good weeks in a row–which is a lot for her this year b/c it’s been a bad bad year–& I keep expecting her to wake up sick. Every day she’s healthy is a blessing.

And it kinda drives me nuts now when people suggest reasons why she’s dizzy. I’ve been dealing with this for almost 6 years. I’ve researched it all, asked it all, read it all. Please don’t tell me to stop feeding her salt, chocolate, or milk. Please don’t tell me to do the Menier’s move. Please just say “how difficult that must be for her” & say a prayer. I know people mean well. It’s just not helpful. Hopefully it’s taught ME to shut my mouth now, when someone has a chronic condition.

I hope I’ve never given you headache advice. :-)

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K • April 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Yay!

And I hope the rain stays off.

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Becca • April 15, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Zipidee-do-dah!!!

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Andy Lee • April 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm

yay!!

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Marisa (Trim The Fat) • April 16, 2009 at 7:55 am

Wow, I can only imagine how horrible that must have been for you! Glad you are seeing an improvement :)

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Kelly • April 16, 2009 at 8:36 am

Thanks for sharing. I can actually personally relate to this.

Several years ago I started suffering with severe headaches, and pain clinics are not really something we have/had in the UK (or If they did I never heard of them) so my regular GP was inundated with visits from me in varying stages of pain. I was once even taken to the emergency room because the pain was so bad I literally thought I was going to die.

After a referral to a Neurologist, a CT scan, various blood and other invasive tests, I was diagnosed with….wait for it……chronic daily headache syndrome. My opinion at the time was BIG COP OUT. Basically in my head they were just saying, we don’t know what it is so we’re going to call it this give you some drugs and send you away.

They gave me Amitriptyline and Co-Codamol (the UK equivelant of Vicodin) and sent me on my merry way. What they didn’t tell me is that a side effect of Co-codamol is a ‘narcotic headache’. I ended up no better, with an additional source of headache pain and a painkiller addiction!

Let me also point out that I was significantly overweight when this started. Around 70 lbs overweight. I lost it a couple of years ago and the headaches seems to ease slightly. I also weaned off the painkillers, so that stopped. I cut all types of prescription medication and just took regular painkillers and found that the ones with caffiene in worked best.

Then I moved to the US last year, I have since discovered (through a amuc better health care provider) that my headaches are in fact tension/stress/anxiety produced and that I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Losing weight had an impact on my headaches because I stopped worrying about being ‘fat’. I am now taking Xanax (as and when I feel I REALLY have to) and i’m going to see my GP today to talk about a more long term solution.

Sorry….that was more long winded than i’d meant it to be.

Cool blog btw!

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Andrea • April 16, 2009 at 10:35 am

I have chronic back pain following an episode of extremely severe pain almost a decade ago, and I can very much relate to what you wrote. It’s not that the pain really goes away, but it mostly retreats to a level where you can get things done and live your life. Also, it’s possible I got better about handling/ignoring it. It took me a good year, maybe closer to two, to get to that point.

I am glad you have come so far.

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G.G. • April 16, 2009 at 5:39 pm

So glad you’re feeling better!

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ana • April 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Your need of having a headache diary sucks but I am glad you are feeling better

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marty • April 20, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Just wanted to say I’m glad you’re feeling better. Reading about what the suffering you’ve gone through since February 2008 has made me appreciate just feeling well.

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Health Advocate • April 21, 2009 at 3:23 am

It’s great to know that you are rid of your headache…will take tips from your experience surely.

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Shayne • April 24, 2009 at 4:29 pm

A friend of mine sent me the link to your blog. I can so relate. I’ve had a headache since January. I had a bad reaction to the migraine medication and got my MRI and CAT scan in the ER. The first neurologist I saw didn’t even examine me and just put me on more migraine medicine – which I refused to take because I know it’s not a migraine! I finally got a doctor to believe me when I said it isn’t a migraine. She ran all the bloodwork and everything is normal. So, I have an appt with another neurologist next week. I’m on percocet every six hours “as needed” until then. It doesn’t really kill the pain, just makes me not care so much.

I’m glad you’re feeling better and I hope that continues for you.

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Tania • January 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Hi! I came across your blog and wow-gotta say your weight loss pics (not the magic of Flash) blew my mind. I am SOOO inspired to get out and lose the 40lbs that have been leading me to insanity literally-since the last 7 years. Great Job.
And I know unasked-for advice can suck, but maybe this might help with the headaches. I used to have severe migraines that popped up out of nowhere one fine day. They would greet me when i woke up and contunue into the day no matter what medication I took and often led to nausea and vomitting. Until I tried Homeopathy. The headaches disppeared in a couple of days and I havn’t even been having any medication at all since a month. Still no headaches.
If you’re open to alternative healing, give it a try. Although pls keep in mind it is just a personal experience, not professional medical advice. Take Care and Kudos to u once again!

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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.

Man looking into telescope

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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