Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Massage Masochism

Several months ago I wrote this post about my ongoing battle with alopecia. The hair loss which follows the line along my left temple turned out to be an aesthetically horrifying side effect of chronic cluster migraines, the condition with which I was finally diagnosed in mid-August. Though the diagnosis brought about irritating lifestyle changes (less wine consumption, reduced outdoor activity in hot weather, more sleep and less demands on my limited free time), the verdict was certainly preferable to that of an autoimmune disease or brain tumor, which were the other two options.

The team of doctors who helped me looked for answers decided upon a fourfold treatment plan: one emergency medication for sudden headache onset and two daily pills, the aforementioned lifestyle changes, a topical steroid spray intended to regenerate hair growth and treatments as often as I could afford them with a craniofacial massage therapist. Through a series of a medical exams, it was ascertained that copious knots located at the base of my skull, scalp, neck and jaw might be limiting the healthy inflow of blood and oxygen while causing a retention of impurities and other waste. It was also hypothesized that these knots developed over time, likely due to the effects of 2011 stress - cancer, divorce, and a schism with close family members.

I went AMA and took myself off those daily pills within a month, The prescriptions were causing reductions in my heart rate, breathlessness and chest tightness. During light jogs, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and worst of all, the tablets did nothing to restrain the monstrous headaches that often appeared out of thin air. I held onto the emergency pill, and still do, as it has proven effective at limiting the discomfort if I act with alacrity.

But about those craniofacial massages. They have been a horrendously uncomfortable miracle. It turns out I had an expert right in my own backyard, a longtime friend with an established mobile therapy business. He specializes in the treatment of those with chronic conditions like arthritis, multiple sclerosis and yes, migraines. Because many of his clients are homebound or otherwise limited in their motility, Pat comes to them. As a sole proprietor with his own equipment, without the expense of office space, his rates are highly attractive.

But I digress. I booked my first 90-minute treatment in the middle of August. Pat started with my scalp before moving to the base of my skull. For a person who has built a career out of presumed self-awareness, I knew not until he touched me exactly how sore, rigid and entangled those muscles were. Hell, I didn't even know they were used for anything. However it wasn't until he slapped on a pair of latex gloves and began digging around my jaw inside and out that the actual tears began to flow. As Pat began to isolate grape-sized kinks in the muscle groups which permit talking, eating, brain and neck support, I couldn't believe I had been walking around living day-to-day life like this. I am certain the tears were shed in equal parts sorrow over the ignorance which led to needless suffering, as well as temporal pain.

At the conclusion of that first session, I had watery eyes, sneezing and a two-day runny nose that ejected copious amounts of weird green shit. Was that mess literally stuck inside my head? Never had the dire warnings that a stressful lifestyle impacts overall health seemed more obvious. I had the mucus-filled tissues to prove it.

As I walked out Pat's front door, I was resolved never to endure another bout of his sadist "massage therapy" again, but I certainly couldn't deny that I had more movement in my jaw and neck than I ever remembered. I also couldn't ignore that as he worked through my jaw, tiny shoots of pain were refracted at the front of my skull - exactly the point from which the migraines emanated.

Nearly three months and one regenerating bald spot later, my belief that prescription drugs often only mask the problem, and bring about their own pitfalls is stronger than ever. I'd stop short of labeling myself a New Age homeopathic hippie, but I am a logical being and if something works, I stick with it. I haven't suffered a migraine in 12 weeks and the new hair growth, even if entirely white, offers encouragement that this past summer's informal wig shopping may have been premature. I no longer obsessively pet the smooth spot that shouldn't be, as if enough rubbing could awaken the dormant follicles.

If short-term pain once every three weeks means getting my life back and a reprieve from repetitive, expensive doctor visits, then it's a true pleasure. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stone Cold Rhymin'

The gift of a child so adorable, good memories lessen the horrible.
My eardrums are bursting, my dry throat is thirsting, your timing is just so incorrigible.

Sinuses strained and throbbing, nocturnal weaving and bobbing.
Normally a machine but you got between. Now I'm weak to the point of sobbing.

It's true that you're fleeting, but also deceiving is your name, the Common Cold.
Because there's something abnormal about the way you're so formal in leaving me out of the fold.

I have work to do and pounds to eschew but can't overcome the wheezing.
Instead I lay prone, a broken drone, disabled by violent sneezing.

When I feel better, I'll get myself together. A honey badger anew, I vow.
I can't breathe when you stay, but you won't go away, so I leave my mouth open for now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Passion of JC

When we began dating several months ago, my boyfriend Jean Claude and I wondered aloud what shape that tell-tale first argument might take. As the early throes of faultless infatuation begin to fade, a couple's first skirmish can say a lot about the pair's respective communication styles, methods of conflict resolution and maybe even provide a glimpse into the relationship's life expectancy. Those that fight in a fair, calm, reasonable and empathetic manner may anticipate a pattern of give-and-take respect and harmony. At the other end of the spectrum, pairings that would cause former spouses Tommy and Pamela Lee to pause and shake their heads may want to consider seeking satisfaction elsewhere.

For JC and I, the inaugural squabble began with a semi-tense evening conversation, a discussion I errantly believed had reached its conclusion before bed. I awoke to start my morning routine and was greeted with a churlish, silent man where heretofore I had recoiled from a Mr. Rogers level of diurnal cheer. Something was not right but as I mentioned, I had believed the preceding evening's tiff to be completely resolved. After repeatedly asking my boyfriend to spill his guts with no success, I decided that perhaps he was simply not looking forward to a day at the office. No big whoop.

Shortly before we boarded the local commuter train, the truth was revealed: JC had not recovered from wounds sustained the night before and was dead set upon the cold shoulder until he did. At this point, mystified, frustrated and angry anew, I uttered the following sentence which has become the stuff of legend in our brief shared history: "You know what? Why don't I build you a cross and you can martyr yourself because that's clearly what you want to do?"

A stunned Jean Claude replied with a simple "I don't even know what to say." It was evident that he was not accustomed to being spoken to this way at 7 am. What can I say folks? I shoot from the hip and as a writer, there was zero chance of ignoring such an appropriate, if obvious, analogy. His initials are JC. He was playing the victim. I told him to nail himself to the cross. Get it? Ha!

I digress. Once my sweetheart had a chance to recoup, he opted to embrace the trope of martyrdom with gusto. It quickly became an affectionate inside joke. Before long, JC would lament a bad day in a whiny tone or request some high-maintenance favor. Just as I would grow annoyed, I would whip my head around to witness him engaging in the pantomime of a forsaken man hanging from nails, wearing an impish grin. This sort of thing tends to take the wind out of my impatience. 

Flash forward to this past weekend when we attended a production of the play Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether. On assignment for one of my freelance gigs as a Chicago theater critic, Jean Claude my intelligent, thoughtful and articulate partner has become my companion of choice.

We ventured to the theater on a Friday evening, straight from our respective offices. That meant that we were loaded with bags, coats and other items before I collected my press packet and essential glass of red wine. In the course of business, I thought I had turned over custody of our tickets to JC.

In a harried, sweaty state, I led us to the upstairs theater where the performance would be staged and stood in front of two elderly female ushers with my hand out. Naturally, I was waiting for Jean Claude to fork over the passes. When he calmly insisted that he didn't have them, I grunted and may or may not have threatened to "kick his ass" for failing to produce them. I am an urban Italian woman and intimidating rhetoric is reflexive, like the way one automatically raises their arms to break a fall. By now, Jean Claude is well enough acquainted with me to ignore these peevish ejaculations, but it was immediately clear that the octogenarian ushers believed me nothing short of a monster. JC could not resist the opportunity.

As I rifled through my backpack and press packet, he played to the crowd: "Baby! Why would you speak to me in that harsh tone? Haven't you already spilled wine on me (yes, I had)? Didn't I offer to hold your belongings so you could get organized? I SWEAR I don't have the tickets. Don't hit me again!"

When I discovered the tickets (naturally) were indeed insider my folder, I was red-faced on two fronts. In the first place I had falsely accused my mate of having possession, but even worse, his Academy-Award worthy interpretation of Farrah Fawcett's abused character from legendary TV film The Burning Bed drew appalled clucks of disapproval from his new usher friends. Suddenly I was the Chris Brown to his Rihanna.

And it was then I knew I had learned a valuable lesson. Singular moments of tension are fair game for my boyfriend when it comes to mining comedic material, and nothing is safe. This one's got me on my toes. And I kind of like it.