Don’t Add to My Pain

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

This month I celebrate the anniversary of finally getting a fibromyalgia diagnosis, after years of fighting to “earn” it. To my lifelong course of chronic migraine was added a heaping side dish of a nerve disorder.

Intractable pain is a constant state of being for me, whether I use essential oils, think positive, drink pickle juice for 40 days and nights, or even if someone belittles, disbelieves, mocks or minimizes it.    

People often say things like "I wouldn't be able to make it” if their head hurt like mine does every day. For many, there's no possible way to imagine what it is like, but I'm finding that those who cannot relate at all often have the most opinions about it.

Others wonder how I've been able to accomplish what I have while under the persistent weight of brain discomfort. The answer is simple: Because I've had no other choice!

When not entirely incapacitated, head pain for me has been managed with a grateful attitude and a mind over matter approach. Unfortunately, when navigating matters of the physical body, more restrictions apply.  Neither deep breaths nor the tapping of my ruby red slippers will get me up or down the stairs when I'm unable to walk. 

Many around me have taken all of this personally, because the extent of the hardships I face have left me trapped behind closed doors more than ever. 

Instead of stopping by or reaching out to check in, entire relationships have changed -- primarily because my ailments have yet to be acknowledged, let alone respected.

Only recently did others finally begin to grasp the concept of my migraine and cluster headaches.

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But wrapping their minds around something else? Especially when I lack the energy and desire to continually attempt to justify or explain? Forget about it. 

One thing about me is that I rarely ever complain. I'm known to seek out silver linings and hand the light I find over to the next person in need. I count my blessings on a regular basis and never lose sight as to how much worse things could be or how they can change in the blink of an eye.

So, when attempting to bare my soul while being met with judgment, doubt, questioning or just flat out disregarded, I wonder if those who respond that way ever stop to reflect. Shifting blame toward me or my conditions for our lack of fellowship or communication doesn’t help the relationship.   

Not long ago I was out at a dinner, constantly having to shift in the chair or get up to stand, while repeatedly being reminded what we're conversing about due to brain fog. All the while my head is banging and I can barely eat because the nausea from attempting to ignore everything else was heightening.   

The dear one I'm out with mentions another friend who endures similar circumstances. He proceeds to explain how he's had to carry this person out of places and into their home due to the extent of their fatigue. Hearing this tears me up because I can literally feel for them.  

But instead of using this opportunity to bond, my emotion was met with ridicule: "You are SO sensitive! I cannot talk about ANYTHING with you!"  

It felt like insult to injury, that they'd demonstrate compassion for another but then put me down.   

Before that, someone else I love labeled my chronic pain as a "placebo effect." More recently, even after discussing my disability hearing, a friend wondered if I had a gym membership because they didn’t want to work out alone.  

Not that it is blasphemous to bring up the topic of exercise, but it showed a lack of empathy. If I am in need of using a cane, not always able to drive, experience muscle failure and soreness to the touch, what about that signifies my readiness to lift weights or hop on a treadmill?

I used to go out dancing regularly, but the last time was about 24 months ago for an ex co-worker's bachelorette party -- whose actual wedding I ended up missing because of all this. Another homie of mine hasn't replied to me since I'd been forced to cancel attending her kid’s birthday party at the last minute.  

Quite honestly, if I keep in contact with just about anyone, it's because I initiate the connection. Many have flat out stopped talking to me altogether because my consistent need for self-care is an inconvenience for them.  

What they don't know is that all of this is so real. The other day, I purposefully went outside in the rain to pre-shower, because with Mother Nature's help the chore felt slightly less daunting. 

Having been dealt this hand and then being left to cope on your own has a way of demonstrating the extent of one’s strength they may not have realized they had. I am thankful for everything that broke me because that’s what I am made of.

I now declare unapologetically that all of this has forced me to change. Nothing is welcome in my life that adds more hurt or disrupts my peace. My hope is that everyone reading this reaches the same conclusion and thereby a level of freedom.    

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Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Experts Advise Against It, But Opioids Often Used to Treat Migraine

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Too many Americans are still using opioids to treat their migraine headaches, according to migraine experts who say opioids are generally not recommended for migraines and could even cause more headaches.

In a recent online survey of 20,000 migraine patients, 19 percent said they were currently using opioids to treat migraine -- up from the 16 percent reported in 2009 in the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study.

“These data show that, despite the known potential risks of using opioids for migraine, far too many continue to do so,” said Sait Ashina, MD, a neurologist and Director of the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It’s concerning that people may be using these drugs in place of conventional therapies proven to be safer and more effective for migraine.”

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Clinical guidelines from the American Headache Society (AHS) encourage the use of triptans and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen as first-line treatment for migraine.

Because opioids can increase the frequency of migraines or lead to medication overuse headaches, opioids are typically reserved for patients when triptans and NSAIDs don’t work or are contraindicated. 

The survey found that nearly a quarter of the patients who reported four or more migraines per month were using opioids to treat pain, and more than half of them reported taking opioids at least once to treat a migraine headache. 

The survey is part of the ObserVational Survey of the Epidemiology, tReatment and Care Of MigrainE (OVERCOME) study, which is funded by Eli Lilly. The company makes Emgality, an injectable non-opioid drug that reduces the frequency of migraine.

“OVERCOME showed that, overall, opioids are being used in place of medicines that are approved and indicated to treat migraine – particularly among those who experience migraine headaches more frequently,” said Ashina, who is a paid consultant for Eli Lilly.

A separate analysis of over 21,000 migraine sufferers in the OVERCOME study found that patients who used opioids were more likely to experience depression or anxiety when compared to those who never used opioids.

Opioids Overprescribed to Children

Other studies presented last month at the American Headache Society’s annual meeting indicate that opioids are overprescribed to children with migraine.

In an analysis of nearly 14,500 emergency room visits by adolescents and young adults with migraine, opioids were ordered 23% of the time within 12 hours of admission. In more than half of those cases (58%), an opioid was ordered as first-line therapy. Rates of opioid prescribing for migraine did significantly decrease during the study period, from 2010 to 2016.

Another study presented at the AHS annual meeting found that nearly one of every six children who receives medication for migraine or headache during their first medical visit was prescribed an opioid. The rates were even higher among older teens, with one of every four prescribed an opioid during the 2009 to 2014 study period.

“Opioids are generally not recommended for the treatment of migraine due to limited evidence for efficacy, the risk of dependence and the evidence that opioid treatment is a risk factor for headache exacerbation. The very medication that relieves pain short term may lead to the onset of chronic migraine,” said Richard Lipton, MD, a former president of the American Headache Society.

Migraine affects a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraine than men.

Pain Is Not a Competition

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

Recently I chose to step away from one of the last support group forums I belonged to because it continually felt less than supportive.  

“Pain is pain” may be the motto of our community, yet there are persistent comparisons that consistently belittle someone’s reality in some shape or form.  It’s like a competition to see who has the most pain.

To serve as one example, “cluster migraine” is not a scientific term, though it is a phrase I use to convey the type of pain that I feel -- an inclusion of multiple beasts (chronic migraine, cluster headache and fibromyalgia) that are not to be confused as the same or even similar, but co-exist within me nonetheless.

There's no doubt that cluster headache is one of the most excruciating conditions known to humankind. If you haven’t gone through it -- there is no possible way to fully comprehend it.  This does not mean that migraine is any less valid or any less painful.

We all seek validation in having our perception understood and it is frustrating that we consistently battle general stigma and then turn around and cast the same judgment onto each other. Cluster or migraine aside, it’s like a whole new attack.   

One person could say migraine is worse because it can literally be never-ending, whereas cluster headache episodes are considerably shorter in length. 

The next person states that it doesn't get any more terrible than cluster headache as they're called suicide headaches for good reason. 

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Then someone else shares they have lost someone to migraine as well. Point is, there's a spectrum.  

By eliminating the unnecessary tone of competition (that no one should want to “win” anyway), we make room for discovering the similarities we all share. One being that whichever way this sh*t pie gets sliced, it stinks!

Nobody wants or deserves to be shunned just because their truth is different. And no one gets to degrade how someone else views the world. Whether or not we agree, there should be a sense of camaraderie throughout our planet that is severely lacking. It most certainly shouldn't be among us Spoonies.  

Fixating on how an individual thinks does not benefit our cause. That same focused energy on the bigger picture could create lasting change -- like how the word “headache” isn't an accurate depiction of any brain disease or disorder to begin with. And if it were, aspirin would have cured it long ago, right? 

It’s imperative we avoid contributing to the very issue we want to solve by joining forces and declaring that we are more than just suffering patients. We are actual people living with the disability inflicted by these conditions.

And since we’re already in the fight for our lives, let's make sure it’s together and not against one another.

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Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Invisible Illness and Disability

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

A final once over in the mirror. I straighten my navy-blue blazer and fastened the top button on the very first dress shirt I've ever owned, reflecting upon how grueling the process has been.

Pursuing a disability case was an absolute last option for me.  Being a contributing part of the workforce is something I not only enjoyed very much, but it made up part of my identity.

There were moments I was unsure if I'd even make it to this point, but I'm grateful to have an opportunity to exercise the right to represent myself at my disability hearing without a lawyer.

When sharing this viewpoint with others, I've mostly been advised against it but the route of legal assistance proved a dead end for me (see “Taking Control of My Disability Case”). Other recommendations included: Do not smile or dress nice, don't show much personality at all, or mention hobbies like volunteering because it could be considered contradictory to my claims.

Being differently enabled does not make me any less of a person so I refuse to act as such. It’s frustrating to feel as though you've got to convince others of your truth and, as hard as you try, they still may not “get it.”

I'm aware that my illnesses aren't visible to outsiders and because of that they are questioned. I showed up to provide an authentic glimpse as to what invisible illness can look like and how it has impacted my life.

I live in a constant state of post-infection intractable chronic migraine -- head pain that has never gone away since the year 2000. This pain is expected to be life-long and incurable.

There are also daily cluster headache attacks, which are an entirely different beast. The cherry on top comes in the form of my nerves being hyperactive, resulting in a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

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These conditions fluctuate. One day looks different than the next, but even at my absolute best there is still pain. Things can turn for the worse at any moment without warning and constant breaks are required for even simple tasks. I am not able to function optimally in a gainful work place environment, despite my countless attempts at trying.  

Between the nausea/vomiting, light sensitivity/vision disturbances, persistent fatigue, brain fogginess and the on-going discomfort, there hasn't been a single aspect of my life that has not been negatively impacted: relationships, activities of daily living, employment, higher education,  goals, dreams, aspirations....

I prolonged beginning the disability process due to the fact that I'm aware so many have it worse than me. I am thankful for my senses, mobility, the fact I can use the restroom on my own and feed myself, although there are periods daily when I can be entirely incapacitated.

Over the years, 34 prescriptions have been written for me -- all worsening matters as a result of the side effects. About 1,800 injections have been administered.

I now take full responsibility for my own wellness and have completely revamped my lifestyle to accommodate my conditions. I’ve also found a new passion for patient advocacy as a way to find a purpose in all of the agony, leading to the reality that I am my own best expert. It's empowering to be armed with knowledge on behalf of the millions who live with headache and migraine disorders.

While conveying this information at my hearing, I experienced more emotion than anticipated, especially when a friend took the stand to provide testimony as a witness. She reminisced on how we used to go dancing together and described how we could be so carefree. But over the years what seemed to have started as a slight hindrance turned into an everyday occurrence, rippling into less and less quality time spent. This took a toll on us both.  

I can only hope it came across that migraine matters, that it burdens us all, and everyone should care about disabilities because it only takes a slight change in circumstance to alter your life forever. I didn't choose to struggle every day with getting out of bed, to have much of my time flat out stolen, or to have many memories tainted by the relentlessness of my chronic pain.  

While awaiting word back on a decision, I cannot help but wonder. How many more times will they want to see and hear from me? I've already come thus far and I'm not giving up! 

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Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook advocacy and support group, and Peace & Love, a wellness and life coaching practice for the chronically ill.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Beautifully Catastrophic

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

Whatever I do, there is going to be detrimental repercussions to my health and I do it anyway. Because if I didn't, I may as well be dead. At least in the sense of the quality of life I'd be lacking.

I have a love for creative expression through dance. As a young girl swimming and diving were my passions, but after a freak accident in the water gave me bacterial meningitis and chronic migraine, I found another passion in the form of dancing.

Over the years, my ability to dance had lessened and getting a nerve disorder diagnosis was another wake-up call. But who's to know what the future holds. It’s wise to make good use of this gift while still able.

I am lucky to get a few solid moments of dancing and when I get to the point of breaking a sweat, heightened pain is just about guaranteed as a result.

What's a person to do, if they can’t do what they love? For me, the answer has been to pursue it at a lighter extent, a handful of times per month as opposed to every day as it was in the past.   

My movement has evolved into a demonstration of my ailments --- to acknowledge and release them, while providing outside space for them to breathe. We all have unique traits and possess individualized talents that I believe were given to us as gifts to provide back to the world. 

I submitted this creative dance video to the 4th Annual Migraine Moment Short Film contest. It’s dedicated to those mourning the loss of who they were or wanted to be before becoming a Pain Warrior.

Prior to the making of this video, there was a solid month of resilience training. After recording it, I crawled into bed and rocked myself in response to the excruciating pain induced by dancing.  

The pain was horrendous and lasted for days, but I felt gratitude to have had even just a few moments to do something that brings me joy. I worked hard for that extra Spoon to be able to continue on through discomfort. It’s empowering to reclaim a part of myself in the midst of what can feel like broken pieces.   

A lot of us have had to give up things we've enjoyed. That’s another realm of grief that ordinarily doesn't make it to the surface, because we're fixated on just getting by one moment at a time. That alone takes much of our energy. 

It's imperative that we not allow our ailments or conditions to become our identity. I no longer look at it as if I “make myself sick” by engaging in this release. I already am sick. And that's not my fault either.   

I've found when I take conscious time to engage in meaningful activities that aren't revolved around being sick that there’s an impactful sense of replenishment. 

Some of us have been dealing with our battles for longer than we even want to think about or have situations that are expected to be incurable or life-long. What if we shifted our focus on what we can do right now? 

A lot of odds may be stacked up against us but we need not underestimate the power within an adequate self-care approach and routine. Although we've fallen down 7 times, we must rise up 8 -- and as many more times it takes.

It's important to mourn our losses so we may then find the strength to move on from them. It provides the opportunity to re-invent ourselves, which in my experience has been necessary more times than I'm able to count.  

I've referred to my chronic conditions as a thief. These illnesses have taken away jobs, social engagements and the concept of commitment. It's devastating to pick up the broken pieces of a shattered life, especially when it happens repeatedly.  

Alas, the good news is that our mindset is entirely within our power. What can be done with this pain, how will it be productively used?

There will always be those that’ll suggest I shouldn’t ever wear headphones, blast loud music or engage in any sudden movements. But I’ll never give it up!!

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Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook support group, and Peace & Love Enterprises, a wellness coaching practice focused on holistic health.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

FDA Clears New Wearable Device for Migraine

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A neuromodulation device worn on the arm and controlled by a smartphone has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of acute migraine. The Nerivo Migra device was developed by Theranica, an Israeli medical technology company, and is expected to be available in the U.S. later this year.

The FDA’s market authorization is based on the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Nerivo Migra involving 252 migraine patients at 12 headache clinics in the U.S. and Israel. The study findings were recently published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

Over two-thirds of patients who wore the device for 30-45 minutes during a migraine attack experienced pain relief two hours after treatment, compared to only about a third of those who wore a sham device. For many, the pain relief was sustained 48 hours after treatment.

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"The results of the study demonstrate a high efficacy ratio for single as well as multiple attacks, both at two and 48 hours after treatment," said lead investigator Dr. Brian Grosberg, MD, director of the Hartford Healthcare Headache Center in Connecticut.

Placed on the upper arm, Nerivio Migra uses smartphone-controlled electrical pulses to disrupt pain signals. At this time, the device is only indicated for acute treatment of migraine with or without aura in adult patients who do not have chronic migraine. But company officials say it shows potential as a treatment for other pain conditions.

"We have identified at least 7 different painful conditions that may be relieved by this non-invasive, drug-free technology after appropriate clinical development," said Alon Ironi, CEO and co-founder of Theranica. "While the company is preparing to launch the Nerivio Migra in the United States market later this year at an affordable price, we remain committed to continuing our clinical development, expanding the use of remote electrical neuromodulation therapy for additional indications.”

Theranica has not disclosed what its “affordable price” will be. Over the next four months, the company said it would begin a series of clinical studies of Nerivo Migra at 30 headache clinics in the U.S. to assess patient selection and correct product use.

A handheld neuromodulation device – called gammaCore –  is currently available for about $600 to treat migraine and cluster headache.  Another device used to treat migraine – called Cefaly – is worn on the head and costs about $350. A new class of injectable migraine drugs is even more expensive, costing about $7,000 a year or $580 for each monthly dose.

"Over the last 20 years my colleagues and I have used triptans and ergots for acute migraine treatment. There is a large unmet need for new treatments in this population when these medications are not effective, are contra-indicated, or have non-tolerable side effects,” said Stephen Silberstein, MD, a member of Theranica’s medical advisory board.

“In addition, triptans and most current acute migraine medications, including over-the-counter drugs indicated for migraine, are associated with medication-overuse headache, which is associated with increased frequency of migraine attacks, and often results in chronic migraine.”

Migraine affects a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraine than men.

Shades of Grey

By Mia Maysack, PNN Columnist

A blonde walks into the mall, minding her own business, and sits down at a table in the food court.

A random dude calls out, "Don't you know it's rude to keep sunglasses on in here?"

That line felt like a punch to me.

"Well good sir, what can I say? My migraine lacks proper manners."

Yes, I wear sunglasses indoors because I'm cool like that. But it's also because after living with persistent and debilitating head pain for almost two decades, I need to wear sunglasses as a shield against the brutal assault of fluorescent lighting.

And sunglasses are one of the few ways I can make my seemingly non-existent illness visible to the rest of the world.  

There are specially designated migraine glasses that provide relief by strategically dimming light. Brightness levels on cell phones and other devices can also be turned down by a special app that filters blue light.   

Despite these helpful tools, walking under the bulbs in any public place feels as though light is raining down on me and, like a sponge, absorbing all of my energy.

That is why a trip to the grocery store could go well, but afterwards I'm out for the count and barely able to make it up the stairs.

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Within the last couple years, my mobility has continued to be compromised -- especially when it comes to either sitting (driving) or shifting positions (sitting to standing). At a conference recently, after noticing my navigation or lack thereof, a dear colleague suggested what I had been silently dreading: the possibility of using a cane. There's nothing wrong with canes, I'm grateful for all medical devices, but suffice to say they aren’t exactly what I had pictured at the ripe old age of 29.  

I've become accustomed to losing a lot as a result of chronic pain and illness, but confronting a limited physical future is my newest anguish.

The combination of chronic cluster headaches, daily intractable migraines and now fibromyalgia not only heighten the pain scale number, it hinders even the simplest of daily tasks. It impacts the few things I am still able to do that bring me joy, such as participate in creative body movement through yoga or dance.

I smirk thinking back to the days I could go out and dance for hours on end. There's a certain spark that comes alive in me when bass throbs its way through a loudspeaker. I'm quite aware that is contradictory to head pain, yet somehow, I cannot live without it. My soul begins to vibrate in the most calming way as I am enticed by the rhythm and it takes over.

Fast forward to today and I'm fortunate to get a couple minutes of dancing in before symptoms worsen. I cannot go as hard or as long as I used to, but it has caused an evolution in my movement, leading me to a whole-body present moment acceptance.  

Last week at an appointment, I mentioned that a cane will likely be needed daily in the near future. Initially the provider skipped over the remark entirely, but when I brought the conversation back around to ensure we were on the same page, she reacted with “Oh yes, your question about a cane.” 

I don’t recall needing an answer so much as an acknowledgement, as I do not feel the need to ask for permission to do what’s going to be best for myself. 

It’s never too far from my mind that I walked away from bacterial meningitis. If it is now catching up to me, there’s never an ideal time for that to happen and I am fortunate to have had moments with an abundance of blessings. No matter how dark life can get, it’s imperative we make the absolute most of every breath and make a conscious commitment for the sake of ourselves to never give up. 

Whether we live inflicted with physical ailments or not, none of us know what the future holds, nor when our number may be up. All it takes is a slight change in circumstance to alter our lives forever, so we must take time to appreciate and find ways to enjoy the gifts we have. 

The blonde kept the shades on and walked out with her cane like the bad ass that she is!      

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Mia Maysack lives with chronic migraine, cluster headaches and fibromyalgia. Mia is the founder of Keepin’ Our Heads Up, a Facebook support group, and Peace & Love Enterprises, a wellness coaching practice focused on holistic health.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.