Monday, March 23, 2009

Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven

I had an expectation of what I was in for when I picked up Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman. Gilman is a clever and witty writer, author of Kiss My Tiara, a frothy rumination on feminism and grrl-power, and Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, an anecdote filled memoir about growing up in the 70s.

Gilman has an eye for the ridiculous, and an ear for the clever turn of phrase, but like many humorists, she can overreach for the big laugh, rather than settling for the quieter but more powerful chuckle. Both of these books are fun reads, and I enjoyed them, but they slipped from my mind almost as soon as the covers were closed. I assumed Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, which details Gilman's post-college backpack-through-the-world trip, would be Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress goes on holiday: amusing anecdotes about trying to buy tampons in China (briefly touched on in Kiss My Tiara) or the lack of privacy in youth hostels. A little heartbreak. A little shopping.

The impression of a fluffy travelogue is only reinforced by the cover art of a naked co-ed wearing only a backpack, but to my pleasant surprise, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, is made of much weightier stuff. Under-served by its titillating cover art and Gilman's previous works, this book is a lightweight travelogue like Spaulding Grey's Swimming to Cambodia is a lightweight examination of the film industry. Undress Me has charming travel anecdotes a plenty but at its core, it is something much more profound: a gripping rumination on culture, friendship, and mental illness which kept me reading late into the night.

In 1986 the author, known in the book as Susie, and her college friend Claire impulsively decide that they will forgo the post-graduation panic of job hunting and future finding and set out instead to explore the world. Inspired by a place mat from the International House of Pancakes, they sketch out a plan to visit the globe of their fantasies: Kathmandu, Paris, Bali, Thailand, Greece. Susie spends her post-grad summer working two jobs to save her pennies and then she and Claire set out, beginning their journey in the most exotic, mysterious location imaginable: the People's Republic of China which in 1986 had been open to foreign tourists for "roughly ten minutes".

They set out, over-packed and under-prepared for everything in store. Susie has her 900 page copy of Linda Goodman's Love Signs and Claire the complete works of Nietzsche, but neither remember to bring Kleenex. The girls are full of romantic notions, a longing to embrace the world full on with no fancy hotels or eating at American style restaurants. It's native or nothing! Their images of exotic foreign lands with bamboo bungalows and trees full of low hanging fruit explode instantly upon landing in the urban melee of Hong Kong. Their resolve is immediately tested by roach infested tourist hostels, cold and colder running water and food which alternates between nervously unrecognizable and frighteningly obvious (chicken beak anyone?).

As much as people travel to learn about other cultures, it's their own selves that they usually end up finding the most about. There's nothing better at teaching a person what they are really made of when they're hungry and exhausted and confronted with a weeping mentally ill man wearing a diaper and masturbating on the doorstep of the tourist hovel the Lonely Planet guide book has led them to. How do you like your bourgeois Hilton now my friends?

Adventure finds the girls quickly, and Gilman is skilled and funny at showing the romance-annihilating powers of reality. The girls sign up for what they believe will be an exotic sea journey on a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to the main land, only to discover they're voyaging on a modern cruise liner upon which the 5 or 6 Western passengers have the entire run of the "luxury" upper decks while the several hundred Chinese passengers are sequestered below decks. They befriend a local Chinese man who invites them to join him on a visit to his home, a remote village not found on any maps. When they arrive they discover that this "village" of 800,000 doesn't appear on any maps because it is a strategic military location which has never had any Western visitors, and the local police aren't excited to start now. Both the girls get violently ill on various occasions leading at one point to a terrifying trip to a local hospital which strongly impresses upon both girls that Chinese hospitals are excellent places to go die, but to be avoided at all costs if you want to get better.

Gilman insightfully points out that travel, particularly when you don't speak the language, can be incredibly infantilizing. "Drop any of us, anywhere, in an alien environment and you'll see our IQ plummet. IS THIS THE BUS STOP? we'll holler at strangers while dementedly pointing to the bus stop....There's nothing like feeling helpless to turn you into a world class control freak, to make you forget your manners and throw a tantrum when your room isn't ready and there's no ice in your drink. In a strange environment you feel like a baby, and you're often treated like a baby, and so you act like one." The girls find themselves having to rely on strangers for help and consolation, strangers who often have agendas of their own. For Susie, measuring out trust is a daily struggle, particularly for a New York girl who grew up street smart and wary of the kindness of strangers.

Despite the fact that Susie and Claire were friendly in college, they were not necessarily close when they started out on their journey, never having roomed together or done more than meet once or twice a month for coffee. While they have that illusory sense of soul-mated-ness that can only come from having both survived Freshman English at Brown together, travel begins to emphasize their differences. Gilman is a spunky wise ass who grew up poor and went to Brown on financial aid. Claire is a wealthy Connecticut princess whose brother roomed with JFK Jr in college. Fractures begin to appear in their friendship. Susie finds herself becoming increasingly frustrated with Claire's fastidious quirks, like refusing to eat fish or to use pit toilets which, in China, will leave you hungry and in danger of pooping your pants pretty fast.

Wrestling with her own expectations and fears, Susie easily dismisses Claire's increasingly strange and erratic behavior as either forgivable cultural adjustment or unforgivable spoiled Connecticut princess bratty-ness. When Claire tells Susie about a fling she had over the summer with an Israeli boat hand at the country club who was, Claire is certain, a member of the Mossad, Susie doesn't think twice. What college girl hasn't exaggerated the qualities of some shlub to justify why she made out with them? When Claire freaks out over a Beijing map which shows a building labeled "PLO", Susie understands that it's not actually a consulate for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but dismisses Claire's hysteria as something caused by sheltered US college kid syndrome combined with foreign travel exhaustion. When Claire announces mysteriously that she must go off on her own to make "contacts" for a graduate level "global curriculum" she is writing, A+ Brown student Susie is only jealous that she hadn't thought of doing such a thing first, and hurt that her friend wont include her.

While it becomes increasingly clear to the reader, and the older wiser author, that Claire is heading for a full blown pschizophrenic breakdown, it also very clear why the obvious is not at all evident to the young Susie. Disassociated and discombobulated herself, her friend's behavior just seems part and parcel of what it means to hurl yourself into the great unknown. When Claire angrily insists that the two leave Shanghai immediately in order to follow their Chinese friend to his village down the coast, Susie thinks Claire is jealous of the cute Australian sailor Susie picked up at the hostel. When Claire complains about the noise, the crowds and all the voices that surround them, it never occurs to Susie that Claire doesn't mean the inescapable millions of people in China, but is in fact talking about the voices in her head. Fresh from college, itself a world full of high hysteria and low melodrama and where erratic behavior is the norm, it's a long time, too long, before Susie realizes that her friend is dissolving right in front of her eyes.

It's safe to say that communist China tops the list of lousy places to have a mental breakdown, falling somewhere between Victorian England and Inquisitorial Spain on the list of Really Shitty Places to be Crazy. If the breakdown in question involves lots of muttering about CIA and Mossad assassination attempts the stakes are even higher, and the losing hand ends up disappeared in a Chinese prison, or worse. The transition the book makes from droll to harrowing is gradual but powerful. Clearly this is a story that Susan Jane Gilman has wanted to tell for a long time, and she writes the hell out of it. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven begins as a travelogue of youthful indiscretion but it ends as a white knuckle thriller, in which the most terrifying enemies are not the Chinese secret police but the myopia of youth and the terrifying specters of the mind.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Watchmen

We weren't allowed to read comic books growing up. Our parents who were otherwise indulgent when it came to our reading material, assuming if we were curious enough to pick a book up we could handle whatever we encountered between the pages, drew a fierce and absolute line at comic books. I'm talking about Archie and Richie Richie comic books here which, living in rural North Carolina, were about as edgy a comic book as one could easily come across. Comic books are garbage which rot the mind was the standard reason given for the ban and for heaven's sake, if you want to read something, read a book.

In this respect my parents would appear to be a winning success story for Estes Kefauver and the Comic Book Hearings of 1954. Whatever else the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency may have accomplished it seems to have convinced my grandparents, raising the children that would become my parents, that comic books were garbage that rot the mind. (The thing about standard lines is they don't vary very much.) Add in some gentle snobbery about the importance of being highly educated, something you don't become reading comic books thankyouverymuch, and you get my parents, two people who otherwise didn't agree on a whole lot, but certainly agreed that comic books are garbage that rot the mind.

This should be the beginning of a tale about how, due to this ban, I used to sneak out and collect cans to raise money to secretly buy comics which I hid underneath the woodpile, but honestly, I didn't really feel the lack of comics growing up. Because of the aforementioned rural locale of my upbringing, the only comics I ever saw were frankly not that exciting to me. When my stepmother came into the picture she brought with her Kool Aid, chewing gum and permission to read Archie comics, but I outgrew them soon enough and honestly had limited understanding that the world of comics was bigger than Archie, Richie Rich and the Incredible Hulk.

I was well into my adulthood before I became aware that there was a rich and varied world of comic books out there which, oddly enough, I was not too old to appreciate. This world was so rich and varied that in fact, they would actually collect several issues into a book like form, the hard cover protecting the reader from the garbage-y mind rotting qualities of the content within. I can't remember when I first picked up The Watchmen, probably in college on the advice of some guy I hoped to impress, but I'll be honest, I couldn't get into it. The characters were dark and unpleasant and what do you mean, Richard Nixon is still president? I put it down without getting very far.

Many years later, however, I'd transformed into full on comic book/graphic novel fan thanks in a large part to Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I discovered that an entire world of Buffy-ventures was taking place in comic book form, I'd found my gateway drug. While reading through the Whedon-verse, I happened upon Whiteout and Queen and Country by Greg Rucka, two other series featuring tough as nails women beating their way through the world. Whedon was my gateway, but Greg Rucka got me well and truly hooked. Hollywood kept me busy too, releasing films based on graphic novels like 300 and V for Vendetta which, being a dutiful librarian required me to go back and read their source materials.

Around this time I also discovered that people I knew, people who were friends of mine, also read these documents we call comics. Recognizing a burgeoning kindred spirit one these friends recommended a series called Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming. She even loaned me her collection of the graphic novels, parceling them out in threes like precious gold. And they were.

Powers blew my mind. Powers takes the superhero fantasy and turns it on its head. There are superheros in this world, and there are also the regular joe cops whose job it is to clean up whither these superheros go. Powers follows two of these cops, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgram, who are assigned to the Powers unit, a superhero SVU unit as it were, whose job it is to investigate crimes done by or to those with super powers. Superheros are people with exceptional powers but also very human flaws. They're treated like superstars, for good or ill, swarmed by paparazzi and pilloried on Nancy Grace-style TV shows. The series blends superhero fantasy with hard boiled crime noir and the result is, for me anyway, irresistibly tasty.

Once I started reading graphic novels on a regular basis I discovered that it is impossible to escape The Watchmen. Author after author that I read cited The Watchmen as a the work that inspired them to become a comic book writer/artist. Eventually I realized that to go forward in my growing appreciation for the genre, I was going to have to go back and read The Watchmen. Maybe it was other graphic novels I'd since absorbed or life itself, but I was better prepared for the complex and challenging tale of a world where superheroes are just people who put on costumes to fight crime, or the Vietnamese, or wherever the government sends them, until society decides they're not comfortable with vigilantes in spandex and outlaws them.

Reading The Watchmen I quickly realized I was reading the codex, the source of Nile, the foundation document for all of the 90s graphic novels I loved so well. Heroes may do heroic things, but then what awaits them at home except for some aging Chinese leftovers and the evening news? The ability to kick a person through a wall, while occasionally practical, doesn't easily translate into the ability to form meaningful relationships with other people. And, seriously, what kind of weird anti-social personality disorder inspires dressing up in a leotard to chase purse snatchers down the street?

Reading The Watchmen shifted my understanding of the graphic novels I loved, making me see that this came first and laid the ground so they could follow. It expanded my notion of what a graphic novel could communicate and it impressed me as a narrative work of art. But here's my confession, a confession which may consign me to the lobby of graphic novel fandom forever, I didn't love it. I appreciated it, but it didn't touch my heart the way the works of Rucka and Bendis had.

I struggled with the undertones of Freudian psychology, the same way I struggle with some of Hitchcock's heavily Freudian films. It's like looking at a document from the days when witch burning was believed to be a great idea. It's hard to relate other than to say Thank God for progress.

All of the characters are hard to love, which is the point really, but, trying hard not to be a knee jerk feminist here, I struggled a lot with the female characters in The Watchmen. I'm not offended by women running around in spandex, seriously, and if a woman wants to use her abnormally large tits to fight crime, fight on sister is what I say! But there is something old-fashioned, and I don't mean that in a good way, about how women fit into The Watchmen story. Women are human and flawed and do good and lousy things in equal measure, but the ways that women in The Watchmen are flawed feel more like a man's notion of female motivation, a man who doesn't like them very much, than anything that resonated with me.

One of the driving plot points is that the world stands on the brink of nuclear annihilation, two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, as Russia and the US tire of each other's bullshit and just want to push the button already. The challenge with reading the story now is a challenge that decidedly did not exist when the novel first landed. As a planet, we've moved on from those happy-go-lucky days and created new ways to terrorize each other. The threat that a nuke will go off somewhere, and it will be awful, is just as high as is ever was, but the threat that 100,000 nukes will go off at the same time seems less of a pressing concern than whether or not your neighbor has one in their basement.

When I heard that they were making a film version of The Watchmen I was intrigued, impressed and wary in equal measure. It takes nards to take this story on. It's complicated and multi-layered. It relies on flashbacks to unspool the story. The central heroes include a man who willingly if not gleefully murdered on behalf of the US government; a business tycoon who has transformed his glory days as a hero into a multi-billion dollar industry; a bitter sociopath who hates humanity in general almost as much as he hates the bad guys he tries to stop; a tired washed up recluse who enshrines his glory days in his basement and a woman who has been forced into superheroing as a means to relive her mother's glory days. The story is decidedly adult-in-theme and the only way to tell it well would be to force a studio out of its comfort zone of PG/PG13 superhero flicks. I hoped that the crazy people who were taking this on would get it right and I think I also wondered if perhaps, on film, I could connect to the story in a way I wasn't able to connect to the graphic novel.

For those who worried that the movie would water down or deviate wildly from the original text, rest assured that the film religiously adheres to the source material. Some of the story points are gone or shorthanded so as not to create a six hour movie, but the story that's left clocks in at almost three hours. It's well done, well written, well acted. The special effects are flawless and the details are perfect. Regrettably, after the opening (a striking montage of diorama-like images walking you through the history of the Watchmen so far) the movie also begins to feel every minute of its length, at times approaching the devastating pace of "plodding". One begins to imagine you can hear the whisper of pages being turned reverently in the background.

As in the novel, the most sympathetic character is also the least human. Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan, a being who was once a man until a terrible accident transformed him into something else. He knows everything there is to know, he can see the future and the past, he can create and destroy matter with a wave of his hand and the longer he stays on Earth the less he understands, or cares, about the human race. He appreciates that there are human conventions which he dutifully follows but these are actions, not instincts. He wears clothes during public appearances because humans are more comfortable when he does. He loves a woman because she loves him back, and because he suspects loving her gives him a connection to the human race that he's quickly losing. When the woman tires of being loved as a surrogate for mankind rather than for herself she leaves, taking with her Manhattan's only reason for staying on Earth as a meta-human shield.

Although there's a conundrum in the least human character being the most emotionally compelling, Dr. Manhattan's struggle gets right to the heart of The Watchmen's themes. Should human beings get the heroes they need, or the ones they deserve? What drives people to create idols only to turn around and demolish them? Why should anyone work so hard to save a race so bent on destroying itself? Happy, happy times all around.

Like the novel upon which it is based, I admired The Watchmen. I was impressed by The Watchmen. I was challenged by The Watchmen. But I didn't love The Watchmen. Perhaps, like the novel, that is ultimately the point.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Truth About Me

About three weeks ago I went to see my doctor for a minor issue. My ears had been bothering me, like they might be infected but maybe not, but it had lasted long enough I thought an expert should shine a flashlight into them. It turned out to be benign, allergies doing something funky, but during the visit it was noticed that my blood pressure, which I had brought under control during my year of walking, had jacked up again.

So the doctor prescribed me the meds I should have been taking but kind of sort of forgot to and pointedly didn't lecture me in a way that felt worse than if he had. He asked that I go get my pressure checked a few times over the next few weeks and make an appointment to come back. Then, almost as an afterthought, he said "You can't take your migraine medication any more, until we get this under control". I responded in a totally matter of fact way, Oh, ok no problem, which completely belied my internal state, which was freaking out. I asked him if it was ok for me to still take Excedrin, the migraine sufferer's over-the-counter best friend, and he said yeah sure.

I knew better than to argue with him, or even to ignore him. When I first started having problems with high blood pressure he explained to me, in his direct straightforward manner, that high blood pressure plus migraine medication equals playground for stroke. Ignoring him seemed like a risky and rather stupid proposition. So I left the office clinging to the hope that my migraines seemed to have been more or less under control lately, kind of, and it would probably be just fine.

I've suffered from migraines for as long as I can remember, at least as far back as high school. In college any promise I had as a burgeoning alcoholic was discouraged by the fact that drinking led to headaches that were hell's own punishment. I became an Excedrin addict instead, its magical combination of aspirin, acetaminophen and 800 milligrams of caffeine the only thing that could touch the pain once it had moved in.

Over the years I doggedly compiled my mental list of migraine dangers. Drinking, especially wine; birth control pills; my period; not eating; peanuts; sometimes but not always walnuts; strong floral scents, especially roses; maybe Indian food; some kinds of cheese and dairy some of the time; middle of the afternoon naps; and, as I cruelly learned after back surgery a few years ago, Vicodin, are all on my trigger list.

Growing up my mother had always had bad headaches, dealing with them by cloistering herself in a dark room with a cold compress. I dealt with them similarly, along with a healthy abuse of Excedrin and any number of alternative therapies. I had moderate success with accupuncture. I can still see the weird freckles that developed on my hands, in the fleshy area between thumb and forefinger, which is the magic spot for headache treatment. I tried positive visualization, lying in the dark and imagining a little broom sweeping the vast pain into a tidy pile and throwing it away. Lots of things worked once or twice, as if the pain was startled by the approach (Mother of God! It's an Imaginary Broom!) but eventually the effectiveness would wane (Oh it's just the imaginary broom again. Ignore it and it will go away).

A friend of mine, an Episcopal priest, told me she'd had great success healing her daughter's headaches with prayer and laying on of hands, an idea which is only risible to those who have never had a week long migraine. I greatfully allowed her to try her hand, and prayers, on my painful head but when she tried she said that although she could tell that I was in pain, she couldn't get a handle on it, couldn't visualize it well enough to focus her prayers on it.

I was suprised at how well her description of what she sensed matched what I felt inside my head. My pain is like a thunderstorm, roiling around with no focal point. My pain is like a lava lamp, bubbling through my brain. My pain is like an oil slick floating on the water; like a hydra; like mercury. I can focus on a point which seems the most painful, only to have it slip away and erupt somewhere else. If you add color and a soundrack, it would be a cutting edge 60s light installation. If it weren't for the pain, it would be facinating.

My migraines have evolved over the years, adding different nuances to the repertoire. A recent development has been nausea and car sickness, even and especially if I'm driving. If the migraine lasts long enough, the nausea gives way to ravenous hunger, as if the wildfire raging in my head were actually consuming calories (one could only hope). Sometimes I get a weird kind of euphoria, a surpluss of endorphins which have no effect on the pain in my head, but make me feel oddly serene and detached, as if the pain were taking place in a different room of the house.

It wasn't until I hit my 30s that it occurred to me to mention these headaches to a doctor. Eventually though, it got to a point where it was negatively impacting my job, mostly by eating through my limited sick time and irritating my boss. The doc prescribed me Immitrex, which was indeed a miracle drug as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately I quickly built up a tolerance for it and was soon running through a month's supply in a matter of weeks or less. Among other things, migraine meds are expensive, and while I'm sure it's for concern over health safety and not at all a cost control measure, insurance companies take that month supply designation seriously. If I ran through those nine precious pills in ten days, it was a long 20 days before I was allowed my refill.

The doc sent me to a neurologist, and we spent months trying different combinations of meds, mostly anti-seizure medications, that might stop my migraines before they started. Maybe nothing worked, or maybe I didn't have the patience to let them work, but we never found the magic combination of daily medication that stopped the migraines. We did, however, probably unintentionally on the part of the neurologist, come up with a solution which worked fine for me. In addition to the Immitrex, which works quickly to stop a migraine, but has an unfortunate tendency to cause "rebound" headaches which arrive within 24 hours, he also prescribed something called Amerge. Amerge works much more slowly, hours instead of minutes, but its effects are lasting.

The combination of the two drugs worked fine for me. If I felt the vague niggling of a headache, the tell-tale pinching behind my right eye, I'd take an Amerge, sometimes with an Excedrin chaser. If one came on quickly, or I awoke with one full blown, I'd take an Immitrex. The important thing, from my perspective, is that between the two prescriptions I had enough migraine drugs to get me through a month. And thus it has been for two or three years now. Although I would still get migraines, they weren't running my life any more. I no longer feared activities or vacations would be spoiled by a headache. I drank wine. I started sneaking dairy back into my diet. Once I even ate a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, immediately following it with an Immitrex to stop the migraine that would certainly follow. It was a foolish challenge to fate, but I felt liberated.

Until three weeks ago. I've been doing ok since then, kinda, sorta. I only missed a partial day at work because of a migraine. Most of them seemed controllable with Excedrin. Maybe, I thought, this wouldn't be so bad. Then I woke up Saturday morning with a migraine.

When migraines approach you during the day, you can see them coming, the pinch behind the eye, a tenderness of the sinuses. Suddenly you can smell everything at 200 times its normal potency. Sometimes you get funny auras and a weird, disconnected trippy feeling which would almost be entertaining if you didn't know what was coming next. These are the signs to break out your drugs and often, if you swallow them in time, you get to skip the visitation from the migraine terrorists altogether.

But waking up to a migraine is one of the most miserable things in life. Before you've even opened your eyes, you know that your day has been hijacked. Coming awake yesterday I knew my plans for the day were shot. I staggered out of bed and swallowed some Excedrin and an Aleve for good measure, even though I knew with a sinking heart that it was already too late. I heated up my flaxseed and lavender eye pillow in the microwave and staggered back to bed. Sometimes heat works well to mute the pain, sometimes ice. Sometimes I use both, one temperature extreme on my forehead, the other on the back of my neck, hoping that some combination might startle the pain into remission.

I laid in bed defiantly, for as long as I could stand, but eventually the daylight seeping through the curtains became too hard to ignore. I also knew I had to get up and run at least one vital errand that couldn't be avoided. I was out of cat food and migraine or no, hungry cats will not be ignored. I rummaged through my drawers and found one the dozen sticks of Head On which I applied liberally to the forehead as directed. After limping out and back from Target, I staggered upstairs and stuck my head under an ice cold shower. In those moments that I could stand the icy needles of water the pain receded, only to return full force when I couldn't stand it anymore and had to pull my head out.

Once I overheard someone speaking disparaginly of Head On as a "placebo" which doesn't do anything for headaches and I had to bite my tongue to keep from calling out this total stranger. A placebo, to my mind, is something that has no actual effect and its benefits are completely imagined. It's true that Head On doesn't usually cure my headaches, but it delivers a weird chemical cold sensation, like coating your head in Icy/Hot. Sometimes this is enough to distract you from the pain, allowing you to focus on the task at hand. Like repeatedly slamming your hand in a car door, or putting a bullet in your brain, two things I've never done but contemplated plenty, sometimes all you want is a distraction. Head On and ice cold showers seem a preferable option to other forms of self injury.

A friend of mine at work who suffered from migraines for many years told me that menopause has cured them completely. I've heard this from other sources too, a reassurance of something to look forward to. I'm as emotional and conflicted about menopause as any woman in her late 30s who somehow forgot to have children would be, but when my lady parts doctor told me it appeared I was entering peri-menopause, my first thought was the migraines. Sainted heaven's above, could this be the beginning of the end of them?

A few years ago a book was published called All In My Head, about the author's 15 year struggle with a headache that would not go away. It's supposed to be a well written funny book, but I can't bring myself to read it. It feels too real and raw, like a rape victim reading about somebody else's horrible experience. One of the things about suffering from migraines, or any other chronic illness, is how totally helpless they make you feel. It infuriates me, that feeling. It enrages me. How dare these monsters steal my life away, bit by bit, Saturday by Saturday? Would I feel better about things if I owned them? Hello I'm Kati and I am a migraineur. Should I thank them for the booze they saved me from drinking, the dull parties they saved me from attending?

I've become used to not thinking of myself that way. I still got migraines, one or two a month, but the meds kept them reasonable, limiting their theft to hours instead of days. I don't know how long this moratorium on the drugs will last, but I'm taking my high blood pressure meds every day like a dutiful patient. I don't know what I can stand anymore, certainly not too many more days like yesterday. Do I cheat and go back to taking the Immitrex and Amerge, stroke risk be damned? Do I call my doctor and tell him, nuh uh, I can't do it. Give me something. Give me anything. The truth is, I don't know. Maybe I'm in denial still. Maybe I just don't want any of this to be the truth about me.