Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chronic Migraines...not a Dr. Dre Album

How do I explain migraines to someone that has never had one?  And how to explain having one constantly, on the reg, with an aura.  I will try.  You feel like a lesser version of yourself, operating at a “C” or “D+” level.  Like you’re extremely hung over, but haven’t drank in days.  You are now lackluster about the things you normally enjoy.  It takes a lot of effort to even talk.  You thank the stars (similar to the spots floating around in your vision) that your boyfriend is really helping the team average by keeping conversations going.  You have to mentally work yourself up to have a phone call.  You only want to be around people you are comfortable with that you know will not cause any stress, and sometimes don’t want to be around any human beings at all.  Dogs are welcome, they seem to sense when you aren’t feeling well and don’t require a response.  Meeting new people is utterly exhausting, but you usually love to.  You try to power through because you feel guilty missing yet another outing or more days or work, but all you want to do is lay down.  Every morning you wake up hopeful, searching your eyes to see if the dreaded spots are still there.  You are more sensitive to light, sound, and smells.  Everything seems… dreary.  You know you aren’t showing the proper levels of enthusiasm, but can’t seem to change it.  I was walking through the grocery store on Friday and my boyfriend Troy brought over sunflowers and another bouquet of purple flowers for me and asked me if I liked that kind.  I gave him a bleak smile.  A woman next to me exclaimed, “That is just so adorable!  He is such a keeper!!!”  I knew that is how I should be reacting, but all I could do was nod my head politely.  You feel like you are observing the world go on around you and you can’t participate the way you’d really like to. 

My sister and I both get migraines, but different types.  Our bodies seem extremely sensitive to just about everything.  The reality is, you don’t always get a perfect night’s sleep, have low stress, eat perfectly, and exercise….not too much, but just right.  But when you don’t do all of these things and maintain perfect balance…. you regret it.

I had my first migraine when I was little and remember clutching my head and crying while hoping I’d soon drift off to sleep and it would mercifully end.  My next memory is a series of migraines my senior year of college towards the end of basketball season.  I remember holding my head on our bus traveling to an away game.  They picked back up when I worked at Deloitte.  When I got my first aura, I thought I was going blind and walked into an eye doctor’s office.  Hootie and the Blowfish “I Go Blind” became my favorite song.  When I was about 25 I got to the point where I had a migraine every day for six months.  I would pull over on the side of the road and throw up on the way to work.  Some mornings I would throw up into the trash can at my desk at work, fueling the rumor mill that I was preggers.  I had a cat scan and tried all the medication out there.  I quit coffee.   I stopped eating lunchmeat (RIP turkey sandwiches).  Finally one glorious morning a coworker asked if I ever tried chiropractic.  Miraculously that had never been suggested.  I made an appointment that day. 

I was diagnosed with forward head posture likely from staring down at a laptop all day and being 6’3’’.  It took about a month of going to the chiropractor (mad props to Dr. Ruocco in Ohio!) before I had my first migraine free day.  I burst into happy tears when I had gone 12 hours without seeing spots.  I didn’t want to jinx it earlier in the day.  My migraines had gotten so bad that I barely made it to the gym.  During that month, even if I was feeling awful, I forced myself to start working out again almost daily.  Dr. Ruocco introduced me to whole foods and a plant based diet.  I had never before been truly educated on nutrition, I only knew mainstream.  I got a new job that would be less hours and no travel.  I took a month off in-between jobs.  I started a cleanse where I only ate organic fruits, vegetables, brown and wild rice, and small portions of chicken and fish and I lost 17 pounds.  I wasn’t exactly sure which triggers were mine so I tried to eliminate every possible one.  I was desperate from being in a migraine abyss for so long and every hour I went without one I was hungry for more.  I soaked in all possible information.  After the cleanse, I stuck to the diet for the most part with some exceptions.  Every day my migraines became milder and milder.  Eventually I got to the point where the ratio of migraine free days was more in my favor. 

The past year the migraines have begun creeping up on me again (cue TLC).  Migraines became the norm and I didn’t even realize it was happening.  I eat pretty clean.  I work outregularly.  I am happy with amazing people in my life.  I drink alcohol only socially and less than I ever have.  I live on one of the most relaxing spots possible on the lake.  I am dating a chiropractor so needless to say I get adjusted fairly often.  Why is this happening? I am trying to climb my way back out.  It’s been two months now and I can’t remember a day where I haven't see spots.  I am trying to cut my work hours down and not feel guilty about it.  I am being diligent about getting adjusted chiropractically and having deep tissue massages.  I started going to acupuncture. 

My new acupuncture doctor, Dr. Bishop, made me realize I am in a constant stressed state of fight or flight.  My pupils are dilated.  My lip or nose twitches occasionally.  After acupuncture my entire body feels relieved.  Stress seems to be a huge trigger for my migraines, but I’m not quite sure why it is so bad or how to stop it.  I have naturally migrated to all the exercises that help relieve stress where you focus on breathing and movement over the past few years; swimming, yoga, biking, and paddle-boarding.  It seems to help, if I can just get myself up and going.  I started doing positive affirmations.

I get stressed about having migraines.  I have been unable to stop from crying randomly the past three days out of frustration when all I want to do is enjoy my normal life, but there are these large spots flying all over the place and I am in a constant state of fatigue.  I know I am not myself with every interaction and it’s impacting me at work, with my friends and family, my boyfriend, with strangers.  I am sure I have lost friends because I just don’t have the energy.  I wish they could see more of the normal amber.  I worry about my migraines are impacting my relationships which I’m sure is compounding the stress. 

I hate to talk about my migraines (minus this blog ha ha) because it’s the same old story.  It’s like groundhog day.  And if you tell someone you have one, they want to usher you straight to bed.  But how do you explain to them that it’s only a “mild” one and you are only seeing a few spots.  It’s manageable.  You know they mean well and just want to help, but if I went to bed every time I had a migraine, I would never leave. 

I see people all the time that are worse off with cancer or something else and feel guilty even talking about my migraines that I have learned to live and function with.  I have the utmost appreciate for good health.  A coworker told me a few weeks ago that I am the happiest person they have ever seen at work.  I stared at them in disbelief thinking in my head that I was doing a darn good job with my fa├žade.  I feel like nemo, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  I will keep doing the right things and hope the results come again, fingers crossed.  In the meantime, I hope the real Amber has enough flashes through to keep my relationships going so I can return again to my migraine-free life. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Unplanned Greatness

My friends and I have a concept we refer to as “unplanned greatness.”  The secret sauce is having just enough pre-planning to start the domino effect but not strangle the creativity and organic outcome.  A few examples of when we have successfully executed upon this concept and some tips are outlined below. 
Fight the urge to say no
Rule #32 for allowing unplanned greatness into your life: unplanned greatness cannot enter if you are not open to it.  If you get an invite, but you were planning on swiftly putting on sweats, grabbing your carton of cashew milk ice cream, and snuggling up for a Netflix marathon of GoT…. Reconsider.  However can you end up at Roxbury dancing to 90’s rap and r&b or belting out karaoke at Saeed’s with your best friends if you say no to that invite to grab a drink?  Think like Jim Carrey in Yes Man.  I went on my first inadvertent date with my partner in crime by accepting a last minute invite for a boat ride to the Port City Club.  Every time you leave the house think to yourself, this could be the best day of my life!  Ok if that’s too much…. This could be the day I meet my next good friend! 

An indicator that there is the potential for unplanned greatness is hearing the famous last words, “Let’s try to leave by early afternoon so we can get home and do some stuff.” or “let’s just grab one drink.”  Heading back last weekend from the Lake Chatuge, straight out of Narnia, my boyfriend Troy and I decided to stop and hike midway to break up the drive.  Then I remembered that New Belgium’s new brewery right on the river was nearby.  And with that, unplanned greatness was initiated. 
After doing a consult on the best hiking trail with my cousins, the Black Mountain locals, we picked Catawba Falls.  I am heavily reliant on The Google, but you can’t beat the local recommendations.  Is now a good time for my shameless plug for my cousin’s bed and breakfast, the Arbor House B&B at  It’s consistently rated the best B&B in Black Mountain.

Back to the hike.  There’s just something about a walk in the woods.  Troy exclaims, “Happy Amber is out!” when we start.  The hike to the second set of waterfalls is a tad grueling, but worth it.  I happened upon my own personal trail guide that was wearing jeans and cowboy boots on the 90+ degree day that gave me a hand and pointed out the best holds on the way up.  His wife was wearing flower strappy sandals.  We also encountered a couple walking their tabby cat.  I can't even make this stuff up if I tried. My only regret from the day is not taking a picture of the domestic tabby cat hiking.  Well that and not bring my bathing suit to swim in the cool mountain swimming holes.
The most memorable part of the exhilarating hike was when a butterfly followed us down the trail and then landed on Troy’s butt.  “There is a butterfly on your butt!  There’s a butterfly on your BUTT!!!” I shrieked like Nemo’s friends. 

Legend has it this is a great omen.  The butterfly started to make its way towards me and I stood primed and ready for its landing.  Another couple gruffly stormed around the trail and the butterfly promptly flutter away.  I glared accusingly at the couple and they trekked on, oblivious to their impact on my well-being.  When I shortly thereafter rolled my ankle, twice, clearly it was their fault.  I quickly forgot my misfortune as I sipped on a sour ale at New Belgium and we devoured food truck goodness.
Everyone has a story
If you’re shuffling along the sidewalk avoiding eye contact and staring at your phone, how the heck are you going to see your next good friend, much less initiate conversation!!  This could be “your person” and you are just letting them walk on by!  Think about all the interesting and random things you have experienced throughout your lifetime.  Every single person has a story and we can learn from them.  Take the time to get to know them.  When I vacation I always attack the locals with a barrage of questions.  Why don’t we do this in day to day life?  Check out the book One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern for more on this train of thought.  At a table with any of your friends or family members?  Be present and learn more about their story.  That text will still be there when you get back.  Our framily often times puts cell phones in the middle of the table to help.

Picking up strays to hear more story telling
When entering an establishment, it’s best to appear solo.  Walk in separately and have one person go to the bathroom, another go to the bar for drinks, and the most social of the group start the initiation.  Have the socialite sit just close enough at a long table where there are others that appear to be fun going and rambunctious.  Glance at your phone, glance up and try to make eye contact, smile and nod, and have a prepared entry question such as, “have you tried this ale yet?  It’s almost as good as Wicked Weed.”  My grandpa carries around a notecard with reminders of his favorite jokes to tell.  Appear very interested in what the person says in response and continue to pester them with questions.  Once everyone has validated the initiation is going well, they have clearance to approach the table.  The socialite can then introduce the others and next thing you know it is just one big boisterous group.  Four hours later you’ll have secured a free CD from the band after a member of your tribe dances on the nonexistent dance floor and made three new Facebook friends.  Score!  One of them just may be the “stray that got to stay.”   

Bring the celebration
If you aren’t that stoked for an event or you are at an event and thinking how bored you are… change it!  Be the kind of person you want to meet.  You can start or restart this at any point in time. 

Workplace in a lull?  Sounds like it’s time for a nerf gun or a good old fashioned prank.  For example, plant Fabio romance novels and the Dummy’s Guide to (insert profession) in their stack of books on their office bookshelf.  Sit back and watch.  Bring thundersticks. 

Costumes and embracing event themes are also a great way to kickstart unplanned greatness.  It’s impossible not to have a good time walking around uptown as the Power Rangers squad, in togas for no reason at all, or attending the Batman v. Superman movie dressed in your Wonder Woman costume.  Go to Jurassic Park dressed as a dinosaur and shout out, "Dinosaur hate crime! That's why we're extinct!" when someone accidentally runs into you.  I dressed up for a Madonna lookalike contest in Beach Mountain on a whim with what was in my closet and won a weekend long lift ticket!

Make every moment possible special and a new memory.  Your friends missing an event?  Make them feel special and missed!  Bring a cardboard cut out of them and take pictures.  Picking someone up from the airport?  Make an obnoxious sign!  It just may make their day.

Remember all the stuff you loved as a child or always wanted to do?  Start now.  Create a new tradition like a turkey bowl.  Have a pumpkin carving contest. Jump in puddles.  Get your mom to go rollerskating.  Get a crazy pool float...or two.

Find reasons to celebrate.  Einstein’s birthday?  Obviously a party is needed! 

Make a huge deal about birthdays.  Dress up like a robber and kidnap your friend to go to brunch. 

Be silly sometimes.

Go crazy!  Life is short, live loud.  Let more greatness begin. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Surviving and Thriving Loving a Modern Day MacGyver - Offshore Fishing

My boyfriend loves offshore fishing.  I love the water.  I like to eat fish.  Naturally this will be yet another activity we like to do together. 

We depart for Charleston Friday afternoon with the fishing boat in tow. 
As we roll into town my mouth starts to salivate as I think of all the restaurant potential for dinner.  The visions of the Charleston food mecca dissolve as Troy takes us directly to Walmart to buy fishing licenses and bait so we can head directly to the marina to catch more bait.  I get anxiety on vacation about the next time I can eat again.  I wander around the Walmart food aisles delirious from hunger and spot a garlic encrusted rotisserie chicken.  Yahtzee!  I want to note that I don't even typically eat meat unless it is hormone free, antibiotic free, and pasture raised.  I head straight away to the car and start tearing off pieces of fowl like a savage while Troy takes us to the marina.  This should have been my first red flag that human needs are trumped by fish potential and what I shall affectionately call "The Infection" had started to spread. 

Troy glances down at my Walmart bag and sees a bunch of bananas.  "Bananas?!  You got bananas!?"  He calls Greg and shares in an alarmed tone, "Amber got BANANAS!!"  Apparently bananas are bad luck on a fishing trip.  I try to discretely tuck them away back in the bag and hug my food bag protectively to my body.  Now all I want to do is eat a banana.  

Phil joins as at the marina and we head out to catch some bait.  I quickly realize I am the low woman on the totem pole with no fishing skills like a Staff 1 Auditor trying to make it to Manager.  I was in charge of picking up the bait from the boat floor and putting it into a bucket.  I was needed and part of the team.  After a few initial shrieks, I proudly got the squirming, floppy mullet into the bucket.  You really have to very firmly hold the head (get your mind out of the gutter!).  I learned how to spot bait balls and feel better and better about my life survival skills.  I gently suggest to the men that perhaps we could have a more efficient operation if they unleashed the bait net over top of the bucket....just a suggestion.  I gazed longingly at the cast net thrower and the Captain driving the boat performing their superior jobs as I squatted and clamored to wrangle another unpredictable mullet. After an hour or so of this process, Phil grabs a miniature net and scoops up one of the mullet from the floor.  There was a net. This whole time.  I stare down at my hands and politely ask for the net.

When everyone is satisfied we have sufficient bait for tomorrow, we head back to Phil and Anna's house.  I walk in with my bag of food always in site and plop down on a bar stool.  Greg begins regaling me with the history of the bad luck of bananas while everyone stares at me like I'm Typhoid Mary.  Greg catches me eyeing the bananas longingly and shares,"You can't even eat one, because then you will be a carrier and technically a banana will be on the boat tomorrow."  Never have I wanted a banana so badly in my entire life.  At this point saying the word banana has the same effect as saying Voldemort in Harry Potter.  Fishermen, also known as "The Infected," view it as their Kryptonite.  Greg shares, "I get off work at four tomorrow.  I'll join you guys after that."  With one last backward glance at the bananas, I head to bed.

Saturday morning at breakfast Troy describes the offshore fishing spot we will be heading to.  Everyone exclaims how they have never been out that far.  Red flag number two. 

As they are preparing the boat and car to head out, we come to discover the aerator batteries were dead and all the that bait I extracted off the boat floor one by one with my own hands was dead.

Troy takes me to a bait shop and buys me a long sleeve fishing shirt and a scarf contraption.  "What do I need that for?" I question him.  Troy replies, "You wear it over your head to block the sun.  We fish all day.  We don't come back in, even if someone gets sick."  I laugh lightheartedly thinking he's joking.  Red flag number three. 

We make our way to the Marina and start the bait catching exercise.

I swiftly grab the mini net before my fellow bait scooper, Grayson, takes it.  I only feel mildly guilty. While I am pleased to have a partner in this endeavor, I really don't want to share the mini net.  After the bait supply has been restored, we start the voyage to the offshore spot, the one no one has ever been to. 
Everyone is in a joyous mood and looking forward to the promise of fish.  Anna and I joke about things I wasn't prepared for and we came up with the idea of this blog post.  The ride is very rough and I grab onto Troy like I'm on the back of a motorcycle.  It is frowned upon to do this to the Captain on a boat and I am redirected to the hand rails.  Half an hour goes by and my hands are becoming numb.  I feel as though I've been riding on a rickety wooden roller coaster like The Meanstreak at Cedar Point for ages.  Troy says, "I know the GPS marker still looks far way, but I expanded the screen."  "You're getting awfully quiet over there Miss Amber" Phil questions.  "Conserving energy" I reply, flexing my hands and resuming clutching the hand rails.  I think to myself in passing how we haven't seen many other boats and the ones we did pass looked very big. 

Another half an hour later we arrive at our destination.  I continue my downward spiral into seasickness.  I can't describe much more to you as I curled as best as I could my 6'3'' self into a ball on a chair clutching my head. "Look at the horizon" they repeat over and over.  This doesn't seem a possibility as my migraine aura is in full effect with spots everywhere.  I nod bleakly and return my head to its cocoon in my arms.  I distantly hear the excitement of The Infected as they catch two sharks.  After what seems like a very extended period of time Phil, my savior, suggests we head to the jetties.  The jetties!  We passed those on the way out I register in my head.  This is very close to the marina.  Marina.  Land.  I muster up the energy to life my head and proclaim, "can you take me to an island?"  Troy, "Morris island?"  I reply, "I don't care.  Any island."  Gilligan's island would have worked. 

As we pick up speed I am uncontrollably sobbing in alignment with the throbbing of my head and the steady rocking of the boat and start to hyperventilate.  So this is what it feels like to hyperventilate.  Interesting.  Occasionally a huge spray of salt water would whack me in the face, adding in-salt (get it!) to injury. 

Land.  LAND! 
I start to gather all necessary provisions one might need if they never planned to reenter the boat; Beanitos, sunscreen, floppy hat, bamboo shirt, towel, watermelon, pineapple, my phone, and water.  That should do it.  Not yet capable of using words, I gingerly exit the boat also known as the area of captivity.  I spread my towel and collapse to the ground.  I hug the sand and swear I can feel the earth pulsing like a heartbeat.  I am still crying partly because of the traumatic experience I just endured and partly out of joy.  I wonder if we are on a giant island float as I still feel rocking.

Troy and the others don't come over right away.  I think their survival instincts kicked in and they knew I viewed them as my captors.  I tentatively sit up and grab a beanito and watermelon spear.  I feel like Arial in The Little Mermaid when she wakes up and joyously realizes she's on land.  I also want to be where the people are Arial.  I send a few mayday and SOS texts to my best friends, envisioning them sending me some Dramamine in a parachute pouch like in The Hunger Games.  Or even better helicopter me home.  Ed used to fly planes right?  Angie has connections...  Troy slowly approaches me.  I am still only capable of head nods and accusing eyes.  He tells me something about nerve endings and water helping my sea sickness and to drag my feet in the sand so I don't get attacked by a sting ray.  All I can think of is we are walking back to the boat.  After about 30 seconds in the water I have an irresistible urge to return to the land. We walk a stretch of the beach and I observe all of the happy people floating and laughing in the surf.  The common factor is everyone is within 25 feet of the land. 

I stifle panic as Troy suggests I learn how to throw the bait net.  He quickly counters I can do it by standing in the sand and not off the back of the boat.  Everyone is really trying to build me up and exclaiming, "You're a natural!" as I pull in two mullets and release the net over the bucket so they drop and plop right in.  I am pleased I now have a life skill should a zombie apocalypse occur.  What I didn't think about at the time was that I was catching more bait for more fishing by The Infected. 

Art "Smalls" comes over to chat with other beach goers.   I do my best to pull it together and resemble a normal human being capable of holding a conversation.  Art talks about how he just buys fish.  He then goes on to share his theory that all violence in the world would stop if everyone just hung out at the sand bar.  Yes Art, yes. 

I return to my group, the haters of the land.  I hear them conspiring again about returning to the jetties.  They try to reassure me the water is calm there like Lake Norman.  I think about how we will be picking up Greg soon at the marina and I can execute my exit strategy.  The jetties is that much closer to the marina.  I warily return to the boat and hoist myself in.  I look back at the happy island goers and stable sand as we start to pick up speed. 
I am in the front seat of the boat and flopping around like a mullet.  I somehow get the attention of The Infected and transfer to the back.  Grayson reassures me, "We're almost there!" 

The ride to the jetties wasn't terrible.  I am feeling more human.  I sit at the Captain's seat and observe The Infected start to enter the frenzy as I think through my next move.  I may have imagined this, but I'm pretty sure they were frothing at the mouth.  I think to myself, perhaps now that I am capable of staying upright I can try fishing.  I look at the rod, unsure of how to use it.  Maybe someone can give me a refresher on how it works.  I look from person to person contemplating the best teacher. They all had the same look in their eyes as our Great Dane Max does when he sees a rabbit or squirrel and he blacks out with a one track mind.  Troy says to me, "Baby, do you think you'd feel better if you stayed up moving around and had a job?"  "What kind of job" I respond reluctantly and suspiciously.  "You could cut up the dead fish for bait!" Troy proclaims as if this job is a great privilege.  Reverse psychology from The Infected.  I stare at him blankly as I envision the aroma of dead fish and see my skin turning green again.  I abruptly leave the Captain's seat and go to the front of the boat as far away from The Infected as possible.  I curl into a fetal position clutching my throbbing head.

I was just starting to drift off to a protective sleep when I hear, "Baby look!  We caught a sheep's head!"  Sheep?  Land?  No.  I open my eyes and a large striped fish is inches from my face.  Troy continues, "We need to put it in the fish locker, can you move over a little bit."  I trudge to the Beanitos bag and check my phone.  Surely we'll be heading to pick up Greg soon.  4:30.  4:30?!  Why aren't we heading back.  My heart rate picks up.  I innocently ask, "Hey, shouldn't we go back in to get Greg soon?"  Troy replies, "He doesn't get off work until 4:00, he probably won't be ready to come out until after 5:00."  My heart sinks as I see my exit strategy crumble.  I muffle my sob as I reach for my head scarf and resume my fetal position.  I think back to our conversation from that morning, "We don't come back in, even if someone gets sick."

I hear talks of bait running low and heading back in.  I look up hopefully.  The frenzy is dying down. Why didn't I think of that!  I could have discretely deposited bait from the boat to speed up this process.  I clamor to my return seat in the back of the boat.  Everyone is making jokes and trying to cheer me up.  They exclaim about how I haven't complained at all.  I just nod at The Infected and stare at them through my sun scarf as I fire off another SOS text to my best friends.

They begin talking about me as if I'm not there.  Troy says, "I can't tell if she's mad or just tired."  Phil replies, "I think she's just here, enduring."  That about sums it up.

We get to the Marina and I calmly walk to the car and sit down.  Troy asks, "Do you hate me right now?"  I ask him, "Why did we have to stay at the jetties for so long when I was sick?"  He replies, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were still so sick.  I thought you were just napping.  It was a fluid situation."  It was fluid alright.  Troy shares he broke a toe.  A small part of me feels better.  I regret this now, but at the time seasick Amber was pleased.  Troy says, "Next time we'll stick to the jetties with you."  Next time?!  The car continues to spin in my sober state.

Troy takes me to dinner later that evening and I happily and perhaps revengefully (hey, at least I'm self aware) order the most expensive thing on the menu.  I think about how we spent all day on a boat and caught one sheep's head as I stare down at my crab legs.  I look around the table cautiously for signs of The Frenzy.  I think The Infection has passed.... for now.

Offshore Fishing Lessons Learned:
1a.  Have an exit strategy.
2a. Validate your exit strategy with The Infected.
3. Don't ever leave a party island.
4. Footwear is important in all walks of life (you see what I did there?).  See broken toe above.
5. Sometimes it is ok to say yes to particular Dramamine.
6.  Start small when doing new activities.  Perhaps going twelve miles offshore on your first fishing trip is a tad aggressive.  Ease your way in.
7.  Don't ignore red flags.  I always thought I was good at reading people and picking up on things.  I was wrong.