Chocolate & Vicodin: A New Migraine & Headache Memoir

Writer Jennette Fulda and I met at the patient blogging session at BlogHer 09 in Chicago. We’ve kept in touch since, particularly on the ChronicBabe forums, so I was thrilled to learn about her new book, a memoir about living with chronic headaches, Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief From a headache That Wouldn’t Go Away. Yep, she’s one of us: a fellow chronic headache sufferer. Lucky, lucky girl.

Jennette Fulda went to bed on February 17, 2008, with a headache, and more than three years later, it still hasn’t gone away. Yes, she’s tried everything: intravenous drugs, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, subliminal messaging, marijuana (for medical purposes only), heavy drinking (which just made it hurt more), and lots and lots of chocolate. A pint of ice cream makes her feel better, but her insurance doesn’t cover the mint chocolate chip.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading her funny, smart book, and I want you to have the same opportunity. Jennette and her publisher have generously agreed to give away a copy of Chocolate & Vicodin to one of my readers. To enter post a comment on this blog about what you’d say in a migraine or headache memoir if you wrote something like this. Please don’t forget to include an email address where I can contact you. Deadline: Wednesday, March 9, 2011, at 11:59 pm CT.

To give you all the opportunity to learn more about Jennette I pitched her a few questions and got her answers. Enjoy!

Question: In your first book, Half-Assed, you chronicled your weight loss journey. Has living with chronic headaches impacted your ability to maintain your weight loss? How have you balanced these competing issues? Are you able to exercise?

Answer: Chronic pain reorganizes your priorities. Before I had my headache, eating well and exercising was one of my top three priorities in life. After I got my headache, it got bumped down the list after “getting out of bed” and “making it through the work day.”

Since I got my headache, I’ve regained about 50 pounds. I don’t know if I would have regained weight without a headache, but it’s possible since most people who lose a significant amount of weight gain back at least part of it at one time or another. I definitely think I regained more because of a headache. I had never thought of myself as a food addict before my illness, but once I was in chronic pain it became obvious that I was using food as a drug since none of the other drugs worked. Food was one of the only things that made me feel better.

In the past year, I’ve been maintaining my weight, so I think I’ve learned to balance my dueling goals of feeling better by eating and feeling better by living healthy. Fortunately, my pain doesn’t affect my physical ability to exercise, though it does sometimes affect my mental resolve to do so.

Question: What’s been the hardest aspect of living with chronic daily headaches?

Answer: The hardest thing has been that my disease doesn’t have a name or easy label that people understand. Almost no one gets what I’m going through. If I were diabetic or had multiple sclerosis I could give people the name of my illness and they’d have a good idea of what I was facing and what my treatment options are. When I tell people I’ve had a headache for three years they give me a look like, “Seriously? That happens to people? Have you tried Excedrin?”

Almost everyone has had a headache in their lives, so everyone has advice for me. They have good intentions, and I appreciate their concern, but most remedies people suggest are useless. They also assume my headache is being caused by something else, like a brain tumor or a dead twin living in my brain, when in reality 90% of headaches are primary, meaning the headache is the problem itself and not a symptom of something else.

Question: What are your favorite methods for coping with daily pain?

Answer: Ice cream, lots of ice cream 🙂 Ok, that’s not true anymore, but if you’d asked me two years ago it would have been my first answer. Now my neurologist and I have found a good mix of medications that keep my pain down to a 1 out of 5 most days. I also do behavioral things, like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, watching my caffeine intake and avoiding artificial sweeteners (though I haven’t eliminated them completely). My headache will still ramp up when I’m stressed or if I’ve been at the computer too long, so I try to remember to take breaks and do breathing exercises to relax my muscles. I don’t do that as much as I should, though.

One of the best things I did to cope with my pain was quit my full-time job and start freelancing as a writer and web designer full time. I’m able to set my own schedule and lay on the couch if my head hurts instead of pretending to do work in an office.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain, and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.