Sometimes what’s meant to break you makes you brave. We all deal with struggles in our lives and when we see ourselves succeed, we can face more of them head-on.
It has been a very long two years. Who knew that days could feel like weeks and months could feel like years so consistently.
There have been some ups and downs during this time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned quite a bit about myself. I learned that I need time alone. I need time where no one is in the house and I am not “on-call” as mom, wife, daughter, friend, or anything for just a little while. I need that to feel like myself and rest all the parts of me that insist on caring for everyone, even when there is no gas left in the tank.
I have learned that as difficult as this time has been, I still truly believe that this is the best time of my life. It’s a strange thing to say, but it is something I try to remind myself of. I am so grateful for my husband, children, family, and support system. I am lucky to have somewhere safe to be, food on the table, and the ability to care for those around me. So on the days when it is difficult to remember, I try very hard to remind myself of this glaring positivity.
I have also learned that no matter what the world, the country, or my city of Chicago is going through, my body does what it wants to do. It isn’t concerned with any of that, it has sagas galore to invite me into.
The Story Of My Buzzing
In early 2020, I began feeling a buzzing in the left side of my head, a few inches back from my temple and a little higher. I had had something like this on the right side a few years before, but after seeing a neurologist who diagnosed me with occipital neuralgia (although this didn’t really characterize the sensation), it went away and I never thought about it again. I also mentioned it to my primary doctor at that time, and it was dismissed as an oddity (I have many oddities) since it was gone.
In 2020, it came back to stay. The best way that I can describe the buzzing is as if someone was holding an electric toothbrush to my head. It was about the size of a quarter in diameter and it wasn’t palpable. No one could feel it except for me. It would move in waves, as if someone was moving that toothbrush closer to my head and then slightly away. The sensation would also come and go throughout the day.
I mentioned this to my primary care physician, but since we were all in quarantine at this time and no doctors were seeing patients in-office, it got put to the side. I also had another, more pressing issue at the time, which turned out to be Raynaud’s Syndrome (because of course it did), so I had to learn to manage the sores that were suddenly on my toes without a previous explanation.
I had some routine blood tests done and they turned out to be normal, because of course they did. This is always a “yay” as well as a “sigh” when I’m hunting for answers.
Finding a Diagnosis
I began mentioning this buzzing to every one of my doctors when we had appointments together. I have a number of physicians for different medical specialties (because this body = sagas), so I figured, the more brains, the better. The previous diagnosis (occipital neuralgia) didn’t have a great path for treatment and I didn’t think it truly described what I was experiencing, so I was hoping to get more information.
No one knew what to do with this issue. It was getting so bad that it would wake me from a sound sleep multiple nights per week and the intensity was ridiculous. I began massaging my head every time I felt it, thinking maybe that would help (it didn’t, but it made me feel like I was doing something to help myself). No medication made a difference, nor did stretching, exercise, relaxation, or anything else I tried.
Then one day, I was chatting with my cousin. He’s a neurologist, but he is my cousin and I don’t like to approach family members with business. When you have friends and family that are doctors or lawyers or anything else, they are off the clock when they are with you. So it’s a boundary I don’t like to cross.
That said, this one time, I did. He is my buddy and I knew that if I asked questions, he wouldn’t hold it against me. He has never treated me (nor would he ever), but he works with some strange things. After describing my symptoms for all of 30 seconds, he sent me a link to nummular headaches. “Also called coin-shaped headache, nummular headache is characterized by small circumscribed areas of continuous pain on the head.” This could not have described the sensation better and I was super excited to put a name to the issue!
Now granted, he had not examined me, was not my doctor, and could not diagnose anything officially, but it gave me somewhere else to start.
I made an appointment with the neurologist I was already working with. He was a nice enough man, but I didn’t feel heard the first time I saw him and I was unsure how to approach the fact that I didn’t agree with the original diagnosis. However, to see a brand new neurologist would take months, and it was a 3-month wait to see the doctor I was already with.
The appointment with him was also virtual, as we were now in October 2020 and the recommendation was to have a virtual appointment whenever possible.
During this appointment, my neurologist was not pleased with me. He was frustrated that I had not seen him for a follow-up to the last appointment (although since there was little to be done for the occipital neuralgia – he had said physical therapy could help or not – and I had absolutely no memory of him telling me to come back, nor was it in my after-visit summary, I was a little taken aback), insisted that I had described my situation differently than I was describing it now (I had not), and wasn’t super familiar with nummular headaches (apparently it’s pretty rare).
It wasn’t great. He diagnosed me with migraines, prescribed an “as needed” medication, and told me to follow up with him in 3 months. This wasn’t the doctor for me. I do not doubt that he is an excellent physician, I just have a way of presenting with issues that are sometimes out of normal bounds. Therefore, I need to have doctors who are ready to think “outside of the box.”
Always Get A Second Opinion
It was time to find a new doctor to see what they could help me with. I got the name of a specific neurologist who was known to my cousin, my primary doctor, and was also taking new patients (jackpot!). I set an appointment for 3 months later and said a silent thank you that it wouldn’t be longer than that.
In the meantime, one of my other doctors had a different suggestion. In looking at my blood tests that came back normal, he suggested I try taking a magnesium supplement. He said that while my magnesium level was within normal range, oftentimes, people are deficient and don’t know it. There are intricate blood tests that can be done, but since it’s easy enough to try it and the only significant side effect could be loose stool, give it a whirl.
I went to Walgreens that day and started the magnesium that night. Over about 6 weeks, I thought it made some difference. The buzzing was less intense, although still there.
At the next appointment, he had me increase the dose. This lowered the intensity even further by the time I saw my new neurologist a few weeks later.
When I saw the new neurologist, I felt heard. I told him every piece of information I could think of and he agreed that it was probably nummular headaches. But he had some concerns. Doing his best not to upset me, he wanted me to get an MRI of my head to make sure that we weren’t dealing with an aneurysm. We didn’t want to miss anything, so we needed to rule this out – or manage it if that’s what it was.
No one had ever mentioned this to me before and as terrified as I was, I was also grateful that someone had thought of it and wanted to try to manage it in case that was the issue. I know three people who have had brain aneurysms and two passed away. I could not get the test done fast enough.
I had the MRI about a week later and after a few days of waiting for results, I got the news that my scan came back clear. By this time, I had completely convinced myself that they would find something and had begun to research what procedures looked like for capping aneurysms. I was sure that whether this particular problem was an aneurysm or not, they would find something that wasn’t causing any issues yet in this circus of a body. But they didn’t, and that was excellent news.
I was given another medication to try to see if it wiped out the buzzing. This was something that they couldn’t explain why it worked to knock out weird head issues, it just did sometimes. And I was willing to try anything safe, so okay.
Within two weeks, it made my stomach bleed (not my first bleeding stomach, so the discomfort and dark stool are familiar to me), and I stopped that medication. I didn’t think it had made a difference anyway, but it was worth a shot.
Over the next few months, the magnesium had some more time to work. The buzzing lessened by increments every few weeks and eventually went away completely in the spring of 2021.
I have been on the same medication regimen since adding the magnesium last year and unfortunately, the buzzing came back in December 2021. It is nowhere near as intense and definitely not as regular as it was.
So I am on a new quest to figure out what the added problem is. My gut feeling is that it is stress-related. I hadn’t put it together until recently, but between the magnesium, the new covid measures, and the warmer weather (getting out of the house!), it’s possible that lowered stress helped the buzzing dissipate completely. So I’m keeping an eye on it and trying to relax whenever I feel the sensation come on. Just like the little face reminder I have from my previous bout of Bells Palsy, it’s possible my body needs me to chill a little more often.
That Which Doesn’t Kill Us…
In the musical version of Mean Girls, Janice sings a song called “I’d Rather Be Me.” One of the lyrics is, “Sometimes what’s meant to break you makes you brave.” That has spoken to me since I first heard it and resembles other inspirational quotes you may be familiar with.
We all deal with tough times and navigate important things, and sometimes at the same time. If our entire lives were easy, we wouldn’t know what real courage was. We wouldn’t have anything to compare it to.
I believe that we can only know true happiness when we’ve been forced out of a comfort zone. When we have to see the potential dark places and fear. You appreciate life, and in the long run, I think it makes us more grateful. It is very difficult to take things for granted when we’ve dealt with the great potential of them disappearing.
We all have stories, and we all have hard times, but changing your perspective and seeing your strength may help you see the world in a new way, just as it keeps transforming for me.