There is a paper grocery bag on our kitchen floor, next to the trash can. It’s been there for a year, visible to anyone who comes in the house. Most people don’t notice it at first, but on their way out, this inconspicuous brown Safeway bag seems to always catch their eye. It first started drawing attention when it was half full, and now it’s filled to the brink of overflowing. With empty pill bottles.
I’ve recently made a dent in my migraines. The victory was long-awaited, but that doesn’t mean I spent the time waiting around and doing nothing. When people see my bag of pill bottles, I notice this realization dawn on their face. I’ve had to take a lot of medication to get to where I am now. I am still taking lots of medication to maintain my quality of life.
Migraine medications are my frenemies. There are two classes: acute and preventative.
The acute medications are what I take for a migraine flare. Almost all of these pills list similar possible side effects, which include drowsiness, dizziness, and headache. Yes, you read that right. And even when I decide to take a gamble and use acute medication, headache experts recommend taking them a maximum of three days a week, because otherwise there’s a risk of getting medication overuse headache.
The other class, the preventatives, are what I take every day, or some of them every month, to lessen my headache frequency in the long term. These are usually more friendly than the acute meds, when it comes to side effects. But, if my migraines went away tomorrow and never came back, it would take me many months to slowly wean off the preventative medications in order to avoid causing a medication withdrawal headache.
And this is the life of a migraineur, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure game! I can take too many pills if I want a medication overuse headache, I can take too few and have myself a medication withdrawal headache. Or, I can keep everything just right and have the headaches I already have every day.
Yesterday, I emptied the bag from the kitchen and counted the pill bottles. My dog enjoyed sniffing each one and knocking some of them over, like dominoes. Upon realizing none of the bottles contained food, however, he got bored of my counting and left. But here are quick stats I gathered using my pill bottle bag, and a bit of math.
Since getting migraines, I’ve swallowed…
- Over 100 bottles’ worth of pills (I think we recycled some before I counted, so this is the minimum)
- 1 pound of gabapentin (my main preventative med, lovingly referred to as “gabba gabba”)
- 18 different supplements
- 29 different prescription medications
So I am, I think, fully qualified as a walking, talking pharmacy! Remind me to add that to my LinkedIn. But, my new work experience aside, I felt that each bottle I counted gave me a bit more perspective. I recalled all the failed treatments, all the different doctors, all the diagnoses and guesses. All the grit and patience, all the prayer and sorrow, it took to get to where I am now. This paper bag is, in a way, a strange time capsule of a strange year. So I’m going to put it back in my kitchen, as a provocative decoration. It’s modern art.