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Monday 27 August 2012

Anatomy of a Migraine Attack

It starts off with a dull copper taste in your mouth, like you dipped a coin in blood and then tucked it between your cheek and tongue. You feel a bit cranky, a bit ... other. Almost hungover, but not quite. No pain yet, and if you are very, very lucky and realise what's going on and take a tablet immediately, it might stay that way.
(Most of the time you don't; no matter how many attacks you've had in the past. Part of it is selective amnesia; that taste is so faint to start with it's easily dismissed and it's not until the light show starts that you remember it, the way your teeth suddenly felt a bit furry and you were growling at the keyboard and ignored it as some weird irritation because you had to go shopping, and now you realise that that was your warning sign and ignoring it was a very bad mistake.)

Your vision starts to first blur, then double. The taste in your mouth is suddenly hot and biting. You have trouble stringing a sentence together. That sense of other, of being dislocated from your physical self is stronger. If you're in the supermarket at this moment, you watch your hands pull things from shelves and out of the fridge as though you are standing next to yourself.
There is still no pain, but there is a humming in your ears,  like being enveloped in a thousand flickering lights or surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes and your face feels like it's just been slapped. The skin tingles and burns and fades to numbness around your nose and mouth.
You head for the till, rest of the shopping be damned, because now you know what's happening and you need to get home. You pick the self-serve scanner because you can no longer hear what people are saying to you properly, everyone sounds like they are under water, and the line there is shorter. This is good, because your sense of smell has just gone and thrown a party; the scent of the guy next to you with the deodorant that coats the back of your throat with a chemical taste; the sudden reek when someone at the back of the shop opens the milk and cheese fridge. You pass someone with meat in their trolley and all you can smell is blood and raw flesh.

You feed your money into the till and the god of pain hammers a spike into the space between your right eyeball and your occipital bone. It's a slice of white light that freezes you in place for a few seconds. Your vision clears, then begins to star-burst. If it wasn't for the pain, this would be pretty; fireworks exploding against the walls of your skull in dozens of colours. Especially white, for some reason. Everything goes to white.
When you grab your bags your sense of touch has changed. Plastic feels like silk, paper feels like steel-wool. Most of your skin feels like the pores have vanished and left only nerve endings, raw and screaming, in their place. You fumble your sun-glasses on, cloudy day or not - when you have one of these, it feels like you are under a spotlight from hell, and light can trigger an attack of nausea that will have you on your knees retching on the pavement - and lurch out of the shop.
And by lurch I mean there is almost no sensation of having feet. You have some dim awareness of moving, of the fact that your body is moving itself, but there is no sense of co-ordination. The lines of communication between hind-brain and limbs has diminished while your brain is clawing and screaming at the choking cage of your skull, which is suddenly two sizes too small.

You step into daylight and the pain god swings a hammer at the side of your skull. Sometimes you'll be lucky and he misjudges and gives you a nose-bleed. This is lucky because it seems to relieve some of that awful pressure, that sense that your brain has turned into a swelling balloon that rubs and chafes against bone. One day, you think/pray dully, one day it will find a sharp bit and pop and this will be done with.

You can no longer feel your face. That taste in your mouth is now burning liquid. You are aware that you are sweating because your shirt is clammy and stuck to your body and you are panting, ever so slightly. Like a beaten dog, collared to your pain and no way of pulling this tether loose.

You get into the blessed darkness of the flat, pull yourself up the stairs by the hand-rail - there is no way you can blindly trust your feet to get you there - and stumble into the bedroom. You pull the curtains closed before you take your sunglasses off and scramble for the migraine tablets. There is very little rational thought left at this point; if you bought anything that needs refrigerating it's just plumb out of luck, because trying to re-shelve anything would require co-ordination and is beyond you right now, and your vision is almost totally gone. The world is white, like an overexposed polaroid.

You lie in bed in the foetal position and feel the bed throb and wait for the pills to knock you out, because let's make this very clear - those pills don't cure a migraine. They don't stop it. You might as well throw a child's fishing net in front of a speeding juggernaut. What they do is take you away from it by removing you from the world of conscious thought, for the four hours the pills are in your blood stream. Once they wear off, you either sleep through the rest of it, or the pain wakes you up and you have to take more.
 Part of you mourns your plans for the day - the Skype chat, the writing, the t.v. show you had lined up - but it's a very small part. The rest of you wants oblivion, wants the world to go away, wants the mini-death of being unconscious.

You know that when this breaks you will spend a couple of days with hyper-sensitive skin, hyper-hearing and a sense of smell that would stun a blood-hound, and the fun risk of a rebound attack. You will wake up with crud - there is no other way to describe it - gumming your eyes together. If it's a very bad attack, you will occasionally wake up with blood in your ears and rimming your nostrils. You will have bouts of mild elation and depression, sometimes within minutes, and no way to know which one is coming up next.

There are some triggers you know about and avoid - high-cocoa chocolate, red wine. But the attacks lately don't seem to have a food trigger, happen during all temperatures, weather, times of year and day. The only pattern you can find right now is that there is no pattern, and if that doesn't kick your irony button nothing will.
A mild to medium attack will leave you slightly functional - you slur your words a little, you move very slowly, but you can do things. A bad one.. A full blown migraine attack leaves you begging for death. And if you get these on a regular basis, you will do almost anything to stop it. (Actually, strike the almost. You will do anything. Anything.)
Sometimes you start off with a medium attack and it fades, and then it comes back and stomps you into a little blubbering pile of pain and bile and nausea. It's like replacing a great white with a megalodon. Neither one is fun, and you can't swim away from either of them, and hello, over-kill.

If you have a condescending ass of a doctor, one who doesn't believe in migraines, you can discount any hope from that side. Friends and colleagues who have never had an attack wonder what all the fuss is over what they reckon is a bad headache, at which point you earn negative karma points by hoping they experience one in all of it's glory, and soon.
 Feverfew supplements help to a point, but it takes a few weeks to kick in, and although they help reduce the severity of the minor attacks, they don't touch the big ones, the ones that leave you wondering if the next time your brain will simply leak out of your ears and leave you a functioning cabbage. Botox injections helped - there was a whole glorious year of no attacks - but the odds of me being able to afford Botox right now are about the same of me wearing my underwear on my head and doing the can-can through a nunnery.

So you fade into darkness, you ride the tablet into unconsciousness and you know you will wake up checking your pillow and sheets for blood, checking your ears and nose and bleakly thinking about stroke possibilities and haemorrhaging and waiting for the next one.

And you hope you recognise that taste of blood and copper in time.

Saturday 25 August 2012


So yesterday, the day job had the annual summer party. This being an Olympics year, it was decided to have  a sports day with a twist. I usually like twisted versions, and I enjoyed this one, but there are parts of my body now sulking under the duvet, weakly shaking a fist at me, the HR department, and summer parties in general.

I ended up doing a relay race on a space-hopper. On the bright side, I never fell off it, probably due to the fact that I never grew in height much past the age of 12, and also because I was clutching those blasted ears so hard if it had tilted the wrong way the hopper would probably have exploded, and kept me upright out of fear.

There is also a blessedly blurry memory of me in a 3-legged race, which is another reason my body hates me. Let's just say I was firmly banned from the sack-race by my team-mates and leave at that. There aren't enough disclaimer forms on the planet.

The highlight of the day, and probably the reason I couldn't bend over to put my shoes on this morning, was the inflatable gladiator game.

Said game consists of two inflatable podiums on an inflatable base, a giant padded thingy, and the ability to knock your opponent off the inflatable podium with said thingy.

I had the will. Sad to say, I didn't have the balance.

The instructor (who I assume went home afterwards and swore only to deal with pre-schoolers and never, ever run an event for so-called adults ever again) called for a volunteer to demonstrate.

I was willing. I just wasn't very able.

The base wasn't a problem. Getting onto the podium, which might just be bigger than me, was. Several undignified minutes later, I made it. Then I tried to stand up.


I shook. I quivered. I said several naughty words. Parts of my anatomy moved in ways that defied gravity, and not in ways that Playboy enjoys. (I'm a curvy girl. I have curves in places that other girls don't even have places, and they all moved in opposing directions.)

By this stage most of my colleagues were doubled-up with laughter. I still hadn't been able to stand upright. In fact, I'm pretty sure I resembled a hunch-backed version of Humpty-Dumpty on a vibrator.

Instructor: Keep your knees soft.

Me: They are bloody soft! That's the problem!.

Somebody chucked a safety helmet at me, and I sat down (gratefully) and put it on. Then I rose, in all my wobbling, oh-my-god-I'm-going-to-die glory, and tried to raise the thingy. As phallic objects go, mine was not happy. It drooped. It sagged. It was also heavy enough to tilt me towards the end of the podium.

The instructor prodded me with his own version, which seemed a lot bigger than mine.

"Are you ready?" Prod. "Are you ready?" Prod.

Then he sniggered at me. And prodded again. The podium rippled like the water in a paddling pool, and most of me rippled with it.

There was only one way to make this torture stop before my thighs slapped me around the face.

I dive-tackled the instructor.


He made a very gratifying noise as he flew off of his podium - something like "Grragh-ug" and bounced a few times on the base.

Me (peering over podium): How was that?
Instructor (turning a pretty shade of purple, which clashed with his socks) : unnnngh. Gah.

Since the next two guys couldn't even stand on the podium, and had their battle-match on their knees, I felt slightly vindicated. (For some reason they wouldn't let me back on the game).

I also have the strange feeling that I'm never going to live this one down at work, but hopefully by the time I'm back in the office my body and I will be on speaking terms again. In the meantime, I'm making friends with a lot of heat rub.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Payments from Amazon for non-US Authors, or, Pass the Valium

This is a bit of businessy post, which I don't do too many of, and it's more to give anyone not in the USA a bit of a heads-up regarding Amazon payments.

There are two options for writers like myself in the UK & EU - I'm not sure about the rest of the planet, so if you're not in the USA and you are waiting for your first payment, double-check your options. For me, the option was BACS transfer or cheque. The cheque has a minimum limit of $100 US dollars before Amazon will issue it. When I first entered my details I was at war with my bank and changing to a different bank altogether, so I opted for the cheque payment, and then promptly forgot about it. To be honest, I was never sure I'd hit the $100 mark, and my priority was on writing more stuff.

This was a mistake. If you have the option, go the transfer route - you need to get International numbers from your bank - if they aren't on your statement, contact your branch and get it that way. The reasons I say it was a mistake are listed below, and keep in mind this is me and I've never had a moment (particularly involving finances) that didn't descend in farce and moments of WTF, so I might have managed my usual SNAFU and other folks won't have these issues.


One magical day I got an email notification telling me my cheque was in the post. Several weeks later, it landed on the front door mat, and I did The Happy Author Dance of Monetary Payment. I pinned the cheque to my cork board and made cooing noises at it for nearly a week, until Saturday came around and I bounced up the road to the local Barclay's bank.

The bank had changed it's operating hours (just this branch, by the way) and was no longer open on Saturdays.

Things went a bit pear-shaped on several levels, and it was some-time before I could get near an open branch, so fast forward three weeks.

Bit of a segue here to explain - my new bank is lovely. Their support is brilliant, and there are no nasty surprises like an overdraft that you can actually go over (still trying to figure that one out) - in fact, there are no overdraft facilities. It goes in, it comes out, I can check everything on-line in a very easy to follow format. They don't have a physical branch - everything happens on-line - but they have an arrangement with Barclay's if you need to pay in to your account - you complete a slip, and it goes through.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the folks working the counters at Barclay's.

Our heroine bravely explained the situation. The dragon at the counter tapped the cheque. "It's in dollars!" he hissed.
Um, yes. Quite. It's been a number of years since I even saw a cheque, to be honest. I had no idea that you couldn't deposit a US dollar cheque** into a UK bank account. I have no idea why, apart from it being a plot by the powers that be to make me wilt.

I wilted so much that the dragon stopped breathing fire and directed me up the road to a place that cashes cheques and foreign exchange.

I dashed into the little shop, and the very sweet guy behind the counter asked me to come back at 3pm.

(It should be noted at this point that I was zooming in and out these places in between work, and it's at least a twenty minute walk each day. I am still sulking; with that exercise, my butt should be able to crack walnuts by now. It can't, but it still shudders involuntarily when I glance down that road.)

At 3, I ran into the little shop again. Sweet guy transformed into a used car salesman, sucking his teeth, gleefully listing the exchange rate - the commission would have choked a python - and told me it would take 3 weeks to cash the cheque. That isn't a typo. THREE WEEKS.

I wilted again. Then I dragged myself back into the office, and promptly ran into a colleague is from the US.


The cheque got countersigned and then sent back to the US so she could bank it. When the funds transfer, I'll hopefully get the money.

I went home and changed the payment method as fast as I could type.

So the moral of the story is, get the bank transfer. It will safe you a lot of hair pulling, and wilting, and dealing with dragons.

However, make sure you tell your bank that Amazon are doing a transfer and for how much, because most bank assistants seem to stumble over the fact that you are getting paid by Amazon, and not the other way around. It took six emails and several head-desk moments to get the BACS payment through because it confused the hell out of them. However, there is no minimum payment and eventually it does come through.

** The cheque is from Wells Fargo. The only way to open a Wells Fargo bank account in the UK is if you make enough money to think Richard Branson is small beans. From what I can discover opening any US bank account in the UK requires minimum funds that made me choke, a bunch of ID requirements, and possibly sacrificing a small goat.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Strange Days Re-visited or, My Life is Weird

It's been one of those special weeks, which if you know me means - yep, Janet Doing Strange Things By Accident Again. (Let's not even go into the previous week, which included me stuck on the front door like a deranged limpet first thing in the morning, and the infamous Iron incident.)

Monday morning started off with me tripping over my own two feet as I turned around after closing my window. Nothing unusual about that; if I had a week without falling over something, my friends and family would start eyeing me strangely and check for possible doppelgänger activity.
I landed face-down on my bed, which was good; I've missed the bed on previous occasions, and it hurts. Once you've passed a certain age, you just don't bounce well any more, no matter how much extra padding gravity adds to your body.

So I sighed to myself, picked myself up, checked to make sure my hand-bag was intact, and froze in horror. Somehow, I had managed to drop-kick my Tenda wireless connector (which was about three feet away from where my feet decided they were no longer on speaking terms with co-ordination, and several inches off the floor plugged into the PC) and it was now in three separate pieces. Two sad little pieces of plastic, and a bit of circuit board twisted like a piece of half-sucked toffee. I spent a few forlorn minutes trying to fit them together, like a sorrowful monkey with a mismatched Lego set. Then I gave up and went to work, and did the dance of  Please, Please Let Amazon Have It In Stock.

Tuesday was fairly good. Got the new Tenda, managed to install it with a minimum of cursing, and only one moment of panic when I thought I had blown up the internet and ended life as we know it.

Wednesday included walking into a wall and making a very bad mistake regarding junk food, which had about as much in common with a real hamburger as I do to a rabid hamster. Then I got on a train to Glasgow, and inhaled the delightful aroma of large wet dog on a rope all the way there. The dog was under the seat in front of me and slept blissfully the entire way.

Thursday afternoon meant coming back from Glasgow, accompanied by the most impressive drama queen I've encountered on public transport. I have no idea what the woman's name is. I can tell you she had three kids with her, seven pieces of luggage included something coloured Pepto Bismal pink, with wheels, an ear-ache, a headache, a sore back, a possible divorce, and a voice that carried the length of the train-car. The relief of finally arriving in London was overshadowed by discovering that the tube line I needed had delays, and that somebody in the public loo had fought a brave but ultimately losing fight with a large curry, and by the time I lurched through my front door at 11:45p.m. I was feeling mildly homicidal.

Friday started off badly. I don't like being late. My body had other ideas, and I slept through every alarm I have (four of them). I staggered into work, apologised, and spent most of the morning feeling like I'd been bitch-slapped by the stupid fairy. I think I can honestly say that I've reached the stage in life where I need my sleep, and if I don't get enough I suffer a mass die-off of brain capacity. There isn't enough coffee on the planet for me to function for the next 8 hours.

So I got home and pretty much grunted my through dinner, passed out cold, and discovered a fairly unpleasant surprise after midnight when I traipsed down to the loo and was greeted by a large striped spider that had claimed squatters rights beside the bowl. In my defense, what I did next was possibly justifiable because (a) both the inhabitants of the house are arachnaphobes (b) my cousin has the most piercing scream outside of a Hammer horror I have ever heard and (c) it had been a long week, and the last thing I needed to top it off was acute constipation.
We have (had) a fairly nifty smelling can of vanilla air-freshener, which apparently striped spiders find extremely offensive. It scuttled under the skirting board and stared out at me reproachfully. I think it was coughing.

I went back to bed and tried not to think about a vanilla-scented beastie clambering up to my room, bent on revenge. Maybe wearing a little red bandanna and waving an Uzzi.  It's been that kind of a week.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Sunday 12 August 2012

The best part of the Olympics

The main Olympic games ends today - the Para-Olympics is just around the corner, and I always think it's a pity it doesn't get as much attention or funding - and I've been thinking about the best part of the games.

There were massive highlights:  Michael Phelps bowing out with the most Olympic medals any athlete has achieved; Chad le Clos taking gold from Phelps in the mind-blowing finish of the 200m butterfly, Usain Bolt loping home for gold in three separate races with the indolent grace of  a cheetah; Nicola Adams, Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor making history and taking gold in the women's boxing, Oscar Pistorius getting to the semis in the 400m. Mo Farah winning two golds and Jessica Ennis taking the Heptathlon gold.

There were moments of heartbreak too:  Shin A Lam weeping on the piste for 45 minutes after a time-keeping SNAFU of utter WTF proportions; Ntumba Silva being disqualified because his disgrace of a coach failed to check the stipulated weigh-in time, Tyson Gay missing a medal place by one one-hundredth of a second and unable to hide the tears.

But while those were highs and lows for both athletes and audience, they weren't the best part. The opening ceremony was great, and I'm pretty sure the closing will be too, but nope, not the best part of it. The best part was the spirit I saw displayed by athletes from around the world; the spirit that burned.

It showed when Phelps took le Clos round the pool as the new Olympic champion, both of them beaming at the audience. It showed when Kirani James switched his running bib with Pistorius after the semi, with James taking first place and Pistorius finishing last. It showed when what seemed like half the athletes in the games made it obvious that they supported Ye Shiwen over some very unfounded sour-grape like remarks made by various commentators and coaches. It showed when her fellow team members quite firmly put  a presenter in their place for moaning when Rebecca Adlington didn't achieve gold and obtained a bronze instead. It showed every time an athlete cheered for and congratulated their competitors, or commiserated with them after an event. It showed when they wept on the podium as their national anthem played.

Forget the politicians scrambling for sound-bites and making encouraging noises over sports (it might help if you'd - oh, I dunno - stop cutting the funding, maybe?), and the grand-standing in the media. Forget the pressure put on every competitor to do the almost impossible and win - this is a competition, and somebody has to lose - and the almost predictable back-lash when medals aren't obtained. Forget Boris dangling off a zip-line and the rabid howling of the tabloids and the sheer idiocy of the "plastic-brit" controversy.

These people shone. They burned with spirit, with determination, with sheer guts - Manteo Mitchell finished his section of the relay on a broken leg, which puts him into the realm of bad-ass of the year for me - and they lit up the events they were in with the sheer joy of it.

They were beautiful.

They were why we watched the Olympics.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.

Saturday 4 August 2012

When mainstream media goes bad - or, journalists becoming internet trolls.

Why has it suddenly become acceptable for certain journalists/bloggers to take pot-shots at certain members of the human race through their traditional media posts? And to use the Olympics as an easy way to score points? Is it a way to get hits on a website? Did their commissioning editors decide that trolling is now the next big thing to create traffic?

Opinion pieces are supposed to be talking points, I get that. But deliberately writing an opinion piece that is a  bit of racist bile in the Daily Mail - affectionately referred to as the Daily Fail for the sheer non-quality of  reporting and fact-checking - even though the original has now been pulled from the site, is nauseating. Re-writing the piece to remove the truly offensive remarks wins you no points at all. If you want to see an excellent examination on the piece have a wander over to and check it out. I can't actually write a better rebuttal without frothing over my key-board, so I'm going to leave it there.

Then we have one of the most condescending - and inaccurate - views on women's judo, written by someone who (a) doesn't demonstrate a basic understanding of the sport at all and (b) is a numpty.

Not only is it appallingly sexist, and gives almost no recognition to an athletic achievement by either of the competitors, it contains one of the creepiest phrases ever, and I quote : "I couldn't help wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises".

WTF? (Abbreviation used in case my mother views this later. If you want an example of female aggression, irritate my mom.)

Tell me, dear Mr. Brown, since my poor female brain is struggling to understand it - do you cower at the thought of the strong, mighty limbs of the male athletes battering each other? If so, darling, you are probably watching either the wrong sport all together (judo does not involve battering. It does involve a number of holds and throws, and probably the odd bruise. My poor, soft female body gets these by falling down stairs as well. Strange, that.)

We also have a demonstration of failing to understand basic anatomy, particularly those competing at an athletic standard. (Forgive me if I get this wrong, Mr. Brown. So difficult to get my female brain around these things.) However, having soft limbs would probably mean not having a skeletal structure, in which case the ladies referred to would be some sort of sea anemone, flailing at each other under water. They wouldn't be competing in the bloody Olympics. 

In addition, Mr. Brown, I'm pretty sure that the levels of physical fitness required to compete at Olympic level kind of restrict any softness involved to the average couch-potato gaping at their screen at home. 

Earlier in the piece, Mr. Brown refers to aggression that he - sweet, gentle, sheltered, and partially deluded soul - does not commonly associate with women or girls.  Dear Mr. Brown, I cordially invite you to watch the rowing, the athletics, the badminton, the weightlifting, the women's football, the swimming - actually, why don't you watch any sport containing woman athletes? Aggression in sports doesn't have to result in physically grappling with your opponent. Aggression is a state of mind, Mr. Brown. It's a determination to win, to fight through the burn, to do your best. The fact that an athlete might be female is incidental.

As for female aggression outside of sports? I suggest Mr. Brown picks a lady of his acquaintance, and proceeds to insult her offspring, her partner, her life in general, and see what the results are. I'd give you an additional bonus point for insulting her intelligence, but since you've already managed that quite nicely already it wouldn't count.

Right now, I'm hoping that this piece was designed to get hits on the Telegraph site. Unfortunately, I've had to deal with enough people with this sort of attitude to females (bless my pretty little head) to doubt it. 

So for what it's worth, here's my two cents:

When you judge someone based on their colour, religion, sexual orientation or sex, and when you are quite happy to publish it a piece of writing stating this, a couple of things happen. First, you get a backlash, and lots of very happy trolls feeding each other. Second, you expose both your soul and intellect for what they are worth - sad, shrivelled little bits of charcoal that are only good for generating flames and a lot of smoke. And yes, you will get people that inhale your poison and call it good. But is that really a legacy you want to leave? Do you really want your contribution to the human race be one of bile, and hatred, and sheer out-and-out stupidity? Because if so, go find yourself a nice cave, and beat yourself repeatedly over the head with a large club, and for the sake of the rest of the planet, please don't breed. You'll have a much nicer affect on the gene pool that way.

But you'll still be a numpty.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams, all of which are on Amazon as ebooks.