Sunday, February 27, 2011


I've suffered (and suffered is the correct term, believe me) from migraines for a very long time. I remember getting them from very early on in my teens. Back then, I labelled them my "sick headaches" to differentiate them from more normal pains in the head, because these "sick headaches" were so painful that I could do nothing more than crawl into bed, huddle into a foetal ball and cry in between bouts of vomiting.

To try and function was impossible. I had to darken the room because any chink of light hurt my eyes and made me feel nauseous. The smell of food made me gag and retch. Any sound was unbearable and the pain in my head was so agonising that I would sob. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that the pain would eventually end (thinking back, I note that was a very Buddhist attitude) and after the agony was gone, I'd be flooded with a sense of euphoria that lasted for hours.

One day on the train into work, I was reading a magazine and I stumbled upon an article that caught my eye. There was a picture of a woman (women migraine sufferers outnumber men 3 to 1) clutching the side of her head and a headline that mentioned something about Migraines. It was the first time I'd ever heard the word.

I read the article avidly and found myself identifying with what was being said. Could it be that I got Migraines? There was a checklist at the bottom of the page and I looked at the questions, ticking each box as I went down the list. At the end I had a perfect score. Go me. How typical.

But it explained a lot. The one sided headache, the funny visual disturbances, the way my words wouldn't come out right, the "Alice in Wonderland" feeling and the intense craving for chocolate I got before each migraine.

Each of those was a part of the prodrome and the aura stage of my migraines. These were the warning signs that my migraine was imminent. My poor body was wanting a fix of chocolate in a desperate attempt to get some caffeine into my system to constrict the dilated blood vessels in my head that were about to cause the pounding headache to come.

Even the word "headache" isn't the right term. Migraines are not headaches. They are a neurological disease, of which the headache is just a symptom. The big mistake people make is to assume that they only have the condition when they experience the headache, when in fact if you have migraine disorder, you have it ALL the time. It's misleading and incorrect to call it a migraine headache. When you experience the headache you are having a migraine episode or flare up, which is all a part of the recurrent neurological disorder.

It's been 25 years since I read that article and I'm still not migraine free. I've learnt a lot about my "sick headaches" in all that time. Due to imaging technology scientists have actually been able to see a migraineur's overly excitable neurons firing in waves across the brain, starting a cascade of events that even involve the brain stem as a migraine episode takes place.

I've learned that my only migraine trigger appears to be my hormones. Twice a month, regular as clockwork, ovulation and menstruation will set off the chain of events that cause my migraine flare-ups. Without preventers, my life is seriously crap and I spent at least two weeks out of each month in migraine-land. Which isn't fun at all.

The migraine preventers I've been on are pretty heavy duty too, and I'd love to live life without them, but I know from experience that would be as reckless as an epileptic living without medication to control their disorder. In the grip of the aura of a migraine I can hardly function as my poor brain goes into its "Alice in Wonderland" mode. I've even had Deb ask me if I'm having a stroke! I blurt out the wrong words, I can't understand what people are saying, my vision gets blurry...

And then the pain...

Believe me, I have experienced no pain greater than that of a migraine. I have given birth to four children, so I am qualified to say that. When I have a migraine flare-up, pain killers don't work. I've taken enough codeine to kill a largish elephant with absolutely no effect at all. The referred nerve pain from the episode gives me an earache, a toothache and an intense boring pain behind my eye.. and that's all separate to the throbbing pickaxe pain that's exploding in my temple. I have contemplated ending it all with suicide in those moments - but I was too damn sick from the vertigo caused by the room spinning to even sit up.

A migraine isn't like any headache a non-migraineur has ever experienced and the only way to overcome the, "it's just a headache, get over it" stigma out there is to educate people.

A migraine isn't a just a headache, it's a neurological disorder. So consider yourself educated and spread the word.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

the devil inside

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell." ~Oscar Wilde

I can think of no better quote to sum up the Tarot card called The Devil.  Along with The Tower and Death - The Devil is one of those cards that no one likes to see come up in a reading. 

When you look at the card, one thing you should be aware of is that the devil featured is far removed from the Pagan god he is based on. The christian devil is in fact a bastardised version of the Greek god Pan - who for many people has become the personification of the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle. Pan is also the god of fields, groves, wooded glens and sensual music  - but it's the fact that he's often depicted with, and also using, his quite sizable phallus that got him in so much trouble with the church later on. Pan, with his associated connotations of sexuality and free and easy  ways has earned him a new name in christian folklore and he's suffered quite the damaged image because of that.

So what does it mean when The Devil turns up in a reading? Of course, more than a little depends on just where this major arcana card lies in the Tarot spread and the other cards surrounding it, but there is also a universal meaning behind the Devil as well.

The people depicted in the card look like naked slaves chained to the Devil's throne by some stout looking hardware - strangely however, they don't resist; they aren't in motion, nor are they trying to free themselves. The devil behind them squats, looking out pretty ferociously; the inverted pentacle over his third eye speaking loudly of the triumph of the base animalistic self over our spiritual self. The chained couple even have animal tails, which is symbolic of them having followed their baser instincts. We can also see the card as a perverted progression onwards from The Lovers card; after having fallen from Eden, the man and the woman now find themselves chained to the altar of addictive destruction, the benevolent angel behind them now replaced by the winged devil.

The situation looks restrictive and hopelessly black and dark - until we take a closer look....

Take another peek at those heavy chains. Can you see how loose they actually are around the couples' necks? They could both lift those chains off with not too much effort at all and be free of them if they wanted to - and really, that's what this card is all about. 

The couple have created their own hell and their own confinement. They stay chained to their beast out of a lack of self empowerment.  When I see this card I ask myself, why have they chained themselves up? How has everything gotten so grim and why are they just standing there? 

The Devil crouched over them is ultimately a bogey man of their own making. When you think about it, no one else but ourselves could pinpoint our personal weaknesses and home in on our own vulnerabilities and temptations better than we can ourselves. We are our very own Devil and our personal inner Devil's face is mirrored in our addictions, our inactions, the way we treat others and the choices we make in life. 

I firmly believe that all of us, no matter what our path, will come to a point in life where we will have to decide if want to keep wearing our own personal chains of self flagellation around our necks. If we choose to remove them, then we will have to risk meeting the Devil inside and face what exactly it is that chains us to our self imposed hell. To lift off those restrictions and free ourselves, we need to ask some very pertinent questions about our false illusions, frustrations, blockages and losses. Most importantly, we need look our fears in the face and ask how we'll cope when we finally give up the temptations, addictions and obsessions that keep us chained.

The Devil is the only card in the tarot with a completely black background, and I'm sure that's to illustrate the fact that the darkest times of our soul always occur before we finally see the light.  I feel The Devil card speaks of the potential of restrictions finally being recognised and acknowledged before the powerful cleansing changes of the next card in the tarot, The Tower, can take place. 

But as always - it's our free will that decides where we end up. The Devil is not necessarily a card of hopelessness - it's more like a promise reminding us that what's broken inside us always has the potential to be mended.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chinese New Year isn't strictly speaking a Buddhist holiday, but it does give Buddhists the opportunity to do a bit of navel gazing and meditating.

The Buddhist slant to the Chinese New Year gives Buddhists a chance to thank Buddha for looking after us last year. When I say that, I don't mean that Buddha is actually watching over people from some lofty heavenly perch, I simply mean that we can be thankful for the fact that Buddha left us guidelines to help us learn from the potential that comes from inside of us, even though that potential is covered up by layers of desire, aggression and plain old ignorance.

With Buddhism, dealing with what is happening in the here and now, and how we face the world is a far more useful tool as a guide for living than anything else. It's talking the talk, walking the walk, and actually living the belief. And what that belief comes down to, in its purest form, is our own self growth and self improvement by practicing loving and compassionate ways.

To me Buddhism is a way of inner enlightenment, without being side tracked by outside deity worship. One of Gautama Buddha's messages was that we cannot look outside of ourselves for our answers. Even his own teachings, in my opinion, were to be taken as a road map for others on the path, not some divine bible.. and those that pray to him as an actual deity have lost the message entirely.

It's up to each and every one of us to change and evolve and become aware of the Buddha within.

When when learn about the Buddha's teachings we learn about the very nature of ourselves. Our life drama becomes our personal dharma, so to speak. Chinese new year is a time to meditate on our truths and the way things are in our world. It's a time to wonder how much of our true potential is covered up by how we negotiate the world. We can ask, how much energy do I put into anger and aggression? How many mistakes do I made due to ignorance? How can I practice compassion in situations where it's most hardest for me to do so?

One thing I do know is that it takes a long time to peel back the layers to find the innate refuge within, but as Robert Browning put it, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

In my heaven, I am free to feel, to think and to express. That way I learn to listen to the divine within myself and put my faith in the things that really count.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gluten Free Caramel Cake (or hallelujah my oven is fixed at last!)

I got my oven fixed today - hallelujah! I never thought I could mourn so deeply over an appliance, but goodness I missed my oven. The repairman showed me the damaged part he replaced for me and shook his head at how it had just melted right at the fuse; taking out the whole selector with it. I blame the electrical surge/brownout we had on Boxing Day that took out our whole neighbourhood power supply.

After a month of not being able to bake at all I was getting very twitchy and so as soon as I could after the repairman had left and I'd picked up the kids from school (yes, I do get my priorities right!) I baked a cake - A blissful heavy, gooey caramel cake. *blessed orgasmic sigh*

Here's how I released my tension:

I combined 2 cups of Almond meal with 1 cup of Gluten Free SR flour and 1 cup of lightly packed brown sugar. To that I added 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of sour cream and 1/3 cup of honey. I then stirred them together into a thick goo.

I melted 150g of butter in the microwave and added that to the cake batter, stirring it in with a wooden spoon until everything was just nice and combined.

I poured the mix into a small spring-form cake tin that I greased liberally with butter and baked the cake on the centre shelf of my now wonderfully working fan-forced oven at 160C for about 35 mins.

I made sure to turn the cake tin every 10 minutes or so, just to stop the cake browning too fast and risk it burning..

After it cooled, I released the cake from its spring-form pan confinement and then dusted the top with pure icing sugar..

...and here it is in all its perfectly baked glory.

the only thing to add now is a dollop or two of double thick cream...

Oh yeah, I feel better now.