Warning: This poem has some intense content. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes messy medical details, intrusive ideation, debates over the usefulness and safety of drugs, references to past self-injury and sexual abuse, depression, and other challenges. Current environment is safe and supportive. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
Hilla listened to the women
in the chronic pain support group,
and Randie tried to follow along too
even though she was relatively new to it.
Kaisa was giving serious thought
to lycanthropy as a possible cure for
her digestive problems -- she had gone
through multiple diagnoses, most recently
Functional Abdominal Pain Syndrome.
Periodically she would double over,
clutching her belly, her white-blonde hair
falling forward to curtain her face.
"Becoming a werewolf might not
fix everything," Randie pointed out.
"When I'm in wolf form, dog food
makes me bloat; even in human form
I don't digest grains as well as I used to."
"Bloat like uncomfortable, or like
being repeatedly stabbed?" Kaisa asked.
"Uh ... just uncomfortable," Randie said.
"That would still be an improvement
over this," Kaisa said. "Have you
tried managing it with diet?"
"Dietary changes can help a lot,"
said Mika, whose migraines were
activated by pretty much everything
on the list of edible triggers.
"I just quit trying to eat dog food,
and I've cut down on grains --
even plants in general," said Randie.
"I wouldn't really call it a diet."
"You could still try keeping track
of what you eat and what happens,
maybe look up what wolves eat," Hilla said.
"So, does anyone else have any bright ideas
that I haven't tried yet?" Kaisa asked.
"People always talk about 'bright ideas,'
but they're not," said Belladonna.
"I have dark ideas instead."
"Intrusive ideation," Soma said.
"That can make life really hard."
"Yeah, especially because almost nobody
listens to me," said Belladonna. She toyed
with the dull razor blade on her favorite necklace.
"At least here I can talk about the hard stuff."
Hilla kept a careful eye on the teenager,
because Belladonna worried people.
"Sometimes I get dark ideas too,"
said Mika. Like Soma, she suffered
from migraines, although their symptoms
and triggers differed considerably. "The worst
is when I haven't had a headache for a week
or so, and start dreading the next one. It
doesn't help that the last medication I tried
failed to have any effect. Again."
"Oh honey, that only means you haven't
found the right drugs yet," Soma said.
"You just need to keep trying."
"Funny how you say that to everyone
but me," Belladonna grumbled.
"We all know what you want from drugs,
and it's not just pain relief," Soma said.
"That's not true," Belladonna said.
"I wasn't ever trying to kill myself.
I just needed to let the pain out."
That may have been so,
but it was still alarming.
Then again, Hilla had to admit that
if she'd discovered a way to let out
the pain of her multiple sclerosis,
she probably would have done it
no matter how alarming it was.
So maybe that's how Belladonna
felt about the cutting, too.
"We could get out the art supplies
and draw our feelings," Hilla said.
"That's a popular activity."
"Yeah," Belladonna said,
looking over at Soma.
"I'll get the stuff," said Soma.
"Art? Really?" said Randie.
She gave Hilla a dubious look.
"Oh right, I don't think you've
seen us do this before," Hilla said.
"Art therapy is a great coping skill
for people with chronic pain. It can
show what you're feeling, or help
distract you from the discomfort."
"It's good for self-harm too,"
Belladonna said quietly.
"Sometimes I draw in black
to think, and other times in red
so I don't want to cut as much."
Soma brought out a bin full of
paper, markers, colored pencils,
and other interesting things.
Kaisa took a piece of gray paper
and some chalk, with which she
began drawing a white wolf.
Belladonna's design looked like
a patchwork quilt in shades
of red and purple squares.
Mika drew ephemeral designs
in pastel colors, while Soma
preferred psychedelic neons
in wild paisley patterns.
Randie just made random blotches,
as if she started to draw something
but then smudged it out again.
"It's okay," Hilla assured her.
"Sometimes it takes a while
to learn how to let the ideas out ...
or decide you want to."
Hilla let Randie work,
and focused on figuring out
what she felt like drawing today.
Then she knew what image
wanted to come out of her.
She drew a tall door with
a round window at the top,
and through the window,
a dark swath of sky with
a sprinkle of white stars
around the full moon.
The door stood slightly ajar.
* * *
Kaisa Nylund -- She has fair skin, ice-blue eyes, and long straight white-blonde hair. She has digestive problems and has gone through multiple diagnoses, of which the current one is Functional Abdominal Pain Syndrome. She is 20.
Kaisa in Wolf Form
Mika Walker -- She has fair skin with a hint of gold, dark almond-shaped eyes, and long straight hair of dark brown. She is Asian-Australian, and currently 19 years old. Mika has migraines. They are worst as part of PMS. They come with pounding pain, usually on the right side of the head, some sensitivity to light but much more to sound, and vertigo. Often her migraines cause nausea and vomiting. Activity makes the pain worse. She spends a lot of time in bed, but has trouble sleeping. After a migraine, she has a headache hangover.
So far, Mika has tried a wide variety of medications but hasn't found anything that helps enough to keep using. She employs ice packs, tai chi, and meditation to cope with the pain. She hasn't decided yet whether acupuncture really helps or is more of a placebo effect.
Mika's triggers are italicized.
Many factors have been identified as migraine triggers.
• The normal hormone fluctuations which occur with regular menstrual cycles may predispose some women to experience migraine headaches.
• Some types of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) can trigger migraines.
• Various foods such as:
o Red wines
o Aged cheeses
o Preservatives used in smoked meats (nitrates)
o Monosodium glutamate
o Artificial sweeteners
o Dairy products
• Alcohol beverages
• Exposure to strong stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells.
Changes in barometric pressure have been described as leading to migraine headaches.
Brenda "Belladonna" Damyanov -- She has pale skin and blue eyes. Her straight black hair is cut in a shaggy chin-length style and streaked with blue. Both ears are double-pierced at the lobes with industrial piercings above. She also has a nostril ring on the left side, and a ring in the center of her lower lip. Belladonna likes both dark colors and bold patterns such as stripes or houndstooth. Her favorite necklace is a razor blade. She is currently 18.
Belladonna has nerve damage and chronic pain from self-harm. That makes it difficult to use her left arm, although the right is not quite as bad. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse and has depression. Because nobody trusts her with narcotics, the pain is left essentially untreated; nothing else has helped much. So she resorts to self-medication with whatever she can get, sometimes street drugs, and other times just drinking herself into a stupor. Belladonna greatly admires Soma. Despite Belladonna's attempts to score from her, Soma resists providing any connections because she doesn't trust Belladonna with drugs either -- an ongoing bone of contention, since Soma recommends them to everyone else.
* * *
Trigger foods can activate migraine headache. A natural approach to managing migraines includes dietary changes. People with digestive problems may also consider switching to easily digestible foods. Most people with dietary issues can figure out a safe diet for them, but it does take work.
Wolves eat a lot of meat but also some other things. Shapeshifters often need to balance the dietary requirements of their human and animal forms.
Keeping a food diary can help manage all kinds of dietary issues. Here is a daily food diary with room for notes, and a weekly one with room for symptoms.
Intrusive ideation is a common symptom in sexual trauma survivors.
Self-harm happens for many reasons, including a way to cope with otherwise unendurable pain. The Hurt Yourself Less Workbook was made by and for people struggling with self-injury.
Difficult feelings can create a lot of challenges, but we still need them. Understand how to express and deal with uncomfortable emotions. Here is a workbook about difficult feelings.
Art therapy has many benefits. It can help with self-injury, sexual abuse, or chronic pain. Learn how to do art therapy. There are numerous art therapy exercises that you can do at home. Check out these worksheets.
When you do a lot of arts and crafts, or belong to a group that uses them periodically, it helps to make an art box. Think about what you want to put in it and how you want to organize your art supplies. You can buy basic and advanced kits, or make your own.