My Life Just Isn’t Anybody Else’s Business by James Thompson

©Elizabeth A. White/James Thompson – Please do not reprint/reproduce without express written permission.

Today I am pleased to welcome for a guest post James Thompson, author of the Kari Vaara series. Lucifer’s Tears, the second book in the series, following Snow Angels, will be released on March 17th, and Jim has been kind enough to share an amazingly frank and powerful story about what was going on in his life during the creation of the book.

James ThompsonThe other day, someone asked me how much like Kari Vaara I really am. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was much like Vaara at all, so I asked what prompted him to ask the question. He said, “You look like Vaara, you speak like Vaara, you act like Vaara, and I have a pretty good idea that you think like him, too.”

I guess because Vaara is a Finn, and I’m not, after thirteen years here, I’ve come to think of myself as neither American nor Finnish, but something in-between. But he had a point. There are other similarities. My wife is twelve years younger than me, as with Kari and Kate, except our nationalities are reversed. I have a disease in my knees, the name of which I can never remember, and a busted hip from an accident in the army, so I have a limp. Sometimes, it’s barely noticeable, my left foot just turns in more than in should. Sometimes, it’s quite pronounced. In fact, I’m on partial disability as a disabled veteran. There are major differences as well. Kari’s father beat him mercilessly. My father, God bless him, is a kind man and has never laid a hand on me.

But mostly, Kari and I both value silence. My life just isn’t anybody else’s business. It occurred to me recently that not a single person in this world knows my entire life story, and for some reason, I took a perverse pleasure in it. A friend recently expressed surprise that I have a family, because in the six years he’s known me, I’ve never mentioned them. He assumed they were dead and so, afraid it was a sensitive issue, never raised the subject. I tried sharing more personal things when I first started blogging, but somehow, it made me feel icky. Another person told me that sometimes, even by Finnish standards, my silence is sometimes disconcerting.

It’s not that I have anything against chatting. I think that when I moved to Finland and was unable to speak the language, I was couldn’t participate in conversations and just got out of the habit. It’s probably also why I became such a compulsive writer. Because I needed an outlet for my thoughts.

Today though, I’m going to tell you a story about myself known to very few. It seems timely because it relates directly to how Lucifer’s Tears, which will be released next week [March 17th], came into being.

I started getting severe headaches somewhere around 2004. I’m a notorious workaholic. I was studying at the university, working as a bartender, and treated writing like a job, although no one gave a damn about it. I went to a public doctor. Her diagnosis was bed rest and a change in lifestyle. Since I needed to study, pay rent and eat, and refused to give up writing, this was impossible. I slept for a couple days and then went back to the usual. The headaches persisted, I went back to the doctor and the diagnosis was the same.

Over time, I developed a permanent migraine, went back to the doctor, and this time she thought maybe I had a serious problem, maybe a brain tumor or disease of the central nervous system. I went through the miraculous Finnish public health care system, took all manner of tests including an MRI, which I had to wait in line nine months for. If I indeed did have a brain tumor, odds are good I would have died while waiting. After that long wait, I was misdiagnosed.

I graduated from the University of Helsinki in 2007. I told few people about my condition, because employers are reticent to take on the chronically ill. Then finally, I got a book deal in Finland, and soon after, a top agent in the U.S. Again, I kept mum, because I feared they wouldn’t take me on as an author if they suspected I might fall too ill to write. So I chomped painkillers like tic-tacs and kept going.

One doctor was of the opinion that my now permanent migraine might be the result of kaamos, the dark time of the year, because it causes chemical changes in the brain that affect many people, and causes depression in a large part of the population. She suggested I go south for the winter. So last December, my wife and I left in December and went to Torrevieja, a small city in the south of Spain. It wasn’t such a luxury it might seem. The Spanish economy is in ruins. Rent, food, and just about everything else is dirt cheap there.

Lucifer's Tears by James ThompsonWe stayed until March. Before we left, I had written about half of Lucifer’s Tears, decided it was complete shit, and threw it in the trash. I started again in Spain.

Unfortunately, the doctor was wrong. The sunlight had no effect on me at all, and my condition grew worse at a rapid rate. Around the beginning of the year, I started vomiting daily. My record is puking off nine pounds in five hours. And then I started having seizures. And that’s when I gave Kari Vaara a migraine. If I was going to suffer, he was going to have to suffer with me.

Between my wife and myself, we’ve studied ten languages. I took Spanish in high school, but couldn’t remember even the most basic phrases. I tried to get medical help, but couldn’t find a neurologist who could speak English or any of the Nordic languages. Thank God they sell Tylenol with codeine in it over the counter in Spain. I took the max possible every day without destroying my liver. And someone gave me a chunk of hashish. A found that just a small amount would stop the seizures. They struck me suddenly, I wasn’t able to walk or talk. I was semi-aware, but could only lay there and shake. The hashish relieved the worst of the symptoms and was a godsend.

My wife thought I was dying and wanted to come home. Unfortunately, it was the worst winter in Europe for the past forty years and getting flights was next to impossible. Our apartment was freezing cold and miserable. Also, we had brought our cat with us. Most flights accept only two animals at a time. I couldn’t find a flight that would let us take our pet, and I refused to leave Sulo behind. I also refused to leave until the novel was finished.

The number of hours I was well enough to sit at the keyboard and write was limited, so I would lie down and imagine the next scenes, and write them out when I was able. The worse I got, the worse Kari got. I wrote in long bursts. The last fifteen pages were typed in one day. I remember typing THE END, and feeling both relieved that it was over, but it’s a harsh novel. I was afraid I had gone too far. I had, however, for good or ill, written the book that I wanted to write.

I sent it to my agent. He told me it was a huge step forward in my growth as a writer. There’s a lesson in there, but I don’t know what it is.

The aftermath. We returned to Helsinki. I’m by no means rich, but could finally afford to see a private neurologist. He correctly diagnosed me in half an hour. After a spring and summer spent trying various drugs that made me physically and/or mentally ill, we finally hit on a drug combination that hasn’t cured me, but has improved my quality of life considerably. I’m functional, able to work. The vomiting and seizures have stopped, and I’m in a great deal less pain than I was a year ago.

I’m telling this story for a reason. I learned that a lot of people suffer the kind of migraines that I have. They’re often called suicide headaches because people eventually give up, can’t stand it anymore, and take their own lives.

Don’t do that. There’s help out there for you. If one doctor doesn’t help you, see another, and another, and another, until you find the right one. Be strong, persevere, and live.

James Thompson
Helsinki Finland
3.10.2011

James Thompson is the author of the Inspector Kari Vaara series. The first book, Snow Angels, was released in the U.S. to critical acclaim in early 2010. Lucifer’s Tears, the second book in the series, will be released on March 17, 2011. Thompson, American by birth, has lived in Finland for over a decade and currently resides in Helsinki with his wife. To learn more about James Thompson, visit his website.

©Elizabeth A. White/James Thompson – Please do not reprint/reproduce without express written permission.

16 Comments

  • Jimland

    March 20, 2011 - 7:17 am

    […] From Musings of an All Purpose Monkey, by Elizabeth A White.—— “My life just isn’t anybody else’s business.” by James Thompson—click here […]

  • Jenn's Bookshelves

    March 18, 2011 - 8:47 am

    […] Thompson himself suffers from debilitating migraines. Check out this powerful guest post over at Musings of an All-Purpose Monkey to learn […]

  • Jenn's Bookshelves

    March 17, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    Wow. While I do get severe stress/tension headaches, I will never pretend to know what its like to suffer from a migrane. However, I do have to say that James pain in this book is so apparent that, while reading, I feel as though I felt the pain as well.

    The same rang true for SNOW ANGELs. I felt the cold, the darkness.

    While I’d never wish this sort of pain upon anyone, I certainly think it allowed the author so vividly, with so much honesty, about the pain that it was even more real to the reader.

  • Cathy

    March 17, 2011 - 3:08 pm

    After reading and reviewing Lucifer’s Tears, I had a feeling that Vaara’s migraines had a very personal aspect to them. Perhaps it’s because I went through a period in my life when I suffered from horrible migraines. It is altogether too easy for me to understand why unceasing migraines would be called “suicide headaches”. Like Thompson, I say never give up. Keep looking until you find a doctor who can help.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    March 15, 2011 - 5:26 pm

    I’ve never had an honest to god migraine, just a few ‘really bad’ (relatively speaking) headaches over the years, and yet they were still bad enough to cause me to do nothing but curl up in a ball. I can’t even being to imagine what it would be like to have a full blown migraine that would not go away. I knew Jim was a very special author from reading his books, but after reading his guest post I now also know that he is a very special man too.

    • fyrebear

      March 16, 2011 - 3:49 pm

      Well said! Great post. Very cool of him to open up like that! 🙂

  • Jennifer

    March 15, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    We have the same migraines, I am sorry to say. I am “healthy”, 41, a mum to 3 and have survived two strokes (due to my migraines). I have never talked to anyone else who had my type and sadly I have exhausted all medical treatments save experimental brain surgery (they offer, I decline).

    I am pleased you have found some relief!

    I am unable to work, yet I do read and I have review both Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears. I cannot help with the writing aspect, you are doing brilliantly on your own, however I can tell you that after suffering in pain for almost 30 years, my pain threshold has become rather impressive. I was only in less pain once in my life, that was when I lived in the former USSR, I have absolutely no idea why the pain was lessened, but it was.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      March 15, 2011 - 7:04 pm

      Sorry to hear that, Jennifer, but thank you for sharing your story.

      And everyone be sure to stop by and check out Jennifer’s review of Lucifer’s Tears.

    • James Thompson

      March 17, 2011 - 3:21 am

      Hi Jennifer, just to make sure you’ve tried everything, I want to make some suggestions, because everything here in Finland may be different than in the States. The same drugs have different names here, but a quick google with give you the US brand names.

      Combinations of Oxamin, Propral and Triptyl, increasing the amounts over time, will break most migraine cycles eventually. Deprakine and Topimax help a lot of people, but my body can’t tolerate them. Right now, I use Oxamin, Propral, Atacand and Klotriptyl, and have significant improvement from the combination. I still get daily migraines, but the intensity and duration aren’t nearly as bad, and seem to be getting better over time. Medications specificaly for migraines just don’t help most people with chronic migraines. They just work well for people with occasional migraines.
      Best, Jim

      • Jennifer

        March 17, 2011 - 3:27 pm

        Jim,

        My current medication load is: Klotriptyl, Klonopin (anti-seizure medication), and Propral. After 30 years, I have been on every possible combination and trial medication possible. I have had teams of neurologists in five states and I know there is absolutely nothing left to do. And yes, you are correct, typical migraine medications do not work at all.

        I am very pleased to hear you do get some relief. Mine are an odd mix as part is hereditary and one of the arteries in my brain is very small (congenital defect), which could explain both strokes before I was 40.

        Thank you for sharing this. It is nice to “speak” with someone who understands. While my family is most gracious and loving, my husband has never even has a headache!

        I just realised, I could have written this in Finnish if it would have been easier on you.

        I look forward to your next book and wish you all the best.

        Jennifer

  • Tom

    March 15, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    Frighteningly remarkable…

  • Charles Wingfield

    March 15, 2011 - 1:53 pm

    Wow, what a powerful piece. Thanks so much for sharing that part of your life. Very inspirational! I am not sure I could be any more excited to read Lucifer’s Tears and see Elizabeth’s review tomorrow!

  • Tania Hutchison

    March 15, 2011 - 11:51 am

    What an amazing story. As a fellow migraine sufferer, I can certainly empathise (but am lucky enough not to have seizures…just numbness in one side of my body & pain that makes you want to bang your head against the wall). Glad to hear that you found relief. Can’t wait to read the book!

  • sabrina ogden

    March 15, 2011 - 9:53 am

    What a powerful and moving story. I’m not a chronic migraine sufferer, but I have had a pretty severe headache a few times that have left me in tears and ready to cut my head off…I’m truly amazed by your ability to stay focused and equally amazed by your determination to finish your novel.

    I’m very thankful that you were able to find a doctor that could diagnose your condition and work with you to find a treatment that worked best. The thought of waiting 9 months for an MRI, well…it’s unthinkable to me.

    Thank you so much for sharing this and I wish you nothing but continued success.

  • Naomi Johnson

    March 15, 2011 - 9:41 am

    What a wrenching story. I know full well that if I had to endure a migraine for that long, I would indeed be suicidal. I’m fortunate that the migraines I suffered were treatable with a simple high blood pressure medication. I am amazed that with the pain you were in that you were able to function at such a high level. You must have enormous drive — good thing, too. Now I can’t wait to read this book.

  • Clair Lamb

    March 15, 2011 - 9:24 am

    Thanks for sharing your story. My mother also had those “suicide headaches,” until a combination of medication and eliminating some things from her diet helped. They were terrifying for a small child to witness, and I can’t imagine how you managed to write two novels in their grip.

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