This was not the post I had planned for today. I had a lovely post all planned out, had the text written, photos planned, ready to shoot, and then it hit.
The migraine from you know where.
When I started this blog, my initial goal was to post once a week. I didn’t want to over-commit myself, and the demands of keeping up with a full-time job, and the blog would quickly become over-whelming if I had. I thought that once a week would be more than enough to keep me busy.
Enter the migraine.
I am one of the over 36 million people in the United States that suffers from chronic migraine. One of the greatest challenges I have faced over the years is coping with this devastating condition. My mother has also suffered from this debilitating condition, although to a lesser degree. She understands much of what I constantly go through.
Migraine is a devastating collection of neurological symptoms. Severe pain in one or both sides of the head is just part of it. An attack can be accompanied by visual disturbances (known as aura), nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to light, sound, touch, or smell; tingling or numbness in the arms and legs or face.
The first migraine I remember having I must have been around four or five years old. We were at some sort of family gathering, probably Christmas, at an aunt and uncle’s home and I remember going to my mother because my head was hurting so badly. All they could give me was baby aspirin which didn’t help. She took me to my aunt’s bedroom, laid me on the bed and rubbed my neck until I fell asleep. It was just a small harbinger of what was to come in the future.
While I was in college I learned that some researchers believe that Hildegard Von Bingen, (a noted medieval abbess, composer, and writer) suffered from migraine. The pain and auras she experienced were so severe that she interpreted them as visions from God. What I have always found so incredible and inspiring about her is the fantastically beautiful music that she composed. Her ‘visions’ inspired her to write what remains among the largest (and in my opinion most beautiful) existing repertoire of known medieval composers. Compositions like this: Voices of Angels
When I have a migraine attack, life literally stops. The pain is blinding and paralyzing. There is no way to simply ‘push past it’ and keep working. The associated symptoms can make even simple movements of any kind problematic. Any light or sound only exacerbates the pain. My best course of action is to take my rescue med, lie down in a quiet, dark room, and wait for the pain to pass.
I thank God for those rescue meds!
Over the years, my migraines have increased in severity and frequency. I eventually sought out treatment from a neurologist and began a regime of daily preventative medicines. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that the first migraine “rescue” drug, Imitrex, became available. It was like a bolt of lightning from Heaven above! One little pill and the horrible migraine was gone in 45 minutes! Lovely!
Now at fifty-something, I am still learning and adapting my migraine routine. Just in the past few years, I’ve realized that chocolate is one of my triggers.
Chocolate. CHOCOLATE!!!!! OOOHHHH THE HUMANITY!!!!! I had to give up CHOCOLATE! AARRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! *slowly walks back from the cliff ledge, weeping*
Throughout our twenty year marriage, my wonderful hubby has always brought me Godiva’s for Valentine’s Day, our Wedding Anniversary, my Birthday, Christmas, and anytime he’s in the dog house. Last year I had to tell him to stop. I’m not certain who cried more.
But I digress. Knowing that many others suffer in silence, I thought to share what I have learned. So here I will give you my tips for coping with chronic migraine.
Before I start, let me stipulate that I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. These are just my opinions about what has worked for me. Always, get professional medical assistance for any health problems you may be having. Never rely on self-diagnosis.
Which is a perfect transition to number one:
- See a doctor regularly. Don’t self-diagnose. One of the best things I ever did was to find a good neurologist who specialized in migraine treatment. If the symptoms are bad enough that you are seeking treatment, you need to verify that it is migraine and not something else. A neurologist will be able to eliminate all other possibilities.
- Keep a detailed headache diary – You have to know your triggers. Some may seem obvious, others won’t be; and they will change over time. You can’t identify them if you aren’t tracking what is going on every time you have a migraine. It can be as simple as keeping a small blank journal to record in or as specific as a form that your doctor provides. Some good options to start with are here, here, and here. There are also online apps for keeping a headache diary. I am not a big fan of them, but that is a personal choice. I tend to become light sensitive during a migraine so looking at a screen is not very comfortable. For me it is much easy to write something down.
- Stick to the same schedule EVERY DAY – Don’t skip meals, don’t miss you medications, and don’t change your sleeping patterns. I never realized that sleeping in those extra few hours on the weekends might be affecting my headaches. Our bodies are creatures of habit and like routine. Get one and stick to it. Along those same lines:
- Get plenty of sleep every night – I know, that this one seems kind of basic, right? I always thought that if I went to bed at 9:00pm and got up at 6:00am that of course I was getting plenty of sleep! So why was I so drowsy at work all day? Both my neurologist and my GP suggested a sleep study to see if anything was wrong. Bingo! Much to my surprise, we discovered that I have a mild form of sleep apnea. Just enough to keep me from getting enough REM sleep every night. Once I began using a CPAP while I slept, it was AMAZING how much more rested I felt.
- STAY HYDRATED – Drink lots and lots of water and DO NOT drink anything with caffeine. I still have difficulty with this one, but I have learned that the more I stay away from caffeine, the better off I will be.
- Exercise Regularly – No brainer here. The best time I had for my migraines were the years in college when I was running six days a week. Injuries to my knees have ended that but I’m working on other avenues of exercise. Low impact is always best.
- Keep your weight down – Another no brainer. Eating a healthy balanced diet, will do wonders to reducing migraine.
Notice a common thread here? Not only are these good for managing migraine, all of them will help you manage your overall general health. The more I study and learn about migraine, the more I am becoming convinced that much of the problem is related to diet and genetics.
Migraine does not have to be incapacitating. It can be managed and lived with. There are lots of great resources online for more information. I highly recommend the National Headache Foundation and the Migraine Research Foundation.
Do any of you live with this condition on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Share your coping strategies with us in the comments below.
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