Sunday, May 29, 2011

letter to a young migraineur

(I'm trying this as a scheduled post.  If you're reading it, it must have worked!)

I recently read the blog of a young woman who suffers from chronic headaches.  It filled me with sympathy, because I've been there.  When MadMax was around 3, I had migraines 20-25 days per month.  It was horrible. You don't really live so much as just get through it.  I wasn't ever suicidal, but I did start to wonder after awhile, why am I even alive if I'm just going to feel miserable all the time?  what is the point of this?

So I was thinking about what changed, and if there was any advice I could give her.  None of it may apply; everyone is different and everyone's triggers are different.  But I'll give it a shot anyway.  Part of my problem was having a toddler.  I was just flat out exhausted most of the time.  You hear how awful the teen years are, but to me, they were a breeze compared to the 18-month- to-4-year-old stage.  I love having a houseful of teenagers.  Having a houseful of 3-year-olds.... oh, lord, I don't even want to think about it.

But she's childless, so that's no help.  I think the biggest thing that changed for me besides my kids getting older was changing my attitude.  While it was so bad, I tried all kinds of things --drugs (amitriptyline, prozac, paxil, topamax), herbal remedies (lavender, st johns wort, a couple of special headache blends), treatments (chiropractic, acupuncture, massage), diet/allergies (I tried eliminating dairy, wheat, cheese, wine, even chocolate (briefly)).  Nothing I tried was a silver bullet, but that was what I wanted.  I wanted to find something that would cure me so that I didn't have headaches anymore.  I thought feeling 100% awesome was the baseline, the way I "should" feel, and anything less than that meant that whatever I was doing wasn't working. 

But I've gradually come to believe differently.  What I've learned to do instead is whatever little things help.  Nothing is a silver bullet.  Nothing has cured me of my headaches.  I still have them (although usually only 2-6 per month now).  You look at my extended family, and we are a headache prone bunch.  I'll always have headaches.  I've come to see being headache-prone as normal for someone with my genetic makeup.  (Headaches, the new normal.) I just have to do what I can to minimize them.

The things that have helped?  getting off caffeine has been the biggest single thing.  It took several months before I was completely off it, and after awhile I noticed that I was having way less headaches.  Not zero, but that was when I dropped from 15-25 days per month down to about 8-10.  and the ones I had were much less severe.  I've already written about that plenty, so I'll spare the details.   Going through menopause has helped.  I'm not quite there yet, but it used to be that I could guarantee having 4-6 days of migraines every month with my cycle, and I've only had one stretch of 4 days in a row since that long stretch back in January.

You see what I mean?  Rather than thinking, I've had 20 headaches since the end of January, including 4 days in a row in March, and that is bad, so I might as well go back to drinking caffeine-- I think, I've "only" had a couple individual headaches per month and one 4-day stretch, and that is so much better than it used to be.  My intent here is not to be pollyanna-ish or to sat that the glass is half-full.  It's to accept the reality that I am going to have headaches, and do whatever I can to prevent them.

there are also a few tricks I've learned.  I drink lots of water.  I wear sunglasses whenever I'm outside.  I almost always have some kind of food with me so I don't get to that shaky-starving low blood sugar stage (which almost always results in a migraine).  I can have alcohol, even wine, if I take an aspirin beforehand (even a baby aspirin). (although that doesn't work for my older sister-- wine leads directly to a headache for her, no matter what she does).  I do see a chiropractor 1-2 times per month, although she is a non-traditional practitioner and almost never "cracks" my spine. I take magnesium and Co-Q10 supplements 2-3 times a week.  Any one of these individually made little or no difference, but they seem to add up.

I guess to sum it up, I'd say I switched to being pro-active about my health.  Before, it was almost as if I was lying back and waiting for something to come along and cure me.  Instead, I started doing whatever little things I could to feel better.  It seems to be working pretty well, since nowadays I rarely have more than 2-3 headaches per month.


  1. I don't get headaches much.
    I agree with you about the toddlers. Never been one for oohing over the babies or little kids. I like tweens, teens and even young adults.

  2. Okay, I adore the babies and toddlers... adore them! So, that aside, I have a simialr history, had tons of headaches when the kids were little. I don't know whether they were migrains or not, I just know that they made me want to barf, lie down, and be in a dark quiet place (none of which is really possible with three small children at home with you all day). They gradually began to appear less and less... as I see what you did, and think about the steps (also very similar) that I took to be (as you said) more pro-active, it does seem to have made a difference. Hmm, again, so thought-provoking and instightful. (And SO similar!)

  3. I have to say that menopause (surgically induced thank the good Lord) made a significant difference in the number of migranes I would get. From 3-5 per month down to almost never. And I didn't really notice at first because I was just so glad to have gotten rid of my uterus and not be bleeding to death every month. TMI?

    And do not EVER think to take away my caffeine.

  4. I don't get migraines, but tension headaches, since I've been 20 (now 38). When they became daily I finally sought treatment. Drugs have helped a lot, but I did reach a point where, when on vacation, with one daily drug, I'd mostly have no headaches. So we deduced that work stress was a big problem. Well right now I'm unemployed and money is fine, but I'm on a second drug which is helping but I'm still getting a lot of headaches. Ahhh but I have some other stress in my life. So I finally said to Self: It is time to explore relaxation techniques, girl. Cause I suspect drugs have taken me as far as they can. Now it's about my ability to handle life. (Besides the little things, which I'm always looking at too, like enough sleep etc.)

    So thanks for this post... slightly different, but somewhat the same conclusions. I think it has sort of reconfirmed my thought. ;-)