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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Coping with Migraine: Claims of a “Cure”

June 27th, 2008

I was recently presented with a dilemma here on Free my Brain. I want to encourage dialog and exchange of ideas, but I don’t intend to provide an open marketplace for sale of migraine “cures.”  (Though I will gladly support and even promote helpful products and services.)  Migraine is a complex, genetically based, neurological disease.  The frequency and severity of migraines vary enormously from person to person; so do the number and complexity of triggers and other contributing factors.  What we know now is that this is a neurological disorder, a differently ordered nervous system, if you will, which has existed throughout human history.  Like many congenital conditions, there may have been a valid evolutionary reason for this mutation at one point.  Maybe migraineurs were the human barometers, predicting disastrous weather changes for primitive societies.  I had fun speculating on the evolutionary basis of migraine in the post Our Ancestress: A Fable.


I have heard from many people who have done just one thing and their migraines have gone away.  To them I can only say mazel tov!   (Congratulations!)  Here is a bouquet of flowers to celebrate!   For some it is eliminating just one trigger.  For others it is a particular nutritional supplement, a practice of meditation, regular exercise, a medication, a surgery, pregnancy, menopause, a life or lifestyle change.   I don’t know if there are statistics on how many migraineurs find relief from just one thing.  I do know there are large numbers of us out here who need to find a combination of factors to manage and control our migraines.  Here is a bouquet of flowers to console us!  There is no “cure” for a genetically based neurological condition, any more than there is a “cure” for my red hair and green eyes.   (Well, another 15 – 20 years may pretty well eliminate the red hair.)

A great place for some very basic facts and information about Migraine is the recent quiz at My Migraine Connection: Dispelling Migraine Myths.   The two books on migraine featured in the left side-bar on this page are both great resources for learning about migraine and how to manage it.  There is much we can do.  For most of us, we can reduce our migraines significantly.  You have probably heard me say before that I have reduced my own migraine frequency by about 50% through use of abortive medications, supplements, trigger avoidance, relaxation and meditation, and lifestyle changes.

Someone submitted a comment to one of my posts stating that 1) Migraine isn’t a disease; 2) there is a cure for Migraine “within us;” 3) he had over 20 years of migraines which are now gone; and 4) you can “retrain” yourself so you have no more migraines; he then went on to promote his methods.  I am genuinely happy for the commenter that his migraines are gone.  I am certainly curious about his methods, and glad that he wants to help others.  I don’t mean to suggest he had any but the best motives.  But I am wary of anyone’s claim to have a cure.  After some deliberation, I decided not to publish the comment and link.

There are two ways to look at “retraining.”  A nervous system which can be easily triggered into a Migraine attack can be viewed as an over-excitable or hyper-reactive nervous system.  Regular practice of meditation and relaxation can help us reduce the excitability of our nervous systems.  Note that this is not a “cure;” it is a supportive exercise or practice which can strengthen our system’s ability to resist triggers.  You could call this “retraining.”

But there is another view of retraining which comes from an idea that Migraine disease is psychologically generated.  It is not.  It is a real, physical condition.  It is no more psychological than epilepsy or scoliosis.  I view with rage books like Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” which suggest that right thinking can solve all our medical problems.  She suggests that “Migraine headaches are created by people who want to be perfect and who
create a lot of pressure on themselves. A lot of suppressed anger is
involved…” 

And so, if we work like crazy in therapy, meditate, recite mantras and do whatever highly subjective steps Hay seems to think will enable us to let go of the anger and pressure, if we do all that and we still have Migraines, then what?  We failed?  It’s like telling someone the devil is causing their Migraines and they just have to really believe in God.  “I do believe!”  “If you really believed the devil would leave you and your Migraines would be gone!”  “But I really do believe…”  It’s just a very sneaky way of blaming the victim!

I wish we could do a scientific study of people who want to be perfect and who put pressure on themselves.  In the first place I bet you that’s at least 75% of the population.  And I bet you dollars to donuts that 12% of all the perfectionists would turn out to have Migraine disease.  And I bet that 12% of all the non-perfectionists would have Migraine disease too.  What’s the incidence of Migraine disease in the general population?  12%!  I think you get my point.

I have been told that if I only distinguished the beliefs from my past that were making me have Migraines, they would disappear.  I will admit I tried to do that.  Like anyone else, I have a past and beliefs were formed in it!  Some of those beliefs are limiting to me.  In a life of nearly half a century, with plenty of self-help, support groups, personal development courses, and therapy, I think I’ve managed to identify most of those beliefs.  So why am I not cured of Migraines?  Is it my fault?  Or, wait, could it be that I have a genetically based, incurable neurological condition?  Hmmm…  Which is the more logical conclusion?  And which is more empowering?

For me, the answer is clear.  I am 49, a woman, 5’2″, a redhead, a migraineur.  These are facts.  I get choices about what I do with those facts.  I am choosing to vigorously pursue better and better Migraine management.  I am not wasting my mental or emotional energy on “cures.”  Or at least I won’t, once I’m done with this rant!

- Megan Oltman

Curing is good for meats, cheeses, wines, paints… Maybe our heads don’t need it?

Hammer image courtesy of Darren Hester

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Posted in Books, Communicating, Managing, Medicine, Rant, Science | Comments (4)

Our ancestress – a fable

January 10th, 2008

Back in prehistory, in hunter-gatherer days, imagine the dangers faced by a tribe of cave-dwellers. There were saber-tooth cats, cave bears, cave lions, cave-ins, earthquakes, floods, not to mention the dangers inherent in any group of humans living together in close quarters – the dangers of disagreement, of in-fighting and division, breaking the group apart. Such a tribe would need to work as a unit to survive, putting the good of the group above that of individuals, having a role for each group member to play.

Imagine, in such a society, the value of a highly sensitive individual. An individual whose nervous system was very finely tuned, perceptive of danger, aware of undercurrents. An individual who could function efficiently under high levels of stress, at least for a short time. Such an individual could serve as the tribe’s early warning system. Feeling the tremors first, perhaps, grabbing the children out of the way of the predator, warning tribal leaders of undercurrents of division among the group. Sometimes she saw visions, light and color, patterns and pictures only she could see. Imagine that such an individual would be highly valued, would have status, might even be a preferred mate and therefore be more likely to reproduce to hand down her sensitivity to later generations.

She was the one with the migraine brain. And when the crisis passed, her nervous system would let down not with a sigh, but with a crashing, pounding, nauseating headache. With blinding pain, light and sound sensitivity. What use was the migraine to the group, let alone the individual? None at all. Evolutionary traits often carry consequences – the useful sensitivity comes with a tendency to break down when tolerance limits are passed. Migraine is a side-effect of a highly sensitive nervous system. But while the migraine itself did not serve the group, the individual with the migraine brain did, and so we imagine she was cared for, not cast aside as disabled and weak, but nurtured through her crisis, as she had supported the tribe through its crisis.

We are her descendents, and our migraine brains are the same as hers was, all those millennia ago. We are highly sensitive, often artistic, intuitive, perceptive of others’ feelings. We generally function well under stress or in a crisis, to a point.  We handle a high degree of stress and go into hyper-drive, accomplishing great things, to a point. But our world is very different from that of our ancestress. We rarely face a saber-toothed cat or a danger of that magnitude. But we face a world of unremitting stimulation, information, noise, flashing light, increasing demands on our time, our brains, our emotions. We face a constant high level of stress. Human brains are not suited to cope with life in the 21st century, especially not migraine brains.

- Megan Oltman

Making Rain out of Migraine

lightning image courtesy of Ian Boggs

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Posted in Musings | Comments (5)

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