Posts Tagged ‘Migraine management’

Did you ever want a whole new head?

January 28th, 2017

If you’re like me, that’s something you’ve asked for many times. My loving son Adam made me another head when he was in 9th grade – at the time when my chronic migraines were at their worst, just before I started working with Dr. William Young at the Jefferson Headache Center. Adam came home one day, and said, “I can’t give you a migraine-free head, but I made a migraine head for you. Maybe all your migraines can go into this head instead of yours.”

Here it is in all it’s horrifying glory – I think he captured the pain and despair beautifully.

Seven years later, my migraines are no longer chronic. Sure, I had great treatment from one of the best, and learned new techniques to manage my migraines, and menopause came by and blessed me with fewer migraines as well, but maybe the head captured a lot of them on its own. The magic of love. The gift of a truly empathic artist!

Ciao Bene!

- Megan Oltman

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Changing the things we can

October 31st, 2009

Remember the serenity prayer? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. People ask me how I can coach someone to improve their Migraine profile (frequency and severity of Migraines). Isn’t that in the realm of things we cannot change?

With Migraine disease we are often at the effect of forces we can’t change. We have highly sensitive nervous systems, and we can’t always predict our Migraines. But there are things that we can do, to make a difference for ourselves. I have identified ten areas of our lives where we can take action and make changes that can impact the frequency and severity of our Migraines.

1. Rest & Sleep: Getting 7 – 9 hours of restful sleep per night; going to sleep and waking up at approximately the same time every day; getting to sleep before midnight each night; and taking time during your day to rest when you are tired.

2. Hydration: Drinking at least 2 liters of water or non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluid per day; and increasing your fluid intake when you have a Migraine.

3. Nourishment: Eating nourishing food at regular mealtimes; avoiding letting your blood sugar drop or letting yourself get shaky with hunger; avoiding foods that you know trigger you; drinking no more than 2 caffeinated beverages per day; and consuming alcohol only in moderation.

4. Environmental Triggers: Avoiding living or working around extreme noise; avoiding smoking, living or working around smoke; avoiding perfumes or chemical fumes in your living or working environment; using sunglasses and hats to protect yourself from bright light; and working to clear your environment of other triggers.

5. Exercise: Doing some form of physical activity on a daily basis; getting aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week for 20 minutes; and stretching daily.

6. Relaxation: Participating in some form of deliberate relaxation, activating your relaxation response, for at least 30 minutes a day; and taking mental breaks between periods of concentration or intense activity, walking away, changing gears, disengaging, slowing down.

7. Work: Doing work, volunteer work, a hobby or other pursuit that gives you purpose, satisfies and sustains you.

8. Relationships:Being happy with your relationships; and having relationships that are loving, fun, that support you and sustain you, with good communication.

9. Medical Care: Being happy with your communication with your medical providers; being happy with the expertise of your medical providers; and being happy with the care given you by your medical providers.

10. Treatment Options: Being satisfied with your Migraine treatment options; having educated yourself about available treatment alternatives; using your treatments effectively – as directed, when needed; and using complementary medicine and comfort measures to supplement medications.

When I am coaching a Migraineur we look at which area to start working on, which would be the easiest to change, and which would make the biggest difference. We can’t change everything at once; we must have someplace to start. The support of a coach and a group of other Migraineurs helps make and sustain the changes that make a difference.

- Megan Oltman

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Laid low by my Sinuses

October 19th, 2009

I just spent a lovely weekend visiting my daughter at college. She is very happy, working hard, very much at home and thriving. And I have to say the weekend was a success story for me, because I managed a marathon week of preparation and a rather strenuous trip with only one mild Migraine. We flew out Thursday evening and were scheduled to take off at 8 pm, but due to winds and rain our flight was delayed 3 hours. On the other end there was a delay in getting to the rental car facility and then we had 50 miles to drive. We got into the hotel at 2 am, and got up before 7 to meet my daughter at an 8:30 class. My husband had a difficult night with his breathing, which meant he snored quite a bit, so I really didn’t sleep more than a few brief dozes. It’s amazing that I only had a very mild Migraine in the middle of the day, and taking a triptan and lying down in the college library for 40 minutes, followed by a nap at the hotel later on, took care of it for me.

It’s been unseasonably cold here in the East, and out in the upper Mid-west where we were as well, and I have encountered a number of people with colds. I started sniffling out there, and noticed the air was drier than I’m used to. We flew back last night and got diverted to a different airport – all flights into Newark were canceled due to more high winds, and we had to call a friend to get us at the airport, and got in pretty late.

I guess the strains on my stamina – two flights, two late nights, a lot of running and hustling through airports, and even two enjoyable but busy days when I was on my feet a lot – showed up in a weakening of my resistance. I didn’t have a flare up of body pain, like I sometimes do when I exert myself, and I didn’t have continual Migraines, which are common for me on trips where I fly. i have to say my Migraine management plan is working well. I just succumbed to this infection.

I woke this morning with a sore throat, swollen glands, green post-nasal drip, and a feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. My old familiar friend the sinus infection. Only one of dozens I’ve had in the last 14 years. My nose isn’t particularly congested, it’s all back in my throat. It amazes me to be laid low by something that is nearly invisible, some microscopic invasion of small cavities in my head. No major cold preceded this, just a few days of an itchy nose and a need to sneeze. It seems like other people get great goopy colds and I encounter the virus or whatever it is and it immediately runs into the back of my head and starts this secret war on my system. It’s not that I want my nose to run, it’s just continually hard for me to believe in the thing that knocks me out. I lie around a few hours and then I think I must be well enough to get up, after all, I have no fever, no stuffy nose, no headache, nothing but a sore throat, and then I get up for a moment and ka-boom! Where’s the truck that hit me?

I did a lot of work last week, to get out Thursday afternoon, and leave all work behind for the weekend. Of course I didn’t accomplish everything I planned (the day that happens I can retire, I guess!), and all day today I have been thinking about the things I should be picking up and getting back to today. I barely have the mental stamina to write this, let alone do anything else. I think of something I need to do and then say “Umm…” and forget about it. The infection dulls my brain. I know I just need to rest. For today I am staying in bed and drinking lots of tea and juice and water and taking loads of vitamin C and echinacea and zinc. I have all kinds of important things I want to tell you about – topics for posts backed up, and a newsletter to get out. But… not today.

- Megan

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Heads Together for Support

August 27th, 2009

Next week I’ll be launching something exciting here at Free my Brain. Since I started looking for help with my Migraines over five years ago, I’ve been looking for a support group, and hearing about the value of support groups.  Since I’ve been hosting the Managing Life with Migraine teleconferences on the last Sunday of every month, participants have been telling me how much they love being on the phone with other Migraineurs.  The doctors we’ve had on the teleconferences have spoken about the value of making progress with small manageable goals.  People email me all the time asking about a support group – okay – I hear you! I coach Migraineurs in managing the various aspects of their lives needed to see an improvement in their Migraine profile and quality of life.  I’ve also led coaching groups for years, and know how a group can help each other to move forward – so…

I will be leading a twice monthly Migraine Support and Coaching Group. A group of up to 12 Migraine and headache sufferers will be getting together by phone (on a secure conference line) twice a month, to exchange support, tips, ideas and encouragement, and receive coaching and training from me to improve your Migraine profile and overall well-being.  We will work with your doctor’s recommendations, finding small manageable goals you can take on that will help you make progress.  Group members will also get access to daily e-mail coaching from me and two relaxation teleclasses per month, training you to calm you nervous system and make it less vulnerable to Migraine triggers.  You will form relationships with other group members, supporting  each other in taking the actions you need to take to move forward.

Meeting face to face is wonderful, and if you have the opportunity to do that, good for you. Most people I know who have run face to face support groups find that they are hard to sustain over time. For those of us with Migraine disease and headaches, it is key to simplify our lives and cut down on stressors. Having one more thing to get out to can be difficult. You can be in the Free my Brain Migraine Support and Coaching Group from the comfort of home, on the phone.

Frankly, I can’t wait for this group experience.  Here’s what you can expect: your fellow group members will also be pursuing goals in improving their health – and you will learn from them.  Group work on relaxation exercises and developing your ability to calm your nervous systems. The supportive structure of actions to take between sessions and a partner to talk to, to keep you in motion. Your coach and the other participants cheering your results and supporting you through the challenges. A place to vent and talk about your pain and challenges with others who support you and really understand, and keep focusing you on moving forward. Come by the Migraine Support and Coaching Group page to register or learn more, or contact me with your questions. I hope you’ll join me!

- Megan

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Running on Fumes

March 14th, 2009

A while back I wrote a… um… post (rant?) about how stress is not a Migraine trigger (officially) but… why does it seem that way to us so frequently?  The International Headache Society calls stress an aggravating factor, in other words, it’s not considered a trigger, but a factor that can make us more susceptible to our triggers, perhaps lower our threshold to be triggered into a Migraine.  As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on this question.  Given that hormonal fluctuations are one of the biggest triggering factors, (such as the hormonal fluctuations that give women menstrual Migraines and increases or decreases in Migraines around menopause), and given that our bodies react to and cope with stress by release of stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine, among others), I’m betting research will eventually show that changes in stress hormone levels play a role in triggering Migraine attacks.

I’ve spoken with Teri Robert, author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches, about this topic.  Teri makes several good points – the level of stress in our lives may be largely out of our control, while individual triggers may be in our control.  Therefore if we focus on stress, we may be focusing on something we can do little about, rather than on something we can change.  And, if we blame stress we may be missing other triggers that being stressed makes us forget.  Do you sleep well, or enough, when you are stressed? Do you eat well, regularly, or enough? Do you overdo it on caffeine?

As so often happens, I had a chance recently to be my own guinea pig for these speculations.  I was given a rush project to complete over a weekend, and my world became all about getting it done.  It took me back to college, law school, and my early days as a lawyer, when a project could take over everything, and sleep, food, everything else would go on the back burner. It’s not a mode of operations I have used much in the past decade, and clearly not one that is good for me, but boy was it familiar!

On the second day of the project I woke up early after not enough sleep, my head full of the research I had to do.  I whizzed through getting my son off to school, and whatever I had to do of my morning routine, and was at my desk and deeply immersed in legal research before nine in the morning.  I was alert, turned on, and my mind was moving fast.  I was drinking more coffee than I usually do, and I noticed I had little appetite, and less tolerance for taking the time to eat, or rest.  I don’t know exactly when I noticed, but I could see it coming.  I was definitely pushing myself beyond normal endurance limits, and I could actually feel the point where the stress hormones took over.  When I was 25, I could run like that for several days without triggering a Migraine.  Now I could feel the lurking heaviness around the margins of my mind, crowding right in on the heels of my adrenaline high.  I caught myself before I lost much sleep, or skipped many meals, or propped myself up on much more caffeine than usual.  I forced myself to stop and rest, and although I couldn’t nap with all that caffeine in my system, I did lay down and do relaxation exercises, and I did manage to avoid the Migraine I felt threatening.  My hat is off to Teri for good practical advice, because if I was busy blaming the stress, I could not have attended to the triggers in this way.

I realize I’m not telling you a tale of a Migraine, but of a Migraine averted, and that’s good news. That’s actually another post, for another day, and I’ve written others on the theme – you can push those triggers back at times, and stopping and relaxing can do it. That’s why I offer relaxation teleclasses and recordings!  But if I hadn’t been so aware, and hadn’t had that tool; if my Migraines weren’t managed to the degree they are, I would have had a Migraine that day. In fact, I had one at the end of the project, three days later!

So, was the stress itself a trigger, one in the stack, with the lack of sleep, insufficient food, and excess caffeine? Was the stress an exacerbating factor that made me more vulnerable to the effects of the other three triggers? Or was the stress the producer of the stupidity that made me willfully expose myself to those triggers, the very things I so carefully manage my life to avoid? What do you think?

- Megan

Dashboard image courtesy of Winstonavich/Winston.

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Here we Go Again

January 25th, 2009

Another wasted day. Sound familiar? I had a Migraine Friday night, treated it promptly and lay low, did everything I should do. Yesterday I woke up better, though not 100%. A state of slight soreness in the left temple that is usually a characteristic of post-drome for me, but can be an incompletely aborted Migraine. It is sometimes hard to tell. Unfortunately these monsters do not follow a consistent pattern. I took it fairly easy yesterday. I slept enough, did some light activity, I did not do anything to overtax my brain or trigger another Migraine. Or so I thought.

The only thing I did “wrong” was to stay up later than I had planned – I was in bed asleep at 12:15, about an hour later than I should have. I wanted to watch a DVD with Danny and waited for him a little. He’s trying to get a project finished and I didn’t want to rush him. The movie was also a bit longer than I expected. Add it all up and it equals not good sleep hygiene. And I woke up this morning with another Migraine. Two in three days is far too many.

I always hesitate to complain. I know there are many of you out there with daily head pain and I am so blessed not to have to deal with that. I was talking to someone just yesterday about keeping perspective, and how when our seratonin is depleted by Migraine or depression we need to try to remind ourselves that we will not always feel this way, that this is not the only true reality. Could someone please come remind me of that today? Remind me that this, what I feel today, is not the only true reality! Remind me that a Sunday spent mainly in the confines of my bedroom, doing very little other than trying to keep this monster at bay, trying to treat it and limit it to today, is not the end of the world or of the progress I’ve been making. Remind me that although the sun is sinking on a painful day, that didn’t go according to my plans, that sun is coming up again tomorrow and I get another chance? Thanks!

- Megan

What am I doing today? I’m healing my brain.

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Hello there Migraineurs – I’m Still Here!

December 30th, 2008

Hello dear readers – I think this may be my the longest break between posts since I started blogging last January. I apologize for leaving you alone so long! I’m happy to report that the reason for my silence is not that I’ve been off having Migraine attacks – well, not many. I’ve had two since I last spoke to you on December 11th – that’s a great 3 weeks for me! Actually I have felt well, and I have had the opportunity to do quite a bit more paid work, which made me quite busy, and which makes our family budget very happy! And then, of course, it has been the holiday season, and even with a toned-down, taking-it-easy and not-over-doing-it kind of holiday season, I’ve been busy with that!

It’s appropriate that my last post was about balance. Remember that see-saw. Balance is always about adjusting – it shifts, and shifts again. I’m in the middle of a big shift right now. I’m finding that I have more energy to work during the day, and more energy to be with my family and friends, and care for my home, than I have had for a long time. Where’s the energy coming from? I think the Topamax is working well for me. I think the relaxation practice is working well for me, and leading some of you in relaxation sessions has reinforced my own relaxation. I also think that adding CoEnzyme Q-10 to my supplement list has helped a lot. Just having fewer Migraines makes a world of difference. I didn’t even know how much constant low level head pain I was living with – until most of it went away over the past few months.

The other side of the see-saw is that I need to still find the time for this blog, for the writing and creating that is important to me, for staying connected with the Migraine community that sustains me. I need the reminder that I am not, will never be, and don’t need to be, Superwoman, and that I still need plenty of rest and down time.

I love this week between Christmas and New Year’s when things are quiet and slow. Yes, there are celebrations and parties, and yes we’ve been to some of them. Some people go away on vacation, and though we went visiting over the weekend, for the most part we are staying put. I catch up on all sorts of paperwork, get my files in order, straighten up. For some reason the tasks I put off and hate the thought of all year become very satisfying to get finished. It’s interesting to me that this year I really get a chance for a kind of a fresh start, with a new level of control over my Migraines, with new work to do, with my desk clear and files in order to make room for new things. Then whatever those new things turn out to be, they will have to be worked into the balance. The balance will shift.

Thanks to all of you for being on this journey with me this year – it has been one of great learning and growth for me, I hope it has for you too. If I don’t talk to you again in 2008 (25 hours of it to go!) I wish you a happy and healthy new year!

- Megan

Christmas see-saw image courtesy of Tomeppy.

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We Can’t Avoid Every Migraine

November 19th, 2008

This may seem obvious, but it’s something I need to remind myself of from time to time. We can’t avoid every Migraine. The job before us in managing life with Migraine disease is to avoid as many as we can, through avoiding triggers, getting rest, exercise, nourishment, drinking enough water, living a healthy life, through relaxing and calming our nervous systems, through getting the best medical treatment we can, appropriate use of medications, using other therapies to help us maintain ourselves, balancing our energy and our work-load, getting support, getting to know our own bodies and our own reactions… are you breathless yet? Yes, we do all of that, and it is a big job, and most of us can have a huge impact on the number and severity of Migraine attacks that we get. But we can’t avoid every Migraine.

I didn’t avoid the one that hit me last night. Sometimes you can see them coming, you can see the set up as it is happening, like in a movie where you start yelling at the heroine, “No, don’t open that door, don’t do it!” but she does it anyway. Here’s what happened to me: I missed a dose of my preventive medication; I had several days of anxiety over current financial uncertainties; I slept badly for two nights; I got my period; something upset me and I cried; I had a fun and exciting radio interview which I enjoyed very much; I began feeling some head pain and didn’t take an abortive right away because I needed to drive my kids to some appointments.

Chances are that even with the large stack of triggers I was dealing with, if I had taken my triptan and laid down at the first sign of pain, I probably would have minimized the Migraine, if not eliminated it altogether. In a perfect world, my husband wouldn’t have had an important commitment I didn’t want him to miss, and could have driven the kids. Hell, in a perfect world, we’d have safe available public transportation! No, wait a second, in a perfect world we’d have the public transportation and I wouldn’t have the Migraine!

Instead, I took Adam to his drum lesson, then we went to the library until it was time to get Rachel from her rehearsal, then we sat outside the High School for 45 minutes until she was let out from the rehearsal. I should have let her drive home but the effort of climbing out of the driver’s seat and into another was too much to face. By the time I got home I could only climb upstairs, vomit, give myself an Imitrex injection, and lie down. I couldn’t find my ice packs. The pain was so intense that even shifting position in bed made my head pound. All I could do was lie perfectly still with my bean-bag eye mask, do my relaxation breathing, and wait for the pain to ease. After a couple of hours it let up enough that I could sleep. It’s still with me today, though much less intense. I think if I keep very quiet it will leave today.

I am lucky that I don’t get a Migraine that bad very often. Not more than once every month or two. Most often I am able to treat the Migraines I get right away; most of them do not progress to that kind of excruciating pain. Life happens, though. We don’t live in a perfect world. We have a disease; we do the best we can. I have been going about a week between Migraines, which is great progress. I’m grateful. I hope you are doing well too.

- Megan

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Relaxation for Migraineurs – A Cool Breeze Blowing Through your Brain

November 13th, 2008

BREESE – Breathe RElax Easy SmilE

(Yes, I know that’s not the right way to spell breeze.) I use the analogy of a breeze to learn to relax and disengage mental and emotional energy. In his book Breaking the Headache Cycle, neurologist Ian Livingstone, M.D. explains how our nervous systems need both a reasonable amount of stress, building the tone of the nervous system and keeping us growing, and a reasonable amount of relaxation, allowing the nervous system to rest and recover, and calm down.

Migraineurs are not necessarily more keyed up or more stressed than others (despite lingering myths about a “Migraine personality”), but our nervous systems are more sensitive to stimuli, and the higher our stress load, the lower our resistance to Migraine triggers. Dr. Livingstone cites research showing that Migraine frequency and severity can be reduced an average of 40% through regular practice of relaxation. A study at the University of Rajasthan, India, found that “Three months of intensive yoga practice—one hour, five days per week—curbs frequency and intensity of migraines by 70 percent,” according to Liz Somes in Psychology Today.

Imagine a soft gentle breeze blowing through our minds and bodies, carrying our stress away. We can generate the breeze through:

Breathe – We rarely breathe fully, but to breathe fully induces relaxation. In particular, we hold our inspiration and do not breathe out fully. One deep breathing practice is to breathe in deeply, to a count of three, and then breathe out completely, to a count of five.


Shortly after I started working with Dr. Livingstone I took on breathing like this for 10 – 15 minutes a day, and also any time I noticed myself getting anxious, tense or upset. Later that month I was driving to the airport for a business trip, cutting it rather close for my departure time, a situation which makes me very agitated. I noticed my stress level rising and the tension increasing in my hands, arms, shoulders, and neck. A few minutes later I had a tell-tale pinpoint of pain over my right temple. I began the 3 in – 5 out breathing practice and felt myself calming down. By the time I got to the airport half an hour later my head pain was gone.


RElax – Relaxation is a completely different state for our nervous systems than excitation. We need both states to be healthy. But many of us do not consciously and deliberately relax very often. Relaxation can occur in sleep, in meditation or visualization, in enjoyable conversation with a friend or loved one, in exercise or sexual activity, in reading or listening to music. Some of the activities we think of as relaxing – some computer or video games, for instance, actually excite us and raise our stress levels. I took on a daily practice of spending 15 minutes doing deep breathing, meditation and visualizations. Within a couple of months my migraine frequency was cut in half. When I stopped doing it regularly, within a couple of months the migraines had inched back up again.

Easy – give it up, let go, don’t worry! Stress and anxiety are real, physiological states. But they are also occurring in our minds, where we can notice them. I have taken on a practice of detachment with love, creative disengagement, stepping down. This becomes easier with a regular practice of meditation, where I can notice the things I need to let go of and picture myself dropping them.

SmilE – cultivate gratitude, humor and joy. This doesn’t mean you can’t gripe and vent when needed – but keep a commitment to do it in order to clear the bad stuff and regain your own optimism. Without gratitude, humor and joy, life is not worth living. When we smile it actually affects us physiologically, emotionally and mentally. Maybe you don’t want to smile – but try it anyway. You may say, “Megan, this just the power of positive thinking!” I won’t argue with you, but I will suggest that most of us spend most of our time submitting to the power of negative thinking! So try this for a change. Watch, read or listen to a gentle comedy. Look at something beautiful. Talk to someone you love. Play with a child. Find something to smile about.

If you practice generating the breeze, you can calm your system and reduce your Migraines. If you want to make it easier to practice, join us for the initial Free my Brain relaxation teleclasses. I will be leading a group in learning and practicing yoga breathing and full body relaxation, and guided visualization, in two 35 minute teleclasses, coming up on December 1st and 4th. Click here to read more or to register for the BREESE teleclasses.

- Megan Oltman

Grass in the breeze image courtesy of Andrew Storms.

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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

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)

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