Posts Tagged ‘Migraine triggers’

Becoming Trigger-Resistant

October 18th, 2010

I am very fortunate to have my Migraine days down to 3-5 a month now, and most of the Migraines are relatively mild and abort quickly. One thing I notice is that individual Migraine triggers are not so much of an issue, but a whole stack of them will still prompt a Migraine. For instance I can get by for a couple of days with not quite enough sleep, smell some perfume (or more often the bane of my existence, the heavy sweet Axe many of my son’s friends like to wear – Uggh!), be around some smoke, be in a crowded room, and I may get some little twinges that tell me to back down and do some breathing exercises, but they don’t develop into a Migraine. Then say all those things are present and a meal is delayed and my blood sugar gets low, and whammo!

I’m up to 30 hours a week of work at the law firm now, so there’s less flexibility for missing time. My boss is very understanding and lets me build my schedule the way I want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the flow of work. But if I miss a day or half a day because of a Migraine, I can only make up the time by working longer hours another day, and a day longer than 7 hours (6 working and 1 for lunch) takes a lot out of me. Not that a long day will necessarily trigger a Migraine, but sometimes it does if it’s a rushed or stressful one. Usually the effects are less direct – a long day sitting up at my desk typing will trigger a fibromyalgia flare, and if I don’t manage some rest time to help the flare pass, it’s common to get a Migraine on the tail of the fibro flare.

I know I’ve been talking to you all for quite a while about relaxation exercises and breathing, and I use them nearly every day. They have certainly helped my transition back to near-full-time work. As valuable as they are though, I wouldn’t be where I am now without a good combination of Migraine preventives. Nortriptyline not only reduced my Migraines it greatly reduced my anxiety level and helped me sleep like a log most nights. Then lisinopril lowered my blood pressure and continued the job of reducing the Migraines.

I feel like I’m coming back to life! We have been out socializing nearly every weekend, and I’ve been getting walks in nearly every day again. Right now fibro is more of a problem than the Migraines. I’m finding it tricky to learn how to manage.

- Megan Oltman

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Surviving the Perfect Storm

May 15th, 2010

My Migraine triggers generally include: lack of sleep; sleep at irregular hours; missing meals or going too long without eating (low blood sugar); working hard when tired (over-exertion, let-down after stress); hormonal fluctuations; electrical storms and barometric pressure changes; loud noises; crowds; smoke; crying; change of altitude.  Last night I sat through a perfect storm of triggers without actually getting a Migraine. Every trigger but the last three were present.

It went like this: I went to my Friday morning BNI meeting, which involves getting up at 6. That wouldn’t be too bad if I managed to get to sleep by 10 or so, but I never do. I go to sleep between 11 and 11:30 most nights and I have a very hard time cutting my evening shorter. Ideally I would go to bed and get up at the same time every day; it would be best for Migraine prevention and make those Fridays easy to bear. But I live in a household of night-owls and I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to having a completely different schedule from the rest of my family. Besides, most of my favorite tv shows are on from 10 – 11! So I got up and got going on less than 7 hours of sleep.

I worked hard all day, working with an intensive focus towards a deadline. It was a warm muggy day with thunderstorms in the forecast, and the building storm was palpable in the air. Then at the end of the working day I attended a charitable event that I was invited to by a friend. It was really a lovely event, a tour of a designer show-house and a dinner in a tent in the back with a couple of presentations, then arias by a couple of opera singers, and finally they held an auction.

I didn’t make it that long though. The thunderstorms broke while we were touring the house, and it was still raining when we went out to the tent. One of the sponsors of the event was a local appliance store, and one of the presentations was on outdoor kitchens. So they got a great local chef to cook a meal (for at least 100 people) on a huge outdoor grill that was being auctioned off. All a very nice concept, but apparently no one had really thought through how long it would take to grill several courses for 100 or more people. They began serving wine before the presentations started; an hour or more later they passed around some little cubes of grilled bread. The next course, grilled vegetables, came out more than half an hour later. then some grilled seafood at least a half hour after that. Each course was served on large platters to be passed around and shared. Each course gave each of us enough to tantalize but not enough to keep us from being hungry.

All the while there were presentations going on, and a lot of hungry people were drinking more and more wine, talking and laughing louder and louder, halfway drowning out the presentations. Then the opera portion started, and while the singing was excellent, I was right up front and the acoustics of loud operatic singing under a tent with thick humid air all around were overwhelming. Not to mention that people had had quite a bit to drink by that time and were not sitting quietly listening to the music. The competing sounds battered at my ear-drums. The smells from the grill wafted over for hours without any food following for a very long time. After the seafood course we sat even longer without food. I felt increasingly jittery from low blood sugar, worn from lack of sleep and a long hard day, battered by the noise, closed in by the crowd, pressed on by the humidity, shaken by the storms, confused by the multiple inputs and noise, distressed by wanting to be a good guest and not feeling up to it. I had many warning twinges in my temples and felt sure a Migraine was on the way.

My dear and very perceptive friend Izzy could tell something was going on and asked me. I shared with him what was going on in my internal world. He went to the kitchen and told them I needed food right away for a medical condition. He came back with some very rare meat which I ate most of and shared some of with a few of my neighbors. I felt bad because I knew everyone was hungry. I stayed until some more meat came out, which was quite a while later. I had a little and then left to go home. I was able to drive myself home, got in and ate yogurt and cereal with milk, some quick protein and calories. Then I collapsed.

The fact that I didn’t get a Migraine is pretty amazing. My nortriptyline, and my supplements, and my regular eating, and all the sleep I generally get (except on Thursday nights), and my regular walking, and my relaxation exercises, and all the other things I am doing to regulate my system… these are obviously paying off! A year ago I am sure that just the lack of sleep and a few hours of intensive work would have given me a Migraine – I wouldn’t even have made it to the evening event.

On the other hand, I had an exhausted night of very poor sleep, and today I am having a major fibromyalgia flare-up. My everything hurts today. My head is only a little tender, though, no pounding, no intense pain there. That’s still a victory!

- Megan Oltman

Approaching Storm image courtesy of Stephan Mantler.

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Hormones, Migraines and Menopause

February 14th, 2010

Migraines happen when those of us with excitable nervous systems – nervous systems prone to Migraine – experience a change in our external or internal environment that triggers the Migraine process. This doesn’t explain what causes Migraine, or why some of us have nervous systems that react like this. It just describes the process. Hormonal fluctuations are one of the internal changes that can trigger a Migraine. Migraines are not “caused” by hormonal fluctuations, but hormones can be a big factor for many Migraine sufferers. One theory about why more Migraine sufferers are female, by a proportion of 3 to 1, is that the fluctuations of our hormonal cycles make us more susceptible. Interestingly, up to puberty the numbers of male and female Migraine sufferers are more even; many more girls join the ranks with the onset of puberty.

It’s hard to generalize with this disease; people are triggered by so many different things. Some women don’t notice any particular effect of hormones on their Migraines, others seem to be only triggered by hormones, and for some hormones are one of a host of possible triggers.  That said, it is common for women to experience an increase in Migraines during peri-menopause, the period of years leading up to menopause when their hormonal levels are changing, and often beginning to drop off.

I had a sharp increase in Migraines, as well as onset of fibromyalgia, and increase in IBS as I moved into peri-menopause. I have found a bio-identical, bio-mimetic hormone replacement therapy which I believe has helped my overall health quite a bit. I started the program about 4 years ago. It has not had a noticeable effect on the number of my Migraines but has definitely decreased their severity. It has given me more energy and stamina overall, which has helped keep the fibromyalgia fairly mild, I believe. It also did away completely with many symptoms of menopause that were troubling me – hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, insomnia, vaginal dryness. The program I use is known as The Wiley Protocol.

T.S. Wiley is a cancer researcher who hit on this method of replacing hormones in a pattern that mimics the hormonal patterns of a normal menstrual cycle. Her book, Sex, Lies and Menopause explains in great detail the effects of hormones on our bodies, on aging, and how she developed her protocol.

As I understand it, pharmaceutical HRT (hormone replacement therapy) chemically creates molecules which are similar to, but not identical to, the hormones our bodies produce. If the pharma companies are not inventing a new substance, they can’t patent it or make much money from it, so you don’t find these hormones advertised widely. Bio-identical HRT chemically synthesizes the exact same molecule our bodies produce, so that when we use it our bodies treat it as if we had produced it ourselves. Bio-identical HRT is made by compounding pharmacists. There are many producers of bio-identical HRT, some of them prescribe a constant level of the hormones to be used all the time. The drastic side-effects and health complications that come with pharmaceutical HRT are caused, Wiley says, by the fact that these are not molecules our bodies recognize, as well as by the fact that the hormones are dosed at a constant level which is not normal for our bodies. Bio-identical HRT can also cause problems when dosed at a constant level.

What is different about Wiley’s program is that the hormones are not just bio-identical, they are “bio-mimetic.” Wiley invented a method of dosing the hormones so they mimic the menstrual cycle of a healthy 20 year-old woman. The theory is to recreate a time when we are biologically at our healthiest, and giving our bodies the ebb and flow that is normal for them. Some women have bad Migraines when they are younger, and bad menstrual Migraines throughout their lives. I don’t know if the Wiley protocol would help them with their Migraines. But if the Migraines began or drastically increased in menopause or peri-menopause, it makes sense to me to replace the hormone levels of a time when you didn’t have the Migraines! The drawback, I suppose, is that as long as you are on the protocol you will menstruate. There are women in their 80’s on it, getting periods. But I have found that my periods on the protocol are very regular and fairly painless. The horrid PMS and menstrual Migraines I got in my peri-menopause years are gone, as are the terrible cramps I had, both when I was young and again in recent years.

Wiley does suggest that Migraines can be treated by spreading the hormones more evenly throughout the day, instead of just in the usual morning and evening doses. I have not tried this – it makes a certain degree of sense, in evening out any hormonal fluctuations during the day. Hormones do not seem to be the only thing that triggers my Migraines, though.  If you read Wiley’s book or visit the site you might get the impression that the protocol is a panacea for all problems of aging. I don’t know if I buy into it that far, and as I said it has not been a complete solution for my Migraines. It has definitely made a big difference for me, though, and you may want to investigate it as a useful component of your toolkit.

- Megan

Neither T.S. Wiley nor the Wiley Protocol has given me any payment for reviewing these products. If you click on the link to the book and buy it from Amazon, however, I will receive a small referral fee.

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Staying out of the Spotlight

July 22nd, 2009

It’s very uncomfortable to suddenly have one’s vulnerabilities become center stage. I had an odd experience this week. I haven’t met many Migraineurs yet who actually want their illness to be center stage. We want to be understood, we want support and empathy and help where we need it, but not generally to be fussed over and be the center of attention because of our disease. At least, that’s my impression of the many many Migraineurs I have met! Do you agree?

A few nights ago I had a parents’ meeting to attend for a program my kids are involved in.  I’m currently on vacation in a conference center, and the space found for the parents’ meeting was the stage of the auditorium, where they had set up a circle of chairs and turned on all the stage lights.  I stepped onto the stage and in every direction there was a spotlight pointed straight into my eyes. I edged my way around for a bit, trying to find some safe angle, but the lights were just everywhere. As often happens in the face of a trigger like that, I got disoriented. I couldn’t figure out whether to stay or go. I can’t imagine what I must have looked like, staggering around the stage. My husband was there and he kind of guided me to a chair, and sat on the floor in front of me.  I bent my head down onto his back, threw the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and eyes and asked if they could turn the lights down. Someone said they were trying to dim the lights.

Now at this point my face was hidden in my husband’s back, I felt dizzy and disoriented, and I didn’t know if my voice was loud or muffled.  I was worrying about how strange I looked. The woman next to me said something sympathetic and handed me a booklet to further shade my eyes. I thanked her and said, “I’m sorry to seem so dramatic, but those lights will trigger me into a Migraine in no time flat.”

Apparently it wasn’t easy to dim the lights because the meeting started with them still on. My kind neighbor called out, “turn out those lights, we have someone with Migraine problems here!” Several people made suggestions about where else I should sit, and I answered, without picking up my head, “No, then the lights from over there are in my eyes.” My voice sounded whiny and desperate to me.  So, they turned out the lights.

This story is not about other people not understanding. I don’t know whether the people in that meeting understood or not. Whether they understoood or not, they were very caring and responsive. The whole meeting sat in the dusk so that I would not have lights in my eyes. This story is about how mortified I felt to have my vulnerability, my weakness, my Achilles heel, my Kryptonite, right up there, center stage, under the spotlights, for everyone to see.

I worried what everyone thought. Did they think I was being dramatic? Were some of the other people there sitting in judgment, annoyed at sitting in the dark, wishing I would just go away? Did I sound as whiny to others as I felt to myself?

Interestingly, I had a chance to talk about the meeting with one of the other parents the next day (it was a very good meeting, by the way), and I made some comment about having made everyone sit in the dark. She looked confused, and then said, “Oh, was it you with the hood over your head?” So obviously, I was not remembered for that! I guess I won’t go down in history here as the drama queen who made them sit in the dark because I SAID the lights would give me a Migraine!

But tell me, why is it so hard to let people see I am less than perfect?

- Megan

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Keeping the Faith

May 18th, 2009

I haven’t posted in a bit and I find myself feeling a little guilty about it.  The past few weeks have been busy, but that’s not unusual, and they have contained several Migraines, but that’s not unusual either.  My life is more complex than I like.  If I was my own coaching client I might advise myself to simplify.  Since I can’t get outside my own head sufficiently I don’t know what I would suggest cutting out.  The fact is that times are tough economically, and my family is not exempt from that, and I have several businesses to keep up with, a family, a house, and several chronic illnesses, and it’s a lot.

I do know, though, what works.  I know I need enough sleep, though when I feel like I didn’t really have any fun time all day, it’s hard to put down my novel or turn off the tv, or tell my darling daughter (who is 18 and likes to talk late in the evening) I need to go to bed.  I know I need a walk or some exercise in the morning, though when I haven’t slept well it feels like I need the extra bit of sleep more, and when work awaits it’s hard to remember that I will focus better and have a better attitude if I exercise first.  I know I sometimes need a nap after lunch if I want to avoid a Migraine or fatigue.  I know there’s no point in sitting at my desk trying to force myself to focus if my brain won’t do it – a break: a brief walk, a brief snooze, a ten minute clean-up in the house or office, any of these will refresh me and help me return my focus, and time spent trying to force myself is time wasted.  I know at 5:30 I need to leave my desk and focus on my home and family.

I have to confess, though, that knowledge is not the same as action.  I know all these things, but I don’t always do all these things, especially in the face of my anxiety – over finance, over my illnesses, over my daughter leaving home in 4 months, you name it.  Doing the right thing, when I don’t feel like it.  Now that takes faith.

Some days we get up, and we have no energy.  Saturday was like that for me; weather triggers have become much more prominent for me this year and thunderstorms were threatening all day on Saturday.  I felt oppressed – I was in Migraine pro-drome all day.  And so (with some encouragement from my wise husband) I went for a walk.  I did not want to go for a walk.  I wanted to crawl under a rock.  The exercise helped to restore my perspective, raise my endorphin level, and give me the energy I needed to enjoy the day. Going for that walk was an act of faith.

Keep the faith! What do you need to do to keep yourself on track, even when you don’t feel like it?

- Megan

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Sneezebushes and Sneezetrees

April 18th, 2009

Other people do not consult me about their landscaping.  That is one of the unfortunate facts of my life.  This is a spirea bush.  A most attractive shrub.  When it is blooming it has a lovely little cluster of white or purple flowers, like this:

They are very attractive.  The purple ones bloom from spring to fall and have very little smell.  The white ones bloom in spring and have an acrid smell that makes the inside of my nose tingle, and make me sneeze up a storm. I call them Sneezebushes.  I am allergic to them.  When I breathe their pollens for an extended period, I tend to get a Migraine.  Interestingly, Landscape America tells us

“Aspirin is the generic medical name for the chemical acetylsalicylic acid, a derivative of salicylic acid.  Compounds of salicylic acid are found in some plants, notably white willow and meadowsweet (Spirea ulmaria).  Acetyl- and spirea which inspired the name aspirin.”

I am anaphylactically allergic to drugs in the aspirin family! Coincidence? Hmmm…

Then there is the Bradford Pear. It is a lovely blooming, non-fruiting pear tree, much favored for landscaping along shopping streets.  Here is Witherspoon Street in Princeton, NJ, completely lined with Sneezetrees, oh I’m sorry, I mean Bradford Pears…  I don’t know if they are in any way related to spirea.  Spirea are in rose family and so are pear trees, but I am not allergic to roses or other blooming fruit trees.  The smell is similar, and the effect on me is the same, an acrid sensation in my nostrils, sneezing, and Migraine.

My neighbors across the street put in three lovely little Bradford pears in their front yard last spring. When we open the front door on a nice April Saturday like today our house fills with the scents.  Achoo! Ow! Achoo! Ow!  Me lying down with the Imitrex and the Benadryl, hoping to be on my feet later…  Well, the blooms will fall in a week or two, right?

- Megan

Spirea image courtesy of Di the Huntress; Single Bradford pear image courtesy of Deep Valley Tree Farm

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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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Creating a Migraine-Friendly Home Environment

March 6th, 2009

When I was a kid one of the games my brother and sister and I used to love to play on a Saturday was the Farm Game. It involved the Encyclopedia, and a pad and pen. We designed an imaginary farm for the three of us to live on and run, and we would draw it and plan it, and use the Encyclopedia to select our location and all our animals and plants.  I’m sure the farms we created would have been impossible to run, with animals that wouldn’t get along, and plant species that wouldn’t grow wherever it was that we were going to be. But it kept us busy for hours, and we loved it.

Creating the Migraine-friendly home enviroment is a little like that. I could spend hours, and use home design and architecture magazines, catalogs, the web, and a lot of imagination. I could spend bottomless amounts of money I don’t have, to create this environment, have a great time doing it, and I don’t know how practical it would be at the end. But what I’ll try to do here, instead, is mix fantasy and reality, pie in the sky with down to earth, and see if we can come up with some things you can actually use.

Starting outside, the Migraine-friendly home should be well-shaded, with deep covered porches and pollen-free trees.  Migraineurs need fresh air and good circulation, but have trouble with extreme heat and bright sun, and often get triggered in high-pollen season.  So let’s make it possible to get outside even with a Migraine, and to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air.

Inside, lighting is very important.  If you can choose lighting fixtures, great. I discovered the hard way that “high-hat” spot-lights are terrible for me, bright lighting coming down into the top of my eyes is about the worst from a triggering standpoint.  Torchiere type lights, which point the light upwards and spread it gently on the ceiling, illuminate the room more indirectly and can give plenty of light without glare.  Many Migraineurs find that fluorescents, even compact fluorescents, trigger them. Good old-fashioned shaded incandescent lamps can be good. We just recently got some of the brand new soft-white LED lights, which we have put in the “high-hat” sockets, and they are terrific.  Non-flickering, soft illumination, but plenty of it. For the first time, I can have light coming down from above that doesn’t trigger me! They are very good for the environment, too.

Having a quiet place to escape to is key. Lots of my Migraineur friends spend time on the couch, for me it’s my bed. I have 2 kids and a husband who like lots of music and tvs on and I need a place where I can control the light, sound and stimulation level. If you could really set it all up beforehand like the Farm Game you would choose yourself a quiet partner and quiet kids, but I wouldn’t trade the ones I have. I just have to buffer them at times.

Ideally, the Migraine-Friendly home environment would be tidy enough that the Migraineur was not tripping over stuff all the time, without the Migraineur having to be the one to tidy it up all the time. This also falls into the realm of the Farm Game – the ideal Migraine-friendly home environment comes with enough money to hire someone to do the house-keeping. Either that or choose your spouse based on their neatness and housekeeping abilities, though that may not be the best reason to choose your life companion.

Don’t forget to keep what you need for comfort on hand, whether it’s pillows, blankets, eye-shades, ice-packs, comedy DVDs, kitties, doggies, books on tape, spouses, children, best friends, rocking chairs, ginger Altoids, Ben & Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch, you name it.  What else would you add to the design for the Migraine-friendly home?

- Megan

P.S. No, that is not a picture of my house. I wish!

Wisconsin Farm image courtesy of Randen Pederson; craftsman house image courtesy of David Sawyer.

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Holidays don’t have to Hurt your Head

December 1st, 2008

How was your Thanksgiving? We just got back from a very relaxed five day trip to my sister’s house, where the extended family descends for an annual Thanksgiving extravaganza. There are a lot of reasons to love it. My sister and brother-in-law and nephews are warm and welcoming and they pull out all the stops to accommodate everyone. Danny and I bake pies and cook some side dishes and load them in the car with ourselves, our kids and our luggage, maybe some fruit and wine, and off we go. We don’t have to clean the house (not that it couldn’t use it). We get a mini-vacation from the worries of our daily life. Their house is set up so that even with a crowd, the upstairs rooms are pretty sound-proof, so if a Migraineur needs a quiet retreat, there is one.

I am very thankful at Thanksgiving time, for the loving and accepting, funny, intelligent and interesting family I have, the fun times and wonderful food we share. I have many blessings to count. I have never managed to travel to this particular fest, however, without at least a little pang of wishing it were different. I wish I could host an event like this at my house. I wish that I could host any event of more than a handful of people for more than a few hours, without getting a Migraine. I wish that my home was orderly, organized and clean to the point that preparing for overnight guests wasn’t such a huge task.

The internet and the newspapers right now are full of articles on how to have happy holidays on a shoe-string, or how to enjoy the holidays without the stress, and I don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Over at My Migraine Connection you can read Teri Robert’s interview with Marcia Cross on Holiday Parties with Migraines. Coming up on December 8, the December Headache & Migraine Blog Carnival will be posted at Somebody Heal Me on the topic of “Maximizing Your Enjoyment of the Holiday Season,” and there will be lots of good reading on the topic, I’m sure! (If you’d like to submit a post for the carnival, the deadline is the midnight Friday, December 5th, and you can submit your post at this link at Somebody Heal Me.)

What I’m here to say is – the holidays don’t have to hurt your head. Like me, you may find there are things you have to give up. I conceded Thanksgiving to my sister years ago, since she loves doing it so much, but for most of the past 6 years we have hosted a big holiday weekend at our house around New Year’s. We won’t be doing that this year. Having that many people in my house, and that much noise, for an extended period of time, is a whole series of Migraine triggers for me. I end up missing a chunk of the celebration, I’m not much of a hostess, my family feels bad for me, and I’m in pain that often lasts days after everyone leaves.

I was surprised to find myself in tears when I told everyone we would not be hosting this year. It’s not like it was unexpected! The truth is that it is hard to give up on something we want to do. What we can do is to look below the thing itself, and see what is important to us, and how else we can express that.

When you look at your holiday season, think about what is important to you, and how you can express that without hurting your head. One holiday party may be much better than five. You may not have to wear yourself out to cook huge meals – choose one or two things that are important to you or your loved ones. The quantity of toys will mean less to your kids than the time you take to stop and play with them.

I gave up trying to be Martha Stewart years ago, but as my Migraines became more frequent I have had to give up more. So where we used to make six kinds of Christmas cookies, maybe we will make two. Where we used to have 18 people for a holiday weekend with a big dinner, we will ask a smaller group to join us for just dinner on Christmas day. Where we used to climb on the roof and hang lights, we light a few windows. In our family we have always celebrated Hannukah and Christmas, since we have a mixed background, but several years ago we became clear that our kids didn’t need gifts every night of Hannukah and under the tree and in their stockings!  We buy less, and light the candles to remember our heritage and hope in the darkness, rather than as a reason for eight more gifts.

Festivity is great fun, but it can also be addicting. Advertising tells us to do more, buy more. Many people find that however much they spend and do, they still fall short of the “perfect” holiday they imagine in their mind’s eye. As Migraineurs, we need to go easy on ourselves. Whether or not you’re hurting financially this season, you don’t need the added stress of worrying about whether you have bought or done enough. A little can go a long way. What is most important to you about the holidays? Is it time with loved ones? An expression of peace and hope? Find ways to express what is important to you, that don’t hurt your head. Remember to get regular sleep, eat regularly, avoid your Migraine triggers, and enjoy the joys of the season!


- Megan

Sliced turkey image coutesy of Roland Tanglao; advent candles image courtesy of Per Ola Wiberg; menorah image courtesy of Andrew Ratto.

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Posted in Managing, Musings, Tips & Techniques, Weblogs | Comments (3)

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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