February 19th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Curing (or at least improving) my migraines

Much as I suggested in my last post that the internet has ruined the word brave–it used to mean fighting in a war but now it just means talking about sex–so too has the word “obsess” come on hard times. My beloved Canadian Oxford defines it as “[to] preoccupy; haunt; fill the mind of a person continually” but when someone says (as it seems they say all too often these days) “I’m totally obsessed with that nail polish/salad/tv show” they do not think of their obsession constantly. Rather, they experienced it a few times, liked it, wish to experience it again. I don’t know how obsession came to mean generic positive feelings.

In this little series, I mainly mean “obsessions” in the modern, watered-down way, but with a little edge of my own neurotic tendencies. It’s not an exaggeration to say I look at my Fitbit multiple times per hour for a total of dozens of times per day. And not this week but last, I probably listened to about 10 hours of Tig Notaro recordings.

The migraine thing is less fun and more haunting–I think about it a lot because the pain factor forces me to. There was a period last fall when I started wondering if I was destined to become one of those chronically ill people, pale and sweatshirted and worried all my friends think I’m lazy because I look fine?

I’m feeling better now but even a few days of feeling that bad scared me a lot, and I’m gotten way more serious about migraine prevention and treatment. No more letting things slide, no more organic-hearted avoidance of scary pills. Into the medical-industrial complex I go!

I’ve been here before. I’ve had migraines since I was a child–my mom and borther do too, my brother’s far worse than mine. When he was a little little kid he would just sob, that’s how bad they were. We all took some fairly strong prescription painkillers during that period, and they worked quite well. Then in my early twenties I lost some weight and the prescription I was on started being too strong for me–it made me high. I got freaked out that I was taking such a serious med and I went back to plain old Tylenol.

It’s a bad medical precedent but that actually worked for about 10 years. Things started getting worst after my jaw surgery, after I went on other prescription meds, and I think honestly with age or who even knows? Migraines are very mysterious. Until the nadir (well, I hope it was the nadir) last fall.

Migraines are weird in that, unlike most medical conditions, pain is the disease itself, not the symptom. Like, if you have a crushing pain in your chest, as bad as a migraine but in a different location, that pain is a signal to you to get to a doctor immediately or that pain will likely do you permanent damage or kill you. However, with a migraine, as far as I understand it (not positive how well that is…?) there’s no real possibility of permanent damage. Once a migraine’s over, it’s over–the pain abates, and you’re as fine as you ever were. There’s no reason to seek medical treatment except because the pain is unpleasant. It’s not actually doing anything to you.

Isn’t that weird? And random? And frustrating–because if the pain isn’t because of something else, there’s nothing to fix, exactly. Migraine treatment, as far as I can tell, can only work in two ways 1) trigger avoidance and 2) pain management. Either you don’t get a migraine, or you find a way to cope with it until it goes away.

Anyway, in the past year or two, here is what I’ve done to improve the migraine situation–mainly in category one. Please note that this is not advice–migraine triggers are different for everyone and I have some extra issues with my jaw, and lack certain others (I don’t drink).

  • almost (not quite) eliminated caffeine from diet
  • almost (not quite) eliminated aspartame from diet
  • eliminated gum (except on airplanes) (all three of those can be a trigger for me)
  •  eaten protein every morning for breakfast (apparently lack of protein can be a trigger)
  • taken large doses of B2 twice a day (I admit, I forget what that actually does, but a neurologist told me to do it)
  • made an effort to improve sleep–not just amount but steadiness. My terrible habit of waking up multiple times a night for no real reason is a potential trigger. To this end, I’ve been taking big doses of magnesium citrate at bed time to help me sleep more soundly and trying to avoid naps (but I love naps!)
  • bought a new shower curtain and had the gap behind my bathtub faucet filled (apparently mildew and mould that accumulates in damp recesses in bathrooms can be a trigger)
  • made a bigger effort to take some medication at the earliest sign of headache. I was trying to tough out milder headaches, which worked for years, but recently they just got worse until it was too bad for the medication to be effective. Now I’m trying to be proactive, though I do find the sheer number of pills I’ve been taking alarming.
  • taking whatever the doctor prescribes. No more over-the-counter stuff for me, sadly. I have an “everyday” bottle of painkillers, and another one for true catastrophic headaches. I had a different catastrophy prescription, but the only time I took it I feel asleep almost immediately. The neurologist told me if I was reacting so strongly to a “baby dose” I needed something else, so now I have a new, as-yet-untried prescription. We’ll see.

And that’s it–all I’ve thought of to do so far. The neurologist I see is really smart, but I think I might be in the least worst shape of any of her patients, so she doesn’t always have a lot of time for me. Ok, never. I’ve had a good few months recently, but I’m still very nervous. Migraines are such an inexact science, and within reason I’m will to experiment to see if I can feel better. So if you have any suggestions to feed by obsession, please do comment–I would love to expand my defenses…

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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