Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Tape a banana peel to your forehead and call me in the morning.

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Have you ever gone to bed in a dark room for a couple days? Wanted to pull out all your teeth? Had visions of cutting a block out of the side of your own skull? Ever sat at your desk holding your fist firmly against one eyebrow? If you’ve had a migraine, chances are you’ve done at least one of these things or something similar.

When I was younger and had more frequent migraines, there were days I would sit and think about the pressure relief I could get if I could just cut a block out of my skull. It just seemed that if I could make a little more room for my brain, the pain would stop. I wasn’t willing to go to that extreme to get rid of a migraine, but I did some kooky stuff.

If you have migraines, you understand the pain I’m talking about. If you have been fortunate enough to never have migraines, it’s likely you know someone who does, and the pain is real. It’s something you can never understand if you haven’t experienced it, but you can empathize.

I started getting migraines when I was 22 years old. I still remember my first one. I was visiting a friend when suddenly one side of my head HURT. I told my friend I needed to go home and drove myself the 25 minutes to my house. FIRST, do not do that. *If you are experiencing the worst headache you’ve ever experienced, call your doctor or go to the ER. It can be a sign of something very serious.*

When I was a little girl, my mother had migraines but called them “sick headaches,” an accurate description since they do make the sufferer feel sick. Medication options were limited. I’m sure there were doctors who prescribed valium or “tranquilizers,” as people called them back then, but she had children to take care of, so she was afraid to take anything that might impair her ability to do that. Even when I was 22, options were limited. I suffered for eight years before getting a medication that worked.

banana-peel-1329335-639x406In those eight years, I would try anything anyone suggested. Over-the -counter pain relievers? Check. Tape a banana peel to my forehead? Check. Put my feet in a warm bath while icing my head? Check. Ice pack on my wrists/neck? Check. Drink warm water with cayenne pepper? Check. Acupuncture? Check. Magnesium and riboflavin supplements? Check.

Some of these things might have helped a little, but as soon as I pulled the tape off that banana peel, I felt worse. (That’s a joke; the banana peel didn’t help at all, but I did try it.)

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When I turned 30, I went to a new doctor who prescribed a relatively new drug, a vasoconstrictor. My life changed. As soon as I felt a migraine coming on, I would take a tablet, and it worked…for a while. After that, there were other meds that worked, but I seemed to build up a resistance to them. Eventually, I did find one that has continued to work for me (knock wood).

One thing that helped me along the way was to figure out what triggered my migraines. Of course, lots of them were hormonal. However, some were triggered by things I could control: alcohol, sun glare, flashing lights, loud music, sudden noises, sugar, sourdough bread, caffeine, lack of caffeine, fumes, wine, lack of sleep, hunger, MSG, Aspartame…it’s crazy. Others were triggered by weather. Barometric pressure change? Migraine. (You can check the migraine index on accuweather.com for virtually any city.) The first trimester of pregnancy was the worst with migraines, because they were terrible, and I couldn’t take medication for them. (Miraculously, after the first trimester, I didn’t have any more migraines during pregnancy.) It’s important for you to isolate what triggers your migraines, but it’s not always easy. Keep a food/migraine diary for 30 days and see if you can find some links.

For me, making a few small changes helped. I started wearing sunglasses anytime I stepped outdoors in sunlight, decreasing the risk of glare. When I go to a restaurant, I never face the window; I can’t risk the glare. Instead of bourbon (my favorite), I started drinking vodka, because I didn’t get migraines when I drank it instead (I generally have only one or two alcoholic beverages a week, tops.) I would drink Prosecco instead of Champagne or wine, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m able to drink those too.

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Something that seemed to make a big change in the frequency of migraines was spinach. Who knew? I added more spinach to my diet, and within a month, I noticed fewer migraines! But it’s not just spinach; any green vegetable seems to help, so I try to eat as much broccoli and spinach as I can.

As for the hormonal migraines, my doctor prescribed birth control pills and suggested I skip the placebos and go right into the next active pills. I’m not saying this would work for everyone, but it did decrease the frequency of my migraines tremendously. ***ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR…I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL***

If you suffer with migraines, you will need to find your own triggers, but you might find some of my triggers are the same as yours.

Interestingly, lack of caffeine and too much caffeine are both triggers for me, but moderate caffeine can actually help. If I feel a migraine coming on, I take my medicine and follow it with a little caffeine in the form of a small cup of coffee or tea. A moderate amount of caffeine seems to make the medication work a little more quickly for me.

I still get the occasional migraine, but now that I’m 50, they are much less frequent (knock wood), so look to the future! My mother and my doctors had always told me they would likely decrease in frequency and severity as I got older, and they were right. So, there are some benefits to getting older. Actually, there are lots of benefits to getting older, but that’s another post.

If your friends or family members suffer from migraines, please remember, their pain is real. If you are the one suffering, I’m sorry. I truly feel your pain. I’ve spent days in bed in   the dark. I’ve never loved to hear other people are suffering, but it was always comforting to know other people understood what I was feeling. I have a friends who suffer from migraines as well, so it’s a common topic of conversation. Talk with your doctor about your pain.

In the meantime, tape a banana peel to your forehead and call me in the morning.

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