I remember very clearly my first memory of getting a migraine. I was 11, maybe, and it was a warm summer evening. My sister and I were at the home of the family that took care of us while my mom was in school getting her teaching degree. I remember laying down on the couch, the lights being turned off, and my sister and the other kids being shoo’d out of the house to play so the noise could be limited inside. It was a sharp, throbbing pain that started toward the base of my neck, snaked through my skull, and ended just being my right eye. The pain was most intense in my right temple. As is usually the case with migraines, I became intensely sensitive to light and sound. I felt nauseous and weak. But the clearest part of this memory is that it wasn’t a scary or unfamiliar experience for me, like I’d experienced this pain before.
Now this could be the augmentation of my memory based on years of experience; because I have suffered from chronic migraines for almost 20 years, I could be subconsciously projecting that familiarity into that memory. I doubt I will ever know. Regardless of that detail, I do consider that to have been my first migraine, and I calculate my time with them based on that experience.
Every person who experiences migraines is different and unique to themselves. Yes, there are common factors, symptoms, solutions, etc., but everyone still has their own unique experience. I don’t know if I am fortunate, or just have a high pain tolerance (thanks mom), but my migraines, though excruciating, have rarely been truly debilitating. I’ve read other people’s stories and definitely felt lucky. When I get a migraine, I am rarely bed-bound. I’m not happy or fully functional by any means, but I can usually tough it out and don’t have to cancel plans or call into work. That being said, in all my years as a working adult, I rarely called in sick due to a cold or allergies. Instead, my sick days were due to migraines. I was lucky if it only required a half day, but usually it required a whole day. And usually the biggest issue was that I was too dizzy to get up, get dressed, and safely drive to work. I’ve also never been to the ER for a cocktail shot.
There is only one time in my 20 years that I have even considered going to the hospital. It was about 2 years ago and I had been in bed all morning with the worst migraine I’ve ever experience. I had taken multiple pain pills throughout the morning but nothing was working. I was in so much pain I couldn’t lay still; No position was comfortable. I finally sent Pat a message that I needed him to take me to the hospital. Not 2 minutes before he walked into the room, the pain finally broke. We didn’t end up going to the hospital, but that is the closest I’ve ever been.
One thing that bothers me the most about my migraines is that even if I kill the pain, I can still feel the physical effects of the migraine. I still feel tired and drained of energy, I still feel the tension and discomfort in my body. It’s hard to explain, but even with the pain numbed, I still feel the migraine. And the exhaustion it causes lasts for up to 24 hours after the fact. So I’m still not 100% even after a full night’s sleep. It drains everything out of you and leaves you an empty shell of yourself.
Over the course of the last 20 years, I have had good seasons and bad seasons. Sometimes I get only 1 every month, or maybe I can make it 2 months between migraines. Other seasons have seen frequencies of 2-3 per week. For many years, probably at least the first 10-15, I didn’t bother to seek out the cause of my migraines. I just lived with them. My mom had a brief run with migraines in her early 20’s, but told me they stopped after a few years. Perhaps that is why I never sought answers; I just hoped they would stop at some point. But as I’ve gotten older and become more aware of my body, my health, my diet, etc., I have taken the time and effort to determine what causes my migraines, what triggers them, and what I can do to better manage them. As a disclaimer, I haven’t gone to any specialists, just spoken with my primary physician (who I’ve been seeing for many years), and done my own research.
Initially I started by tracking food, menstrual cycles, etc.; Common factors for many women who experience migraines. Within a month or 2, we determined that neither food nor hormones were responsible. He gave me a prescription pain medication to take, and told me to continue being aware of the situations surrounding my migraines. I quickly found that the prescription drug didn’t work as well as Excedrin Migraine, so I stopped using it rather quickly. Then my friend’s dad told me that he gets migraines and it’s always because he ate something he wasn’t supposed to, or it’s because he needs to see his chiropractor for an adjustment. This idea struck me, but it was a few years before I finally went in to see a chiropractor. I regret not going sooner because this turned out to be pivotal in relieving my migraines.
We ended up at the chiropractor for massages rather than adjustments. Pat and I had booked massages for our anniversary through Groupon at this particular office, but while we were there I asked the chiropractor about his services. He ran my insurance and said I had one of the best policies he’d ever seen (best thing to come out of that particular job). He sent me off for a back x-ray and we got down to work. Quite by accident, this started in October and I had already met my deductible for that calendar year on other medical things. So I was able to use a year’s worth of appointments over the course of 3 months. I went 3x per week the first month, and twice a week for the next 2. Since then I have been going for an adjustment about once per month, unless something happens or changes that requires more frequent visits.
More than the chiropractic adjustments, massage has been the biggest key to relieving my migraines. The massage therapist at the chiropractor’s office is not just your average relaxation therapist. She does hardcore body work that I would liken to an intense physical therapy session. I have fallen asleep on her table maybe twice in the 3 or more years I have been seeing her. These massage sessions require my undivided attention. She can’t do all of the work; I have to mentally focus oh forcing my body to relax into what she is doing. Sometimes the pain is excruciating, but it does so much good. She once spent a whole hour-long session on my neck and it was life altering. I swear by this woman and her magical ability to find all of the trouble spots. She even found the source of my migraines… right there, deep in my right shoulder. And better yet, if the chiropractor adjusts me at the same appointment as my massage, he can bill both together and I only pay the copay price. It’s still something we have had to build into our budget, but the results have been well worth the investment.
I still have no clear idea why I get migraines. What is it about that pressure point in my right shoulder, and occasionally in my left, that is so troublesome that it takes monthly adjustments to keep it at bay? Sometimes I really should be going in more frequently. I don’t know why, and I don’t have the means or energy to go through the medical process to find the answer. Migraines can be so exhausting that it is often hard to find the motivation to go after the solution. I confess that for years I just put up with them. I did what I could to make it work, and pushed through the pain when calling in or canceling plans wasn’t an option.
As time goes by though, there are more and more resources and options available to those who do suffer from migraines. And as with most things, you have to listen to your body and your instincts to guide you through the journey.
Hello! I’m Whitney and this is my home for all things food and life.