Early in October – nearly four months ago – I had another migraine. It’s still here. Yes, I know that it’s almost four months later.
For the past several years, I’ve had migraines. Maybe one every two or three months. When I first started having them, I was terrified – I would get a visual disruption in my seeing: buzzing horizontal lines that wiggled, quickly followed by nausea, a baffling inability to speak the words that I could think, and then a hellacious headache that made me afraid of light and sound. I thought I was having strokes.
I visited a local neurologist who specialized in migraine and found that what I was experiencing was common migraine. He prescribed a low dose of Sumatriptan for me to take on migraine onset, plus some dietary supplements – Magnesium, B2 biboflavin, CoQ10, to help me avoid migraines altogether. In addition, we looked at lifestyle issues – I typically got migraines on Saturdays if I slept in and didn’t get a good breakfast, so I stopped sleeping in and had breakfast as soon as I woke.
For quite a while, this combination was effective. Migraines still occurred every few months, but were manageable. When they landed, if I had my meds with me, then I’d be off-kilter for a couple of days after, but no big deal. If I didn’t have meds, then I was hit hard for a few days but could still function. A couple of followups to that doctor, and to another in his office after he retired, kept me above water.
Then, early last October, things changed. That first migraine hit, and wave after wave after wave has continued. There hasn’t been a symptom-free day in that time frame. Headache pain isn’t debilitating but is always with me, and I have ongoing episodes of the other items: aphasia (inability to pull up a word), vertigo, nausea, head-pressure, and a general phasing of foggy thinking and inability to concentrate well.
I’ve visited the replacement neurologist and we’ve tried different dosages and similar meds – triptans taken by inhaler and by injection, and an attempt at a blood pressure medication and something else that I forget.
I’ve visited my chiropractor several times as well. Since I carry stress and tension in my shoulders and heck, that seemed a wise thing to do. Those adjustments have helped those parts of my body, but haven’t seemed to impact my migraine wave.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about migraine in recent months, as you might expect. What I’ve found is that these symptoms are consistent with migraine, and both triggers and recovery mechanisms are unique per individual. Migraine cannot be cured, but its occurrence rate and depth of symptoms can be minimized. I know some of my triggers, one or two of which guarantees a migraine onset but many might. This is at once comforting – it’s not a brain tumor and frustrating – it’s not gone, and for some folks, chronic migraine just becomes normal.
On the recommendation of a dear friend who has dealt with migraines far more intense than mine and far longer than I have, I received a referral to a naturopath with some experience in migraine treatment. This particular naturopathic doctor also practices acupuncture. I was very impressed with her approach to and explanations of both naturopathy and acupuncture. I wasn’t sure what to expect there; while I do believe in a more expansive approach to healing than just western medicine, I’ve also met some nutjubs in those two fields that I didn’t want to trust my health to. This doctor was pretty awesome, actually, and I’ll be moving to her for my primary care work in addition to migraine relief.
My first visit to her was a 2-hour appointment (and this indicates a different approach to healthcare than what I’ve experience in an M.D.’s office). It included a long health survey and discussion, then an IV of magnesium, acupuncture and acupressure. She had some dietary recommendations for me (including small, protein-rich snacks to stabilize blood sugar swings), and recommended four weekly IVs of magnesium, and optionally six acupuncture treatments. We also did a blood draw for allergies testing, cholesterol exam, PSA counts and other general health screens. Three or four days after the first treatment, I felt remarkably better – not gone yet, but better. The migraine returned in strength, and a few days ago I had another heavy wave. I feel as though we’ve made some progress, and I’d rather use this approach than pile medication upon medication upon medication as the neurologist was planning (and which wasn’t working, and for which there are serious side effects). But by no means do I feel that equilibrium is at hand.
Physically, that’s what’s happening. I’m eating well – largely whole and unprocessed foods, very low amounts of sugar and carbs, gluten-free stuff wherever possible. In general a good plan. I have not exercised seriously in months, because moving around and increasing my heart rate to pound the headache more hasn’t been an attractive idea. I walk a lot, but haven’t run or bicycled or mountain biked. But I’m going to start doing that anyway, just because it doesn’t feel like it can hurt at this point. My weight has been steady – a small gift – since one of the earlier meds had a side effect of weight gain, but I’ve had to be careful with what I ate to not spike blood sugars and trigger more pain. Or else I am nauseous enough to not want to eat anything.
Mentally, I’m frustrated and at times very worried. I don’t get much relief, calm, peace. It’s difficult (embarrassing to say the least) to have an onset of migraine during a business meeting, or teaching a class, and to be unable to speak coherently and fight to stay upright on my feet. I’m doing the best I can to be gracious and engaging with my wife and kids, even when I see them after I’m totally drained from trying to make it through a workday. My wife’s been taking on a ton of extra work around the home since I often come home from work and just go to sleep; weekends I’m too often out of commission as well. I join the family for dinner even when the noise from two young kids makes my eyes roll back in my head because I dearly love spending time with them and do not want them to have to be quiet whenever I’m around. There is a cost in level of energy, though. I frequently go to bed and lay in the dark after dinner and save my energy for the kids’ bedtime routine.
I have great respect for those who deal with chronic pain. In this mode, the normal activities of life take a lot of energy. I’ve become much more selective about what I do and don’t do; I know that my concentration and energy are limited. That also means that it’s been months since I’ve spent much time with friends; months since I’ve made it to a church gathering (or didn’t leave partway through); months since I felt I could string together a complex thought.
I’ve had friends and acquaintances suggest many possibilities for me – other doctors and other meds; prayer; foods to try and avoid; other healing practices. I’ve had folks yell the demons-of-sickness away and I’ve had folks just be quiet and give me a hug. I value it all, though I find that I am pursuing what I sense to be right and at the right time. Some folks are upset at me for not trying their way, for which I ask their grace.
Why write this here, in a public place? Partly to get it out of my head. Partly because my family and friends want to know what’s happening with me. Partly because I welcome your prayers. Partly because I know there are many others who are in a similar boat (though they won’t read this whole thing; it takes too much energy ). Other reasons too.