This post has very little to do with food. But as I've learned since I've started cooking and writing about it, everything is really about food. Today, I'm going to tell you a story about migraines. I woke up with a migraine this morning and have spent the day trying my best to get rid of it. It has made me pretty useless, and like always it is hard for me to come to terms with spending a whole day doing nothing. So why not write about it?
There is a whole slew of migraine art out there. If I were to make my own migraine art, it would not be quite as nice as the below piece. My migraine illustration would be me, sticking an ice pick behind my eyeball.
Migraine collage by Migraine Chick.
A brief history of my migraines. I think I first labeled my headaches as migraines when I was 19. I might have had them before that, but it was that year that I had some type of "ah-ha" moment. At the most stressful point of my life I was eating poorly, working a job I didn't like, and planning a wedding. During that time, I would get migraines every Friday. It put a lot of strain on an already stressful time in my relationship. When I look back on 24, I remember being sick a lot.
My most dramatic migraine happened one morning in 2006 when I woke up and couldn't see out of my right eye. As I was getting ready for work (what was I thinking?!), I took a shower and threw my dirty clothes in the trash can. Then I went in our bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed, and tearfully told the newlywed husband that I couldn't find my car. He sat up and asked if I was ok, and I tried to explain in very broken speech that something was wrong. My arm was starting to go numb and I couldn't find my words.
The husband (heroic from day one) loaded me up in the car and we set off to the emergency room. It seemed very odd that a 24 year old would be having a stroke and we knew that probably wasn't what was happening, but my mirgraines had never been that bad before. After several long hours in the brightly lit ER, a CAT scan, my mom driving down from Fort Worth, moving to a hospital room, and a shot of morphine, I was diagnosed with a complex migraine, which mimics signs of a stroke. I spent the night in the hospital and was released the next day. Since then, I thankfully have not had another hospital stay due to migraines (or anything else, for that matter.)
Living with migraines isn't fun. These days they are limited to one a month, unless something weird is going on. Sometimes (like last month) they stretch over a few days. My hope is that it doesn't come back tomorrow. The best resource out there for people suffering from migraines is Dr. Carolyn Bernstein's The Migraine Brain. My ever thoughtful librarian mama got this book for me when it came out. After I finished it, I promptly ordered a copy for every migraine sufferer in my family that I could think of. This book changed my life.
A few things I've learned:
1. Avoid your triggers. My migraines have always been directly related to my hormones. This means that (fortunately) I always know when to expect them. This also means that (unfortunately) I know to always expect them once a month. But there are things I can do during that time to limit my risk. This is where food comes in. I told you we'd get to it! My personal triggers are red onions (especially raw), hoppy beer, and red wine. I can get away with some of them during certain times, but I usually don't risk it. I'm also extremely sensitive to smells. Strong perfume can bring on a migraine any day.
2. Watch your posture. Last year, I messed up my back lifting the kiddies and went to a chiropractor for a few months. During one of my sessions, I felt a migraine coming on. I talked to my doc and she showed me the place in my neck where my migraines originate. To this day, I can push that place in my neck and feel it in my migraine spot. Rubbing my neck during a migraine has eased my ice pick desires many times. Anyway, during the visit my chiropractor said maintaining my posture...keeping my head upright and my shoulders back...could lower the chances of getting a migraine. Then (with my permission) she popped my neck and made my impending migraine disappear. Sorry, by the way, to all those reading that might think chiropractors are quacks. Mine was not.
3. Know what helps and don't be afraid to use it. If I can catch the headache early on and hit it with a lot of caffeine, I can sometimes ward off a full on migraine. As much as I dislike taking medicine, I am so grateful to have something that helps. Imitrex doesn't help everybody, but it works wonders for me. So much that I'm willing to deal with the tight chest and racing heart that goes along with it. Really it's not even that weird anymore...I anxiously await that feeling knowing it means my headache is about to go away.
4. Talk about it. People need to know what's up. I'm not saying you have to blow it out of proportion or ask for attention. But migraines are very real and those closest to you...your significant other, your family, and (if you feel comfortable with it) at least one trusted coworker...should know. After my complex migraine episode, I got a lot better about letting people know. If I started doing crazy things at work or talking out of my head, I wanted at least one person to know what the hell was going on. Plus, if scent is a trigger, it might be vital that you make your closest people aware so they know to avoid perfume/coffee/smoke/etc.
5. Notice when things are different. These days, the husband can tell when I have a migraine coming on, because I'll start popping my knuckles and pinching my hand. He notices when my speech is a little confused, but we don't freak out about it. Those are all parts of my migraine. What worries me is when something changes. If the headache is suddenly on the opposite side of my head. If it lasts for multiple days. If it comes when I'm not expecting it. Then we start to pay closer attention.
6. Be gentle with yourself. This is an extremely hard one for me. This morning, for instance, I lay in bed for 4 hours, alternately pushing against my eyeball and my neck, trying to will myself out of having a migraine. And in the end, after meditating and thinking happy thoughts and practicing whatever limited reflexology I know, all I had was 4 more hours of misery. I should have sucked it up and taken my Imitrex when I knew what was going on. It's been 10 years, I should really know better than to mess with my migraines.
Having said all that, migraines just suck. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are and how much you read and plan, a migraine can come along and knock the wind out of you. And today, instead of cleaning house and hanging out with my friend like I was planning, I spent most of the day in pajamas on the couch. That's ok, too. It is really hard for me to slow down and let myself be sick, especially with something that is such a part of me. But migraines are loud and bossy and they sometimes just demand it.
*Girl Talk seemed extra appropriate here because of his jumbled, loud, sometimes overwhelming sound. Learn more about Mr. Gillis here.