The year was 1979. I was 11 years old. I was watching the Muppet Show on a typical Saturday. The sound of lawn mowers and dogs barking in the distance. All of a sudden, I could not see part of my visual circle. A stupid blind spot with the rainbow lights around them grew larger during my next 30 minutes. Would I go blind? When it was gone, my hearing got weird as if I was trapped in an isolation chamber. The lawn mower and dog barks became sharp and “echoie”. I was terrified.
I had just experienced my first migraine headache. Overtime, the headaches became more frequent anywhere from once/week to three times/week by the time I was a Senior in high school. I had learned to use caffeine to my advantage and for the most part could drink the right amount of coffee to prevent and shorten the duration of the headaches.
Thankfully, my academics did not get affected much by the attacks. I took every precaution. I studied every day and prepared ahead just in case. I guess I owe becoming the Valedictorian of my high school class to migraines. Unfortunately, the prodrome grew stronger overtime as it disabled my ability to make sense of letters (I could not read) and talk since I could not recall words no matter how simple. I dreaded doing anything competitive or social for fear that I would end up slurring deformed words to my peers. I carried that fear through college. I also carried the same amount of determination not to let migraines get the best of me. So I forced myself to feel normal. I tried every new medication on an experimental basis, but none seemed to help.
After college something miraculous occurred. After reading an article about migraine triggers, I decided to quit on caffeine after I noticed that caffeine would trigger migraines if I had too litttle or too much. My addiction to coffee rebelling in my head made the next two weeks excrutiating. At times, I questioned my judgement. The headaches weakened. I also quit on red meat and chocolate once and for all as well. The headache frequency went from at least once a week to only once a month.
Overtime, I kept investigating my triggers with food journals or sheer memory. I learned that wine and other alcohol beverages; orange, pineapple and grapefruit juices; whey or purified protein powders; and most milk products including cheese and yogurt, helped trigger my migraines. What that really meant was that I could not drink most sodas, coffee or chocolate products (cakes, candy or ice cream), most cheeses (some I might be able to have, but why chance it), NO PIZZA (read meat, cheese), no alcohol of any kind (might get away with one drink, but again, why chance it?). Think of anything fun to eat. I could not have it. I also identified certain preservatives like MSG and sulfites (usually in figs and coconut products) as triggers. I also found out I had a sensitivity to peanuts, some nuts and wheat. Needless to say, reading food product labels is a necessity for me.
But in my case, food is not the end of the story. I relatively recently found out that lack of sleep, flashing lights, drops in barometric pressure (who can control this one?) and the toxicity of some insecticides, cleaning agents and paints may also trigger some of my migraines. Also, drops in serotonin levels which might become obvious when we are depressed, suffer from insomnia or gastrointestinal (digestive) problems, might foster my migraines. To counteract this, exercise, outdoor activities, laughter (watching comedies), lots of rest, a set regular schedule, refusing jobs that impact my sleep and careful use of environmental agents have become integral in my war against migraines. And it has worked: On average, I have only had 1 – 4 migraines/year over the past several years.
With all the behavioral changes I introduced in my life after college, the quality of my life has improved tremendously. I haven’t taken any medications for my migraines since 1996. All of them seemed ineffective (though they might work for some people). Life has encouraged me to learn about nutrition and exercise which are an integral part on my fight against migraines. The side effect? Looking younger than my actual age. Not bad.
Many people think I am obsessive and stubborn because I don’t deviate from the behaviors I have established in my life after college. Well, those people don’t know how it is to live with the threat of a debilitating migraine lingering over their shoulders 24/7. The migraine patiently waiting for you to break any of your anti-migraine protocols so that it can rejoice in making your life unbearable for a few hours, a day or a week. When I weigh my options: the aggravation of my friends’ (or acquaintances’) criticisms about my stubbornness versus the disorientation and pain of a migraine attack. The choice seems very clear.
To all migraine headache sufferers out there: you can defeat migraines. The medical literature agrees that correct nutrition, posture, scheduling patterns, stress reduction methods and supplementation are key in alleviating the severity and reducing the frequency of migraine headache attacks. It takes a lot of trial and error, but if you are willing to put the effort, you’ll find what works for you. And when you do, you’ll experience life in a whole new way.