My migraines were a blessing

It’s true.

Granted, they were a blessing in disguise (like a really BIG disguise), but they were the beginning of a huge, positive, life-changing path for me and my family.

I was the kind of person who never got headaches. Like, ever ever. All of that changed in my early 30s when I started getting annoying headaches on the right side of my face. At first, they weren’t too bad. At first, I could take two ibuprofen with a coffee chaser and in 15 minutes, I could feel the headache melt away like magic. Cool, I thought…I have this figured out.

Only, I didn’t.

The headaches worsened in time. They felt like the right side of my face was in a vise. My right eye watered and the right side of my nose ran like a water faucet. While I never saw an aura, I was very sensitive to light and had to be in a dark room. Noises of any variety annoyed me to no end. Smells sickened me. Nausea set in and then some vertigo. Nothing helped; lying down made the vertigo worse, but it was also hell to try and move around. The headache day was bad enough, but it also took 2-3 days to fully recover. I was in a daze when I wasn’t in pain. This is called the “postdrome phase”. It’s a feeling of being “washed out” and drained.

A recent entry in my headache log…Lasted two days and I had consumed some dairy the day it began.

Up until this point, I had done only a little bit of research and read that low progesterone and a lack of magnesium may play a part in migraines. More research revealed other common triggers that I knew I was consuming/experiencing. The headaches started coming once a month and typically within a few days of my period, so I figured that my hormones had to play a part. I remember one day quite vividly when I discovered one of my biggest triggers. We had been swimming at the lake and had ordered pepperoni pizza. Within 30 minutes of eating the pizza, I felt “the twinge”. If you have migraines, you may know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling on the side of your face that tells you, “Hey, get ready cause you’re having a full-blown hellacious headache in 24 hours or less.” Sure enough, I had a horrible one over the next couple of days. As I was recovering, I read about sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, which are common food preservatives in processed meats, and how they play a big role in causing migraines. One article even said that migraines are so common after eating hot dogs that they call them “hot dog headaches”.

Well, as you can imagine, I was excited about this discovery, yet at the same time, floored that this was the first time I had ever heard about it. Shouldn’t it be common knowledge, since almost half of women will experience migraines at some point in their lives?

When the migraines started coming every two weeks and were worse in intensity than ever, I went to my doctor and had some bloodwork done. Everything that was tested came back normal. At that time, I had also experienced “ocular migraines”, which, for me, meant loss of sight in my peripheral vision. Talk about freaky! At my appointment, the doctor asked if I wanted to start taking medicine, but I hate taking medicine. I wanted to find and treat the cause of the problem, not the symptom. I had to know, because that’s the kind of person I am. I HAVE TO KNOW.

I decided it was time to get serious and figure out what was happening. The first thing I did was order a book: “Heal Your Headache: The 1.2.3 Program For Taking Charge Of Your Pain” by David Buchholz, M.D. (See below)

This is where the healing began! I’ll try to summarize for you, but BUY THIS BOOK if you are a migraine sufferer! So, basically, everyone’s “triggers” for having a migraine will vary. A trigger is something that can lead up to a headache for you. It can be hormones, barometric pressure, a certain scent, food additives, certain foods, stress, etc. Everyone also has a certain threshold that, once you have so many triggers present, will cause you to have a migraine. The whole concept of the book is to reduce your exposure to triggers when possible, and to try and not cross that threshold. I will tell you right now, that if you are eating the Standard American Diet, you ain’t gonna like the elimination diet in this book. Ha! If you like caffeine, alcohol, and dairy….well….but don’t go away! Keep on reading.

So I started by eliminating my known triggers, which were sodium nitrate/nitrite, alcohol, MSG, yogurt, and yeast extract/autolyzed yeast extract (which is in SOOOOO many processed foods!). The intensity of my pain lessened, but I still had the migraines. As I read further in the book, it was said that caffeine is a major trigger for many people. I was only a one to two cup of coffee a day person, so I thought that surely he wasn’t talking about people like me, right??? I slowly decreased the amount of coffee I was drinking and then only drank it every other day for a week. I quit cold turkey on a Tuesday. I remember it was a Tuesday because I missed work from Wednesday through Friday that week! I was SO SICK. I couldn’t believe that such a tiny amount of caffeine had such a death grip on my system! I decided right then and there that I would never allow anything to have such a hold on my body, ever again.

After I finally detoxed from caffeine the week after I quit, it was the beginning of the end for my headaches. The intensity was greatly lessened. I decided to go all out and do the elimination diet in the book. This means no dairy, no nuts, no caffeine, no alcohol, no chocolate (GASP), no fresh yeast-risen breads (ACK), no vinegar, no processed meats, avoiding certain vegetables/legumes/fruits, among other things. Don’t quit on me, y’all! I know!!! It was tough! I thought, this better be worth it!

AND IT WAS. For a glorious…wondrous…miraculous two full months, I had no headaches! None at all! I had been having the headaches for a few years at that point (fall of 2018), and they were at least once a month. I was so, so happy. Because I am hard headed (and dumb, I guess), I did add some foods back into my diet that I know are triggers, like nuts. However, the migraines I get now are what I call “manageable migraines“. I can work out in the yard, hang with the family, get some sleep, and get on with life, even though I am in migraine mode. It’s there, I can feel it, but it’s tiny. Just annoying, and only about a 1-2 on the pain scale of 1-10. I pop some ibuprofen every 4 hours a few times, and I’m good to go. I have recently started eating fewer nuts and have noticed that my pain is lessened.

For example, over the weekend, due to stress/hormones, I got the “twinge” on a Friday before a huge event. “Lord, PLEASE let me get through this and be in a functioning state”, I begged. How is it that your body just seems to know when you need to be clear-headed, and it throws you a curve ball? But everything went great. I think I only took ibuprofen twice, I got lots of great sleep, and any pain I did have fizzled away overnight. Such an enormous change from the days when I had to lie in bed in a silent, spinning, blackened room with an ice pack over my face, with snot and tears pouring out of me, while I felt like barfing up my toenails!

So, for those of you out there suffering from that personal hell they call a migraine, here’s what I have to say:

  • First of all, you MUST be your own advocate. No one knows your body like you do. Listen to what your body is telling you! Don’t be afraid to take control of your health. Find a doctor that will listen to your concerns.
  • Buy the book and give the suggestions an honest try, including the elimination diet. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. Let’s face it though, when you get to the point where you’ll do just about anything to get rid of migraines, it’s 100% worth it if it works for you!
  • Keep a journal/calendar that documents your headaches. I did this for years (and still do), and it helped me to find my triggers. Foods that could possibly cause migraines may take up to 72 hours to affect you, so having a food journal is very helpful also. I record intensity, duration of the migraine, and possible causes.
  • When you start the elimination diet, READ THE LABEL OF EVERYTHING YOU CONSUME. I even asked restaurant waitstaff to show me labels from salad dressings that they used, just to be safe. MSG and yeast extract is in just about everything. Ranch dressing, seasonings, broth, cream soups, flavored chips, flavored anything at all. Eating out and eating at other people’s houses may get extremely difficult for you, but you’ll adapt, I promise. I always know a baked potato is a safe bet! Ha. I’ll go ahead and plug my current obsession/love, which is a whole foods, plant based diet. Again, it’s simple, but not easy. At least not at first. Since you won’t be eating processed foods much, you will be automatically eliminating all those yucky additives that can cause migraines.

As I was writing this post, I came across a blog called The Dizzy Cook. She, too, found healing through research, doctor’s visits, and Dr. Buchholz’s book. Check out her story here. I didn’t even know that vestibular migraines were a thing! She doesn’t have headaches, but instead had intense bouts of dizziness.

Last of all, you have my complete sympathy. Migraines are scary, painful, and will make you think you are losing your mind. You are definitely NOT alone in this! If anyone gives you a hard time about having a migraine, it’s obvious that they have never had one. I hope that something here will lead to healing for you. May you soon be migraine free!

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