This post isn’t anything to do with travel, culture or good eats but I feel that I need to share my migraine journey with you all as this week is #mentalhealthawarenessweek. Both my physical and mental health has had a lot to do with the frequency and duration of my migraines so I’m going to talk a bit about why I get them and how I cope with them. Ironically, when I first started putting together this post (last week), I was a bit cocky and started this post with ‘Today marks 10 weeks since my last migraine attack…’. Sods law I went and had a migraine the next day.
Background info: my dad has had migraines since I can remember. I didn’t start getting migraines until I was in my mid-twenties. At the time they were hormone-related; it was advised that I came off my oral contraceptive as the tingling I was feeling on the left side of my face during my migraines, was something akin to strokes. The migraines then came on very occasionally, often during periods of immense stress and lack of sleep. Nothing unusual there.
In 2014 or so, they started coming back more frequently. This tallied with the stress and anxiety that I was suffering from due to changes at work and in my personal life (I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2015, although I do not suffer from it much now). A lot of it had to do with money worries too; my full-time fixed term contract was coming to an end and the best offer my employer could give me was a part-time fixed term contract. I was already earning a pittance and there was no way I could afford that job, especially as I had to pay to commute to another city for it. At the time I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything professionally, my romantic life was volatile to say the least, and I was facing a challenge that I simply didn’t have the energy to overcome. Too much over-thinking led to too little sleep and so the migraines came and went, and came… and went.
However, things started to look up when I began to remove all the negative factors in my life: a new job and a new home etc. I focused on the positive rather than the negative (easier said than done) but as my worrying began to subside, my migraines started coming back even more frequently and inconsistently; they happened when I wasn’t stressed, had had loads of sleep, and when I was generally quite hunky dory with life. They lasted longer – 2 days, then 4 days, then 2 weeks. They came more frequently – every month, every fortnight etc. You get where this is going. I was so dazed and confused from them, I must have come across as a bit weird at work. I experience immense pain, weird eye-focusing issues, and say words wrong (transient aphasia, I believe). The only way I could get rid of them was to take a concoction of painkillers and sleep for what felt like forever. Trips to the doctors led to painkillers, triptans, then finally anti-depressants which apparently have a muscle-relaxing side-effect. None of these worked consistently. From last October (when I started the anti-depressants), I was still getting migraines every 4-5 weeks regardless of stress or lack of sleep.
One dark January evening I was scrolling through YouTube when I stumbled upon this video of a chiropractor treating a patient with an extreme migraine attack (I’ve since learned that the said chiropractor has been banned from working with children after a controversial video of him treating a small baby). I admit that by this point, I was desperate and began doing some further internet research. Turns out that there’s a chiropractor near me, with a practitioner who happens to specialise in headaches. I booked myself in immediately.
My first appointment was an eye-opener, mainly because I had an x-ray taken pretty much immediately. That x-ray has pretty much changed my life:The x-ray was revealed to me during my second appointment. In case you haven’t noticed, my neck basically bends in the wrong direction, known as ‘cervical kyphosis’. The main problem with my diagnosis was that the gaps between each vertebra are narrow, causing pressure on nerves which connect to the muscles over my skull and my fingers (this is a really basic explanation!). This has the potential to cause headaches and in my case, migraines. The likely cause of this was the use of forceps when I was born (my dear mother was in labour for 3 days, I do not judge her at all). Although chiropractic treatment won’t fix my ‘banana neck’, hopefully it’ll ease the attacks and make them less frequent.
So, what’s gone down since I started treatment in late January? I started seeing the chiropractor once a week but in the past 3-4 weeks, this has reduced to every 10-14 days instead. I’ve halved my migraine medication as well. The result so far… I’ve had no unexplained migraines! By ‘unexplained’ I mean those that I can’t put down to lack of sleep or stress, and even those have drastically reduced. The quality of the migraines have changed, they are less painful and disruptive. I can think clearly and talk *almost* as incoherently as I normally do. The longest stretch of 9.5 weeks without a migraine was a real milestone for me. It’s been over a year since I’ve gone without one for that long. Of course I’ve had to change my lifestyle a bit too; not too many late nights, less gin drinking (this is the hardest) and less pressure on myself to do ‘that bit extra’. I started eating better (or rather, more routinely with few late night dinners as a result of working late) and cooking better too.
Lastly, it has taken a long time for me to change my mindset, focusing on what I have achieved, rather than what I haven’t. Would you believe that at one point I dismissed my PhD thinking ‘loads of other people have a PhD, mine isn’t anything special’. WTF. I WROTE A BLOODY PHD FFS. OF COURSE IT’S IMPORTANT AND SPECIAL. 80,000 WORDS. 80,000 WORDS ALL FROM MY BRAIN. And English isn’t even my first language. I have a lifetime’s worth of over-achieving to reconcile, so now is a time to achieve things slightly differently. I now focus my attentions on enjoying whilst achieving, and this blog is all part of communicating that process. I have returned to my love of making; turning the stress of having to do up my flat into a creative project instead, crocheting all sorts of random crap for people because I find it really therapeutic, and finally, journalling my cooking. For those who are suffering from migraines, I recommended stopping and checking in with yourself; self-care is so, so important. Take care of yourself first, whether you’re a migraine sufferer or not!