By Kerrie Smyres | May 24, 2013
Writing about the possibility of a connection between suppressed emotions and migraine frequency prompted an influx of comments and emails with messages that have run the gamut from “hogwash” to “absolutely” to “watch out for charlatans.” Whether you’ve shared your reaction with me or not, your reaction probably falls into one of those three categories, so I want to address some of the concerns that people raised.
Emotions & Physiology
Emotions cause physiological changes in the body, from changing the heart rate to releasing chemicals. Maybe these changes are migraine triggers. Not enough is known about migraine to know whether this is the case.
Furthermore, studies have indicated that people who were abused as children are more likely to have chronic migraine than those who were not. Childhood abuse can literally change the way our brains work. Don’t believe me? Read about the neurobiology of childhood abuse in this fascinating, though technical, Medscape article Childhood Abuse and Migraine (you can get a password at BugMeNot). (I’m not saying I was abused as a child, just that traumatic emotional events can change our physiological responses.)
No Miracle Cure
I run from anyone who claims to have The Answer to migraine or says they will cure me. Anyone who makes these claims is arrogant and lacks knowledge about the complexity of migraine in general and ignores the reality of my 25 years of chronic migraine. The human body is not that simple and too much is unknown about chronic migraine for that to be the case. My therapist/naturopath has made no such claims, instead acknowledging that there are many factors contributing to my migraine attacks and that emotions may be one component.
Being open to an idea is entirely different than believing it is true. I need to gather more evidence before making a determination. As such, I’m approaching this hypothesis with the same skepticism I do any treatment, whether it is Lyrica, acupuncture, or homeopathy. In fact, I’m even more skeptical that opening myself up to feeling emotions will affect my migraine frequency or severity. I’m in therapy for my psychological well-being, not my physical health. If the work reduces my migraine attacks, that’s a bonus.
I do not blame myself for causing my migraines by repressing emotions. Again, it is not that simple. If there’s a connection between the migraine attacks and emotions, whatever is happening is outside my consciousness. My body, brain, and/or “heart center” have figured out how to cope with being a highly sensitive person in this world and having chronic migraine to boot. This emotional self-preservation served me well enough, but now I’m ready to shed some armor.
Please believe that while my mind is open, my brain is not in danger of falling out, as the saying goes. I still evaluate ideas and treatments critically and support the scientific method. Writing about unconventional topics — like emotions and migraine, salicylate sensitivity, or histamine intolerance — is not the same as endorsing them.
I admit I’m open to more “out there” ideas than I have been in the past. However, I’m not advocating tossing out reason, nor have I done so myself. I am willing to consider the possible validity of ideas outside the scientific realm because so little inside of it has been of any use in treating my migraines. But I take them all with a giant dose of salt and proceed with extreme caution.