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Learning the Value of Nutrition (and Increasing My Head Pain in the Process)

Though last month my head felt better than in decades, my diet’s lack of nutrition nagged at me. I was afraid that living on chicken, rice, rutabaga, and chayote squash would ultimately harm my health, thus defeating the purpose. Trying to find some balance, I started adding foods back in.

The Failsafe diet is already tremendously restrictive and I had restricted my intake even further to avoid:

  • Sulfurous vegetables, like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and anything in the allium family. These may be a problem for people who are ultra-sensitive to sulfites, a known migraine trigger for some.
  • Nuts and legumes because I’ve been pretty sure in the past they were triggers.
  • Beef, lamb, dairy, and eggs, all of which I had positive antibodies for in a 2005 food allergy test (ELISA). (Tangent: Science-Based Medicine has a great review of the validity of food allergy tests.)
  • Gluten, the food component currently in vogue as the root of all evil.

So far I’ve added cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lentils, lima beans, raw cashews, and beef back in, plus I started using enriched rice. What an amazing amount of diversity this seems to provide! Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been in a downward spiral the last couple weeks, with increasing migraine frequency and severity, more severe daily headaches, and significantly more fatigue.

The slide has been gradual, without any obvious migraine attacks or increased head pain following certain foods (except for when I tested milk and had the worst migraine I’ve had in six months), so I’m having trouble pinpointing the source. Apparently, some people on the Failsafe diet have trouble with folate, which is added to enriched rice. I eat rice throughout the day every day, so that could explain why I can’t determine the cause of my worsening symptoms. I’m going to switch back to regular white rice this week in an attempt to recapture some of the glory days.

Teasing out the minute dietary changes that may or may not have an impact on how I feel day to day is frustrating and majorly discouraging. I feel like I have to choose between adequate nutrition and having head pain and fatigue that significantly limit my ability to function. I know shorting my nutrition isn’t a wise strategy, but those days of minimal head pain were as glorious as a sunny day in Seattle. I’ll do almost anything to get them back.

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Pacing for the American Headache Society Symposium

The American Headache Society’s annual symposium is in Scottsdale later this week and I’ll be attending for the first time. Or to be accurate, I’m planning to attend the symposium as long as I’m not knocked out by migraine attacks. There’s a world of difference between attending and planning to attend. A difference you’d think I’d fully grasp after all these years with debilitating chronic migraine. Nope.

I imagined myself waking up early and attending the meeting sessions all day Friday and Saturday. Never mind that sessions begin at 8 a.m., two hours before I usually wake up. Never mind that feeling well enough to be out of the house for three hours on any given day is cause for celebration; doing so two days in a row is nearly unheard of. Never mind that I rarely shower before going out because it depletes my energy (this is a little tricky considering that my almost-nightly migraine attacks include night sweats — I can cope if I’m going somewhere anonymously, but am sensitive about it when I’m around people I know or want to make a good impression).

Although the idealized schedule of events rarely comes to fruition, I don’t usually remember that until I’m over committed. This time I was clever enough to see it a week before the event takes place. I’ve gone through the symposium schedule and made a list of sessions I most want to attend and have narrowed it down to a couple hours each day plus Thursday set-up for the TheraSpecs exhibit and dinner with Migraine.com folks. Ideally, I’ll take over the booth for short stints Friday and Saturday so Hart can catch his breath.

I have no idea how much of the conference I’ll be able to attend or if I’ll be of much help to Hart. Still, I’m patting myself on the back for recognizing my limitations (though I’m by no means happy about them) and creating a realistic plan. Starting off with reasonable expectations is far more promising than my usual approach of hitting the ground running, then crashing and knocking myself out for the rest of the weekend. If I can’t make it to all that I have planned, I won’t be blaming myself for overexerting and making myself sick.

Wish me luck. I hope to gather lots of good information to share with you. And I’m super excited to finally meet Teri Robert, Ellen Schnakenberg and Diana Lee in person!

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Exercise-Triggered Migraine Attacks

A half mile in 10 minutes on the treadmill, a gentle yoga class and dancing at a wedding. What do these three activities have in common? They’ve all triggered migraine attacks in the last month. It seems so unfair to get a migraine when I’m doing something good for my body — especially when that’s celebrating at a wedding! Alas, dwelling on what’s fair can only lead to a pity party. Time to figure out how to cope.

Following Diana Lee’s recommendations for coping with exercise as a migraine trigger, I plan to start with a slow 10 minutes a day on the treadmill, then increase my speed and duration gradually each week. Of course, this assumes an upward trajectory of migraine improvement. The reality of life with chronic migraine will probably intervene. (Is that pessimistic or merely realistic?)

A friend gets exercise-induced migraines whenever she starts running again after falling out of her routine. She just puts up with them for three weeks and then they stop. Although my general philosophy is to avoid migraines as much as possible, I might use her strategy for yoga. First, though, I’ll try backing off a bit in class tonight. I felt so good at my last class that maybe I just pushed too hard.

Once again I appear to be in need of balance. Why is that such a difficult lesson to learn?

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Overexerting (and Paying For It)

After the best week migraine-wise I’ve had in a decade (literally) and bringing a level 5 migraine down to a 2 with two Midrin and a nap on Friday, I got cocky. I pushed myself way too hard this weekend and am still paying for it with migraines and sheer exhaustion. I secretly believed this wouldn’t happen.

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The Physical & Mental Roller Coaster of Chronic Migraine

Sometimes you don’t hear from me for awhile because I’m in a horrible spell of migraine attacks. Other times it is because the migraines have let up enough that I’m racing around, trying to accomplish everything that falls to the wayside when the migraines overtake me. I continue to expect the migraines — and thus my life — will even out. Silly me.

The last week of April I had a cold, a mouth full of cold sores, and storm-triggered migraines. A down week. Last week I felt great even though I discovered I had an indomethacin-induced ulcer. The migraines were mild and I had a ton of energy. I went to the dentist, the doctor, yoga and physical therapy, had coffee with an old friend, got a magnesium infusion, cleaned the house, hosted a Cinco de Mayo party, was swamped with TheraSpecs work, and more I won’t bore you with. I was exhausted by the end of each day, but woke up the next morning ready to go. Clearly an up week taking loops at high speeds. This week I’m struggling to keep my head up through severe migraines. And the roller coaster plunges back down.

Maybe I’m now paying for overexerting last week. Or maybe this is a new week with unrelated migraine triggers. The amount of time I spend second-guessing my health-related decisions is dramatically less than it was, say, a year ago. Still it feels like far too much time and energy. Balance continues to elude me. Not just in deciding how much to do and when to rest, but also in how I think about migraine and my role (if any) in exacerbating the illness.

In theory I know migraine is a disease and I am not at fault for having it. In practice, though, when “stress” is a commonly cited trigger for an illness, the patient is inherently blamed for worsening their own health. So I always wonder what I did wrong and what I can change next time.

I’m stuck on a ride I can’t get off of even though I didn’t want to be on it in the first place. I never did like roller coasters, but am willing to make the most of the ride since I’m already here. If only I could figure when to throw my arms in the air and scream with joy and when to hunker down and hold on tight.