It’s been a long time since a migraine destroyed my mood like it did Tuesday. It was a scary reminder of the dark thoughts that accompany migraine mood changes.
I was fiddling with a picture for a post and minor frustrations had me nearly in tears. Hart fixed the problem while I sat beside him, closed my eyes and took deep breaths. My mind jumped from Photoshop to “Why can’t I get this diet figured out. What am I supposed to do when a food is OK on one day and then not the next time in the rotation? How am I supposed to eat anything? What if I don’t get it sorted out and the migraines come back full force? I don’t want to do that again.”
As my mind spiraled in fear, I reminded myself to not believe everything I think. Those thoughts I was having? They aren’t Truth, nor do they represent what I believe most of the time. I told myself, “This is migraine. This is migraine. This is migraine. This is not me.” Within minutes of remembering the critical distinction between me and migraine, all the anxiety and frustration melted away.
Then I was amazed at how far I’ve come. When a migraine hijacked my mood even a couple years ago, I’d respond by dwelling on every dark thought that crossed my mind. Now I know to shut down those ruminations because they hurt far more than they help. Realizing I’ve learned to pay diligent attention and respond to all the minute migraine-induced changes (mood and otherwise) fills me with gratitude and pride.
Through much research and work, I’ve made tremendous strides in my physical health. I have worked just as hard at changing the way I react to and cope with migraine. As proud as I am of the first achievement, the latter may be even more meaningful. While my physical improvements may not last (in fact, I’m having all sorts of food issues and averaging two migraines a day right now), I can always rely on the strategies I’ve learned to ease the burden of living with chronic migraine. As the saying goes, I can’t control migraine, but I can control the way I react to it.
The link between migraine and depression is pretty well established, but some research findings are still disturbing. Such is the case for a large-scale study published in the journal Depression Treatment and Researcher in November 2013. The study, which included 67,000 Canadians, more than 6,000 of whom have migraine, found that depression and suicidal ideation were much higher among migraineurs than non-migraineurs.
A glance at the findings:
- 8.4% of men with migraine were depressed at the time of the study, while only 3.4% of those without migraine were.
- 12.4% of women with migraine were depressed, while 5.7% without migraine were.
- Both men and women with migraine were more likely to have ever considered suicide seriously than those without migraine.
- 15.6% of men with migraine had considered suicide serious versus 7.9% of men without migraine.
- 17.6% of women with migraine had considered suicide serious versus 9.1% of women without migraine.
- Migraineurs, male and female, younger than 30 had a six times higher risk of depression and four times higher odds of suicidal ideation than those 65 and older.
- Suicidal ideation among those with migraine was also higher in those who were unmarried, had lower household income and/or greater physical limitations.
Reference: Fuller-Thomson, E., Schrumm, M., & Brennenstuhl, S. (2013). Migraine and despair: factors associated with depression and suicidal ideation among Canadian migraineurs in a population-based study. Depression research and treatment, 2013. (The full text of the article is available for free.)
Mindfulness as a tool for coping with depression is often distilled into “thinking your way out” of depression — which angers pretty much anyone who has ever struggled with depression. Mindfulness is more about becoming aware of how negative thoughts build on each other and cause additional emotional pain, then learning how to attend to such thoughts in a way that limits their damage. At least, that’s how it works for me.
Zindel Segal, who wrote The Mindful Way Through Depression and developed the technique of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, explained in a TEDx Talk how mindfulness can be an effective tool for coping with depression and preventing relapse. He also talks about the science behind the approach and research about its application. Here’s his basic description of how it works:
What we’re trying to get people to do is to anchor themselves in their experience so that when a negative emotion comes up in the mind, it can wash over them; it doesn’t…bring to mind all of the negative associations that for some people can happen very automatically. Instead they can find a different place for standing and working with these feelings, and as a result have much more of an option for selecting a response and influencing what happens next.
Segal’s TEDx Talk is good, but If you’re looking for help with depression and guidance on how to apply mindfulness to cope with it, start with the book. It’s tone is less academic than the TEDx talk and it provides concrete hands-on guidance.
You’re probably tired of hearing me say that I’ve found mindfulness to be an invaluable tool for coping with depression, chronic illness and even migraine attacks.
People say that you don’t notice how many pregnant women are in the world until you’re pregnant yourself. I’m finding a similar phenomenon now that I’m depressed again — I barely thought about depression for a couple years, but now that it’s back on my mind, I’m noticing articles everywhere. Three very different, very interesting articles on depression have caught my eye this week.
Why Don’t Antidepressants Work Faster? (Slate)
I’m pretty sure anyone who has taken antidepressants has wondered this very thing. This informative article from a Scientific American writer is easy to understand, but doesn’t skip over important scientific information.
Sleep Therapy Seen as an Aid for Depression (New York Times)
A newly published study found that helping depressed people overcome insomnia with a “cheap, relatively brief and usually effective” form of therapy could double their chances of a full recovery. The technique uses specialized cognitive-behavioral therapy and sounds kind of like typical sleep hygiene recommendations, but is actually quite different, according to researchers.
Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of Our Minds (NPR)
Researchers are investigating whether the bacteria in our digestive systems could influence our moods and behaviors. Such a fascinating idea.
I resisted going off the supplement that was causing depression-like symptoms, then I resisted starting antidepressants when I realized the depression hadn’t lifted. I told myself I didn’t want the side effects of antidepressants or to complicate my migraine variables. Those excuses are partly true, but mostly I didn’t want to acknowledge that I’m depressed enough to require medication.
The day I started back on Wellbutrin, my mood lifted. The antidepressant medication didn’t change my mood in a single day; the decision to take care of myself did. I don’t want to be depressed, but wishing it away is a fruitless endeavor. Instead of continuing to hide from the truth, I both recognized and accepted the depression and chose to treat it in the only way that’s ever been effective for me.
I am not out of the woods. It will take weeks to ramp up to a full dose of Wellbutrin and could take even longer to know how well it’s working for me. If it doesn’t, I could spend months trying to find the right medication (or medications) and dose. As I’m figuring all that out, I can take comfort in my decision to start taking antidepressants.
Self-care often falls by the wayside when a person is depressed. It doesn’t help that depression saps one’s motivation and hope. Overcoming all these factors makes for a gigantic first step. I’m proud of myself for taking it.