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The Everlasting Search to Pinpoint Migraine Triggers

It never fails. I return home from a trip* and a migraine hits within a few hours. As always, there’s the urge to figure out what went wrong, what triggered the migraine. I could blame it on insufficient protein in my breakfast and lunch, restless sleep, not drinking enough water, or the mere fact that I was on an airplane for three hours. Or I could use the commonly cited trigger of stress — the stress of travel, the stress of returning to the demands of normal life, the stress of leaving friends, or the stress release upon being home. (Whether stress is actually a trigger is debatable.)

Practically anything, whether it is positive, negative or neutral, could be a trigger. Eating a particular food? Not eating enough? Eating too much? Inadequate sleep? Excessive sleep? Weather changes? Schedule disruption? Flying? Any of these could be a trigger. This is the trouble with migraine. (Well, actually, there are many troubles with migraine, but this is the one that ignites most of my fruitless worry and unfounded self-flagellation.)

Not only is the field of potential triggers wide open, they are additive. Something might not be a trigger in isolation, but add on a couple more triggers and the attack begins.

What most triggers have in common is that the migraineur can be blamed for causing them to happen. “You have a migraine? Well, if you had taken care of yourself by sleeping/eating/breathing correctly, you wouldn’t have gotten it.” This seems to be the attitude of the general public. And we migraineurs are pretty quick to judge ourselves, too. Of course we don’t want to have migraine attacks and changing our behaviors or diets is one potential way to feel like we have some control over this illness. More importantly, it could reduce the frequency of attacks, which must be a universal goal among migraineurs.

Triggers are absolutely real. But they are also different for everyone. And sometimes you can follow all the rules and still have a migraine attack. That’s the case for me 95% of the time, yet I still have a migraine nearly every day. I feel like I must be doing something wrong, but have no idea what it is.

*I wrote this last week after returning from a wedding in Minneapolis. It devolved into a rant, so I let it sit a while before editing and posting.

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Overscheduling My Niece’s Visit

For years we have planned to have our nieces and nephew stay with us for a week the summer after they turn 12. I’m so excited that the time has finally come for my oldest niece to visit. She’ll be here next week. Some of the activities I’m looking forward to:

  • Seeing Harry Potter and The Simpsons
  • Getting facials or pedicures
  • Meeting Hart with a picnic lunch when he’s working
  • Playing video games
  • Baking a pie
  • Seeing a minor league baseball game
  • Eating at some of our favorite restaurants
  • Going for cupcakes and fancy doughnuts
  • Doing some craft (this week it’s sewing)
  • Visiting Elliot Bay Books
  • Shopping at Buffalo Exchange
  • Going to a “grownups'” restaurant
  • Renting movies
  • Going to a farmers’ market
  • And, and, and. . .

Even I know we can’t cram this all into a week. There was a time that I could have and not been worse off for it. While that’s upsetting, I’m more concerned that there will be a day (or days) that I can’t leave the couch. I don’t want her to be bored, but I’m also the designated grownup.

I’ve made a plan. It may not work, but it has to be better than trying to go full speed. My niece is a late riser, so I’ll be able to keep my normal sleep schedule. I’ll make sure I eat regularly and keep a strict diet. (Although I might test a cupcake this weekend so I’ll know if I can cheat with one next week. :D) The hardest, and perhaps most important, part is to rest for two hours every afternoon.

As Hart pointed out, watching movies, playing video games (of which we have plenty) and eating at restaurants is a 12-year-old’s dream vacation. Instead of fretting that she’ll be bored, I need to remind myself of this regularly. It’s been successful so far. We’ll see if it holds once she arrives.

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Routine? Schedule? Ha!

I made a crucial mistake when I created a schedule for myself: I based it on what I should be able to do, not what I can do. It kills me to realize that.

As I made the schedule, I kept thinking how absurd it is that I could only spend six hours a day on work or household stuff. Truth is, I’m lucky if I can get three good hours in a day right now. As hard as I try, I’ll never silence my inner overachiever.

I faced some facts last night. I’m in a horrible migraine and headache spell that began on Christmas Eve. I don’t get to decide that four months is long enough and that the migraines should go away now. I expect too much of myself even when I feel terrible. I’m so tired that implementing any treatment that might provide relief takes more energy than I can spare.

There were good revelations too. I don’t think I’m depressed, just tired, sad and frustrated. Purging the stuff from our house makes me feel better emotionally, if not physically. I don’t have to do anything I don’t feel up to doing. I’m thankful that we don’t have kids or even a dog.

I had a great 45 minutes this morning when I saw that it was sunny, bounded out of bed, showered and started this post. That’s all the peppiness I could spare. At least I’ll make a lot of progress on the baby blanket I’m crocheting while I’m watching baseball. And the sun is still shining — after a Seattle winter, literally is almost as good as metaphorically.

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My Health-Friendly Schedule

I avoided a severe migraine from Thursday to Monday when I was in Phoenix for a wedding. I was extra careful to nap when I needed to (every afternoon!), use caffeine when necessary and take lots of Advil (it was for cramps, but I’m sure it settled my head down too). I’m convinced that the nap is the crucial part of the equation.

The routine was so successful that I have a renewed commitment to get on a schedule. My main goals are to rest, exercise daily, eat wholesome meals regularly, and not stay up too late mucking about on the computer. All of which should ease my migraines. Here’s the schedule I spent the last two hours making:

8:30 – 9:30: Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, 15-minute yoga practice or drive to class

9:30 – 11:00: Walk or yoga class

11:00 – 1:00: Errands and household chores

1:00 – 2:30: Lunch and work

2:30 – 4:00: Relax and nap

4:00 – 5:30: Work

5:30 – 6:30: Make dinner

6:30 – 10:00: Play — eat dinner, spend time with Hart, see friends and maybe some more work (computer off at 10!)

10:00 – 11:00: Get ready for bed, 30 minutes of relaxing yoga, read

I already see flaws. I’d like to spend four solid hours writing for the blog on Mondays. I often have lunch with my friend and yoga teacher after class on Thursdays. Afternoon rest periods usually last two hours. In fact, there’s no way I’ll make it to 2:30 before I need a nap today.

Rigid adherence to the schedule is counterproductive, but I hope to achieve some balance in my days. We’ll see how it goes.