Chronic Migraine, Coping, Triggers

Shopping for a Migraine

From a good day to migraine city was my reward for running errands this morning. It’s the almost-Christmas thing, when I’m pretty sure every store pipes cinnamon air freshener into the heating ducts.

Joann Fabrics was the worst offender and, unfortunately, my first stop. The cinnamon took no time to perfume my newly washed fleece. The scent had, of course, snuggled deep into the fiber of the flannel fabric I bought.

Decontamination was in order. The flannel went into the washer, I shed my clothes on the basement floor and showered. The smell is at least contained in the basement now, but I’m doing laundry rather than lying on the couch.

The last few days have been so bad. I so wanted to revel in the good health I enjoyed this morning. It probably would have disappeared by 1 p.m. anyway, but five whole hours would have been blissful. I feel so cheated.

I hate that I’ve become such a complainer. Honestly, I can’t keep up with news or other blogs, so I haven’t had much else to write about. Besides, I know you understand. I hope my struggles will make you feel less alone in your next migraine or headache.

Coping, Favorites, Triggers


For the last few years, we’ve gotten season tickets to the theater. They are less expensive than tickets for individual shows and with them, we always have at least one date night a month. Unfortunately, I’m filled with anxiety in the days before each show. What if my headache is bad? What if I’m stuck next to someone wearing too much perfume? What if…?

Last night was our final play for the season and all my fears were realized. My headache was between a 5 and a 6 before we left, but I wanted to go anyway. The theater was small and our seats were right in the center in the second row of the balcony.

This was exciting on the one hand, terrifying on the other. The show was 90 minutes long without an intermission. If I had to leave, I’d be stepping on the 10 people in my row, blocking the view for the two rows behind them and cause enough of a stir to irritate everyone in the balcony.

While Hart and I were chatting before the show, the smell of cinnamon stopped me in mid-sentence. Four women in the row in front of us had popped cinnamon Altoids in their mouths.

During the play, my headache only got a little worse. The Altoids dissolved and the container wasn’t opened again. No one near me had bathed in perfume. But I still spent the entire show worrying about how I would escape if I had to. I wondered if we should get season tickets again and if I could request seats at the end of an aisle.

I listed off every scenario that could put me in a similar situation — airplanes, concerts, movies — and it became clear that worrying was useless. Headache or not, I’m still going to fly and go to the concerts and movies that I really want to see. If I become too miserable, I move to another seat or leave.

Even though it often feels like it, my body isn’t in total control of me. I’ll do well to remember this as long as I also remember that the comfort of other people doesn’t always take precedence over my needs.


Cinnamon Invasion

At my biannual tooth cleaning this morning, the hygienist tried to polish my teeth with cinnamon toothpaste. As soon as I smelled it, I jumped even higher than I did when she sprayed a sensitive tooth with cold water, then asked incredulously, “Is that cinnamon?” As if using cinnamon toothpaste is completely beyond the realm of acceptable behavior.

I’d already had her get Vaseline for my lips (so they wouldn’t crack while she was cleaning) and put on latex-free gloves (they give me cold sores), so I hated to be even more high-maintenance, but there was no choice. After a look of shock passed over her face, she kindly offered me a choice of cherry, mint or orange toothpaste. But she did complain that she’d already loaded the tool with cinnamon.

It seems like such a small thing, but for me it was disaster averted. If only I could convince grocery stores and gift shops that cinnamon-scented wreaths and air freshener are harmful to my health. The onslaught began a couple weeks ago with fall decorations and will continue through Christmas. Ugh.


Triggers that Stink

When I was in 5th grade, my teacher sometimes left the door in our classroom open to the workspace she shared with other teachers. Whenever she did, I got a bad headache — from the rose air freshener in the workroom.

In middle and high school, many of my classmates ate fireballs in class. You know, the candy with the artificial cinnamon smell? The one that that’s like a jawbreaker so it lasts forever? You’ve guessed it; I got bad headaches every time someone within smelling distance ate a fireball.

Now I try to buy every product, from deodorant to laundry detergent, unscented or scented with an essential oil I know I can handle. If I can’t get what I want with those requirements, I’ll stand in the store, sniffing all the bottles on the shelf to find one that won’t trigger a headache.

So you can imagine how annoyed I get when a new magazine arrives full of perfume samples. I open the magazine very carefully to avoid getting any scent on my hands, rip out the offending pages and throw them away, preferably outside. If the scent has migrated to other pages of the magazine, I leave it outside for a while to air out.

But there’s an even easier way to get rid of the offending smells. If you subscribe to a magazine, you can call the company and tell them that you want an unscented magazine. Publishers actually bind small amounts of their magazines without the perfume samples. What a brilliant, easy solution!