Some of you know that a few years ago, I dealt with near-daily migraines that seriously affected my capacity to work, and had a huge impact on my ability to partake in life. I had always dealt with migraines but never to this extreme, and for this long. Read on if you want to know what helped me make it to the other side.
1) Mindfulness meditation. I noticed that one of the triggers for my migraines was “thinking about stressful situations”. My brain would get caught in a loop of ruminating and rehearsing. The only way out was to come back into the present. So I bought “A Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Workbook” and did some of the exercises suggested as well as listen to the guided mindfulness exercises that came on the CD. I still play that occasionally when I notice the tension starting to build. http://www.amazon.ca/A-Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction-Workbook/dp/1572247088 Also, I should say that whenever healthcare providers would ask me if I was dealing with more stress than usual I would be annoyed because I did not think I was, but looking back it was the stressful thinking spiral that was the problem, and also it turns out I was going through some pretty stress-inducing stuff after all.
2) Mindfulness on pain, specifically. When dealing with chronic pain, this seems like the last thing a person would want to do, but the more I braced against the pain, the worse it got. My friend lent me this CD from one of the leaders in the field and it became really, hugely important to my recovery: http://www.soundstrue.com/store/mindfulness-meditation-for-pain-relief-535.html
3) Biofeedback. I’m probably going to explain this wrong. But the basic idea of biofeedback is learning to control something in your body that is normally automated, such as heart rate, temperature, etc. In my case, I was connected to a machine that read the temperature in my hands, and I learned to increase the temperature... WITH MY MIND. So I know I just made it sound completely fake but this is a real science-based thing, and it worked. Once I could control the temperature, the idea was that I simultaneously was able to control the expansion of my blood vessels and could use that method when a migraine was coming on. Jim Eliuk (Registered Psychologist) is who you want to go to for this.
4) Yoga. Even though it didn’t FEEL like my muscles were tense, they probably were. And so yoga helped with that and also the being present thing.
5) Massage. I have been lucky to have met many fantastic massage therapists, and again, though my muscles didn’t necessarily always FEEL tense, it turns out they were. My friend Melissa decided one day that she was going to do an experiment on me to get rid of my migraines. She used a combination of heat and stones and stretching and magical powers, and IT WORKED. She is still part of my ongoing migraine prevention team and she is also very funny. That helps. http://www.trueserenity.ca/meet-the-team
6) Letting go. I had to let go of the idea that I should be able to work a certain amount of hours in a week (I couldn’t) and that my body should be able to handle a certain amount of stress (it couldn’t). I drastically reduced the number of working hours until I found something that kept me healthy, sustainably.
8) Medications. I’m somewhat conflicted about this because when I took a prophylactic too many days in a row it would sometimes cause rebound headaches. But generally it was better to take it when I needed it rather than “wait it out” or “hope it gets better on its’ own”. Eventually I took a daily preventative medication to help get ahead of the pain, and then when I had a few months with less pain, I was able to slowly decrease and then quit that medication. I did get in to see a neurologist which probably would have been helpful if I had seen a different neurologist. This one was not very helpful.
9) Coffee. When I was trying to describe the experience of feeling a migraine coming on, I noticed it felt like fuzziness in my brain, and so I had the brilliant idea to try drinking coffee to wake up my brain and reduce fuzziness. I'm 100% sure that's not how coffee actually works, but the image made sense to me, and coffee is my biggest prevention these days.I know it acts as a trigger for a lot of people, but it was the opposite for me.
10) TV. We figured out that one other way to get my brain out of the stress spiral was to watch TV, because it gave my brain and eyes something to focus on. Obviously this wouldn’t work if the pain was too extreme, but it was good in the early stages.
11) Magic hand lady. My old supervisor Marlen Walker (Registered Psychologist) did some kind of EMDR trick with her hands AND IT WORKED. She is now known as the magic hand lady because none of us understand why it was helpful.
12) Avoiding fluorescent lighting, red wine, and other triggers - stress included! Obvious but still should be part of this list.
13) Time. I think my body needing a long recovery time even after the events leading up to the pain issues were over.
14) Belief that it will get better. A friend at some point said to me “we’re going to figure this out” and I will never forget that.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
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This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.
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