I have seen six neurologists through the years. One just handed out prescriptions. One was a sufferer himself. One was a marvelous conservative Jewish doctor, whose humor, wild hair and inability to retain office help made the visits endlessly fascinating. Another was a character who spent hours talking to me. His patients had to alter their schedules to respect how long he took with each client. He was eccentric but thorough. Each doctor prescribed anti-depressants or anti-seizure meds as a prophylactic.
As I saw these doctors, I also looked into natural medicine. I spent several thousand dollars participating in a trial with a naturopath from NJ. He wanted to reset my allergy titers. This required a series of shots framed by rigid diet restrictions. It was all too out there for me and I found it impossible to stay within his diet and home restrictions (no pets, no plants, only lamb and yams to eat after shots, time off work).
I found acupuncture was helpful in alleviating the tension in my neck and back, which fed the headaches. I went to a wonderful nurse practitioner in Hackettstown. Our conversations were as soothing as the treatment. Unfortunately, she died of cancer two years into our relationship.
Massage was next. My close friend is a massage therapist. When she was busy, I visited other massage therapists in town. I had a massage every other week for years. These women became friends. As an offshoot of massage therapy, I did a sequence of rolphing, had Felden Krais treatments and considered using Chinese herbs.
I also tried chiropractic. It took a while for me to trust my neck (which curves the wrong way) to a chiropractor but I found two who helped me. One was a Viet Nam vet. The other one was a young, idealist who worked each summer with Native Americans
I should say here that I am an introvert. I was forced by the headaches to drop my outside professional commitments and cut back on my Quaker commitments. The time I spent with these massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists enriched my life. Their knowledge and kindness helped even as the headaches continued.
Although doctors say certain foods – chocolate, red wine, aged cheese – can cause migraine, they have been slow to consider food allergies like wheat and dairy. My headaches became almost constant in my early fifties so took a three-month medical leave from work to do an elimination diet. I learned wheat was a trigger for me – also, citrus fruit, milk, aged cheese, peanuts, almonds. Being without work stress greatly reduced my headaches. During that leave, I went from 20+ headaches a month to five.
Several people told me I should consider eliminating wheat before I tried the elimination diet. I find living without wheat extremely difficult. I am a baker of bread, maker of pies, lover of pizza and all things crusty. I still succumb occasionally and pay the price in a migraine.
I was reluctant to take up Gluten Free baking. Now the resources are more freely available. I keep them in my kitchen. The first gluten-free dessert I baked was so bad it actually foamed when my husband put milk on it. Remember those science experiments in high school? So much for that strawberry shortcake! I am more successful these days.
Two years ago, I went to an ear, nose and throat doctor. He discovered that my nose, which is small, had partially collapsed. This was not helping me to breathe. He fixed this surgically. Progress.
I also have osteoarthritis. I’ve had two hips replaced and my neck and hands pain me. Last year I went to a pain doctor, who cauterized the nerves in my neck that were sending me pain signals. This provided huge relief from headaches.
I am down to two bad headaches and six or seven nuisance headaches a month. I stopped taking Topiramate because I read it contained a chemical that is suspect in Alzheimer’s. I would like to stop taking Effexor but will only do that under my doctor’s supervision. It will be exciting to find out how my brain functions without these medications. When I stopped Topiramate, my dreams returned. I love dreaming.
One of the most difficult things with migraine is the mental chatter when I have a headache. I blame myself, adding guilt to illness. Learning to manage this illness is a lifelong process. Each person’s headaches are different in cause, manifestation and control. Finding relief and balance is a personal process.
Walk slowly. Breathe deeply. Be kind to yourself. You have an illness we have yet to fully understand.
My mother battled cancer on and off through her life. I’ll take migraines any day.