migraine life (part 2: the “other way”)

Once I was a Young Living Essential Oil member on a team (what happens when you buy a kit from them), I was exposed to a whole new world I knew so little about. It was SO MUCH MORE than essential oils for me. It was about learning this new lifestyle with a group of women who were trying to figure out their own health journeys. My research brain went crazy. Living in New Jersey, in a hotel, surrounded by nothing but farm land, this new world I was experiencing was a divine gift. Something that even later became my first attempt at starting a business. I could talk way too much about that but I’ll stay focused on the migraine piece.

That was July. I started learning and experimenting and seeing enough impact that I wanted to learn and do more. Yet, I was still chained to my medications. The holistic stuff I was doing was helping migraines not happen AS often (like maybe one less a month) but I was still feeling intense migraine symptoms on a chronic level.

Knowing the end of our insurance was nearing, I stocked up on enough medication as the doctor would write a prescription for, knowing I had a runway to figure out this migraine life sans medication OR start paying the high bills.

Communicating with me via telephone, I’d told my neurologist my medication had started not working. “Level one” had stopped really doing much a few months prior but now “level two” was beginning to fail me. I now know this was drug tolerance — my body was getting used to the medication because I was taking it regularly and therefore it stopped working as effectively as it once did. The doctor prescribed another medication, I’ll call this “level three” (even though it technically replaced “level two”) because it felt more intense. This was a snorting medication. I had this contraption where I’d put a capsule into it, push a button which broke it into a powder, and then I snorted it into one nostril. I’d repeat the process with the second nostril. Awesome, right? (insert insane sarcasm there!)

That medicine worked…for a very short time. The MAJOR turning point for me was October 2017. My friend was getting married and another friend had come into town to stay with us. The wedding was on a Friday evening and my out of town friend showed up around noon to hang out for a bit. While we were getting ready for the event, my fingers started tingling. I was DETERMINED not to ruin this night. Determined that migraine wasn’t going to ruin, yet another, social situation. I willed myself not to be in pain. Used all the oils. Took all the meds. And put on a happy face and my big girl pants and dammit, refused to let it happen. Here are pics from the night! It was so special. I even found out that TWO of my girlfriends were going to have babies!!!!

Between the lights and the loud music and the dancing…by the time I got in the car to head home I was in more pain than I’d ever been in my life. Once we got home I used one of those fancy snorting medicines and was able to feel enough relief to get in bed. I awoke 4 hours later in WORSE pain. Yes, the pain that was the worst I’d ever experienced in my whole life got worse. I used another snorting medicine and was able to sleep again. The next morning I woke up feeling terrible. So I’m readily, absolutely terrible. I survived the weekend and then by Monday morning, I had the energy to want to do something different.

Back in the summer, a friend recommended a book called Heal Your Headache when I first announced my holistic health journey. I’d bought the book and never actually read it. That morning, I went to find the book and climbed into the bath tub (my safe place).

I got to page 18ish, burst into tears “THIS MAN GETS ME”, read a few more chapters and then fast forwarded to the recommendations page. First step is to get rid of all medication (okay, well, that’s not going to be hard, that crap isn’t working for me anymore anyway!), step two is the HYH (Heal your Headache) Diet, and third is introducing prevention meds if necessary.

With step one out of the way, DONE, I was off to the grocery store to buy things that worked with the diet. I went VERY unprepared and was VERY overwhelmed.

Literally all my favorite foods I couldn’t have, and the things I could, BLAH. This sucked. It was awful. So awful. I wish I had a quick happy ending bow to put on the migraine diet story but the real deal? It was hard for almost two years. I realized I relied on certain foods when I was having a bad day — like Kraft macaroni and cheese — and I couldn’t eat that stuff. Food was my happy place in a myriad of ways and with those happy places stripped away, in the midst of one of the hardest fought physical and mental battles of my life, I was like a lost little puppy with out my comfort food.

After that day in the grocery store, it took a few weeks before my first headache hit. We were in Dallas at a resort before heading home after spending time with dear friends. The pain came on and no matter how bad it got I wasn’t going to use meds. And the pain got BAD. Real bad. I had to board a plane and get home with the pain, the nausea, the intense neck and shoulder muscle strain, it was as bad as labor pains with no relief for two straight days.

But the relief did come, finally. Followed by a “migraine hangover” and intense anxiety about it happening again.

I think I made-up the term “migraine hangover” but it fits perfectly. The after wave symptoms after the pain subsides: mental fog and extreme mental and physical exhaustion. That takes about 12-24 hours to clear for me to get back to normal, a new normal that remains terrified of it happening again.

As hard as those first 6 months were, navigating the holidays, frustrating family members who were trying to make food I could eat, crying at restaurants because it just felt too hard, spending WAY too much time on food selection, it started to get exciting as I entered the reintroduction phase. This is the phase where you reintroduce foods one at a time to see what triggers you the most and then you abstain from those foods and eat everything else on moderation.

I’d done two weeks of that, citrus and avocado were my firsts, and then I found out I was pregnant. The massive hormone shift brought on a new level of migraine intensity coupled with pregnancy symptoms and I was a mess. I was working part time, and couldn’t even maintain those hours anymore so we decided I’d step down permanently.

As I get into describing this next season of life, I’m experiencing physical signs of anxiety as I recollect it. This was a HARD season. Hard on me physically and mentally, hard on my marriage, hard like I wouldn’t want to wish on my worst enemy. Perinatal depression was identified by a therapist that summer. I never sought treatment after the diagnosis because I didn’t realize it was necessary. I wasn’t under the care of a therapist at the time and from Lukas and my limited knowledge of depression and our focus on the intense physical symptoms I was experiencing, we didn’t know what we didn’t know and didn’t seek professional help.

Next week, hear more about the consequences of chronic pain and the impact living a life of fear had on every aspect of who I had become.

xoxo, va