I’ve had migraines with some regularity for 10 years now. At the moment, I am coming out of the fog of the most recent one. Given that distraction is a relatively effective treatment, why not write a blog post about them while Thea naps?
Little science lesson to get us started – a migraine is not simply a bad headache, it is a unique type of headache which “can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.” (Source)
The best description I can provide is that it feels as though I have a vein that starts at the inside corner of my eye, runs out to my temple, down behind my ear, along the side of my neck, and across the top of my shoulder. During a migraine, that left or right strip of my body thumps painfully with every heartbeat. The pain makes it difficult to exist. Any movement, light, sound, or touch has the potential to exacerbate the throbbing. Concentrating on anything else is incredibly difficult, which is a shame because, as I mentioned, distraction is one of the tools in my pain-relief arsenal.
Adding a complication to the joy that is migraine pain, the causes vary for each person, making treatment and prevention an uphill battle. Over the years, I have identified all kinds of triggers for myself, including the following ever-growing list:
- not enough sleep or sleeping too late;
- keeping my head turned slightly to one side too long (like visiting with someone sitting next to me instead of across from me);
- wearing a shoulder bag, back pack, small purse, or anything else that puts pressure on my shoulder(s);
- turtle necks, necklaces, or anything else that could possibly constrict my neck;
- alcohol, of any kind and in any amount (a single beer means a 50/50 chance I’ll be in pain within one hour – talk about a night ruiner);
- anything that in any way slightly obstructs my view for too long (looking through a screen door, looking through a car wind shield, wearing prescription glasses, wearing sunglasses);
- looking at a computer or phone screen too long;
- a particular pitch that Thea occasionally hits while crying;
- a particular pitch that Thea occasionally hits while excited;
- wearing my long hair on one side of my head;
- etc., etc., etc…
TL; DR: My migraine trigger is “life”, which explains why I average 5-7 per month.
Surprisingly, one of the few triggers I don’t have, which impacts many other migraine sufferers, is food. Thank goodness for that because my lack of food-related will power is legendary. Just thinking about it makes me want chocolate. And popcorn.
So what’s a mother to do when telling her 9-month old to just go feed herself isn’t an option? I wasn’t kidding when I said I had a pain-relief arsenal. It includes:
- ice packs;
- heat packs;
- neck/back massage (thanks, Luke!);
- exercise (this is more a theoretical option, rather than an actively used one);
- popcorn (this is very much an actively used option – no idea if it helps, but it’s better that I keep trying, just in case);
- taking a hot shower;
- distraction (make supper, play with a baby, go for a walk, and so on);
- Tylenol Ultra (it’s Extra Strength Tylenol + Caffeine);
- prescription medication (a no-no while I’m still breastfeeding Thea, though).
My most recent discovery is peppermint essential oil. Applied liberally to the temples, neck and everywhere else that ouches, it provides a temporary cooling/numbing sensation. Basically all the benefits of an ice pack without the waking up in a puddle when the ice melts and the Ziploc baggie leaks.
Ultimately, every single thing on that list (used in any combination) only works “sometimes”. The best I can hope for is that they take the edge off enough so that I can exceed my own minimum standard of care for Thea during the day, and fall asleep at night. Sleep gives me the best shot of getting rid of the pain.
For the most part, I function decently well. Chalk it up to 10-years experience – I’ve just got the hang of doing what needs to be done for a day or two while one side of my body pounds. Now, when the pain drags on for upwards of 48 to 72 hours – that’s when I crash. Luckily, those beasts are fewer and farther between these days.
I’ve seen doctors, they’ve given me prescriptions and advised me that much about migraines is unknown in the medical community. Any more drastic programs and treatments are reserved for those who suffer 15+ days of the month. I count myself lucky to not fall into that category.
I have no real conclusion for this post. It is what it is and this one, too, shall pass…
PS: That was a heavy read. Here’s something to lighten up the end:
PPS: Seriously – I really want popcorn now…