How do I explain migraines to someone that has never had one? And how to explain having one constantly, on the reg, with an aura. I will try. You feel like a lesser version of yourself, operating at a “C” or “D+” level. Like you’re extremely hung over, but haven’t drank in days. You are now lackluster about the things you normally enjoy. It takes a lot of effort to even talk. You thank the stars (similar to the spots floating around in your vision) that your boyfriend is really helping the team average by keeping conversations going. You have to mentally work yourself up to have a phone call. You only want to be around people you are comfortable with that you know will not cause any stress, and sometimes don’t want to be around any human beings at all. Dogs are welcome, they seem to sense when you aren’t feeling well and don’t require a response. Meeting new people is utterly exhausting, but you usually love to. You try to power through because you feel guilty missing yet another outing or more days or work, but all you want to do is lay down. Every morning you wake up hopeful, searching your eyes to see if the dreaded spots are still there. You are more sensitive to light, sound, and smells. Everything seems… dreary. You know you aren’t showing the proper levels of enthusiasm, but can’t seem to change it. I was walking through the grocery store on Friday and my boyfriend Troy brought over sunflowers and another bouquet of purple flowers for me and asked me if I liked that kind. I gave him a bleak smile. A woman next to me exclaimed, “That is just so adorable! He is such a keeper!!!” I knew that is how I should be reacting, but all I could do was nod my head politely. You feel like you are observing the world go on around you and you can’t participate the way you’d really like to.
My sister and I both get migraines, but different types. Our bodies seem extremely sensitive to just about everything. The reality is, you don’t always get a perfect night’s sleep, have low stress, eat perfectly, and exercise….not too much, but just right. But when you don’t do all of these things and maintain perfect balance…. you regret it.
I had my first migraine when I was little and remember clutching my head and crying while hoping I’d soon drift off to sleep and it would mercifully end. My next memory is a series of migraines my senior year of college towards the end of basketball season. I remember holding my head on our bus traveling to an away game. They picked back up when I worked at Deloitte. When I got my first aura, I thought I was going blind and walked into an eye doctor’s office. Hootie and the Blowfish “I Go Blind” became my favorite song. When I was about 25 I got to the point where I had a migraine every day for six months. I would pull over on the side of the road and throw up on the way to work. Some mornings I would throw up into the trash can at my desk at work, fueling the rumor mill that I was preggers. I had a cat scan and tried all the medication out there. I quit coffee. I stopped eating lunchmeat (RIP turkey sandwiches). Finally one glorious morning a coworker asked if I ever tried chiropractic. Miraculously that had never been suggested. I made an appointment that day.
I was diagnosed with forward head posture likely from staring down at a laptop all day and being 6’3’’. It took about a month of going to the chiropractor (mad props to Dr. Ruocco in Ohio!) before I had my first migraine free day. I burst into happy tears when I had gone 12 hours without seeing spots. I didn’t want to jinx it earlier in the day. My migraines had gotten so bad that I barely made it to the gym. During that month, even if I was feeling awful, I forced myself to start working out again almost daily. Dr. Ruocco introduced me to whole foods and a plant based diet. I had never before been truly educated on nutrition, I only knew mainstream. I got a new job that would be less hours and no travel. I took a month off in-between jobs. I started a cleanse where I only ate organic fruits, vegetables, brown and wild rice, and small portions of chicken and fish and I lost 17 pounds. I wasn’t exactly sure which triggers were mine so I tried to eliminate every possible one. I was desperate from being in a migraine abyss for so long and every hour I went without one I was hungry for more. I soaked in all possible information. After the cleanse, I stuck to the diet for the most part with some exceptions. Every day my migraines became milder and milder. Eventually I got to the point where the ratio of migraine free days was more in my favor.
The past year the migraines have begun creeping up on me again (cue TLC). Migraines became the norm and I didn’t even realize it was happening. I eat pretty clean. I work outregularly. I am happy with amazing people in my life. I drink alcohol only socially and less than I ever have. I live on one of the most relaxing spots possible on the lake. I am dating a chiropractor so needless to say I get adjusted fairly often. Why is this happening? I am trying to climb my way back out. It’s been two months now and I can’t remember a day where I haven't see spots. I am trying to cut my work hours down and not feel guilty about it. I am being diligent about getting adjusted chiropractically and having deep tissue massages. I started going to acupuncture.
My new acupuncture doctor, Dr. Bishop, made me realize I am in a constant stressed state of fight or flight. My pupils are dilated. My lip or nose twitches occasionally. After acupuncture my entire body feels relieved. Stress seems to be a huge trigger for my migraines, but I’m not quite sure why it is so bad or how to stop it. I have naturally migrated to all the exercises that help relieve stress where you focus on breathing and movement over the past few years; swimming, yoga, biking, and paddle-boarding. It seems to help, if I can just get myself up and going. I started doing positive affirmations.
I get stressed about having migraines. I have been unable to stop from crying randomly the past three days out of frustration when all I want to do is enjoy my normal life, but there are these large spots flying all over the place and I am in a constant state of fatigue. I know I am not myself with every interaction and it’s impacting me at work, with my friends and family, my boyfriend, with strangers. I am sure I have lost friends because I just don’t have the energy. I wish they could see more of the normal amber. I worry about my migraines are impacting my relationships which I’m sure is compounding the stress.
I hate to talk about my migraines (minus this blog ha ha) because it’s the same old story. It’s like groundhog day. And if you tell someone you have one, they want to usher you straight to bed. But how do you explain to them that it’s only a “mild” one and you are only seeing a few spots. It’s manageable. You know they mean well and just want to help, but if I went to bed every time I had a migraine, I would never leave.
I see people all the time that are worse off with cancer or something else and feel guilty even talking about my migraines that I have learned to live and function with. I have the utmost appreciate for good health. A coworker told me a few weeks ago that I am the happiest person they have ever seen at work. I stared at them in disbelief thinking in my head that I was doing a darn good job with my façade. I feel like nemo, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” I will keep doing the right things and hope the results come again, fingers crossed. In the meantime, I hope the real Amber has enough flashes through to keep my relationships going so I can return again to my migraine-free life.