Monday, October 6, 2008

Migraines Are a Pain

It recently occurred to me that I haven’t made any “Healthy Writer” posts for quite some time, so I thought I’d talk about a subject that’s near and not-very-dear to my heart. Migraines.

A few months back I saw, on a writer’s discussion board, a thread about migraines and I was stunned to see how many writers are cursed with them. Yes, I said cursed. I'm normally a "glass half full" kind of girl, but when it comes to migraines, I just can't see any upside to them at all. So, I thought that I'd share some of my own experiences here and hopefully, some of you will share, and maybe together we can help others. First question: Are you plagued with migraines? If the answer is yes, then you have my sincere sympathy.

Now, I’m not going to try to explain what a migraine is medically because well, I’m not sure the medical profession knows the truth behind migraines (but if you want to read up on them, you can read this Wikipedia article or go here). I won’t profess to be an expert on them, despite their frequent visits for the past eight years of my life. What I will share though, is what has worked for me, and what hasn’t. So here we go...

For those of you who don't get them, you might wonder, what is a migraine? Well, remember high school woodshop? You know those steel vises anchored onto the worktables? Well, imagine putting your head into one of those, lining up your temples just even with the vice and then asking someone to crank the vice down as hard as they can. That’s a migraine. It is NOT a headache. It is not under the victim’s control. It is not something one can just “push through.” It is debilitating pain that causes vision problems, painful light and sound sensitivity, nausea, dizziness and a throbbing pain in your head that personally makes me glad that I don’t own any guns. I am not exaggerating. It is THAT bad.

What triggers a migraine? I first started getting them a year after a car accident, when I was hit by a drunk driver (please folks, don’t EVER drive even after having a couple of beers). This unfortunate life-altering event also happened to coincide with peri-menopause (Oh, lucky me! I got a two-fer). Through the years though, I’ve realized that I have a variety of triggers for my migraines (I find the word “trigger” so fitting, as some migraines do feel like someone has shot me in the head). Okay, so here is a list of my triggers:

Hormone imbalance (you know what that means ;-)
Certain foods at certain times (very dark chocolate, alcohol)
Barometric pressure drops (as in, storm fronts moving through—a biggie in the fall and spring)
Fluorescent lights (this is a new discovery for me)
Sleep deprivation
Stress

What are yours?

Now, the last three things tie into my writing life and can be quite problematic for me. Fluorescent lights (like those in convention halls or in classrooms or in meeting rooms at hotels) can certainly offset a migraine (and what a drag it is to be hit with a migraine at a conference, or worse, during a school visit!). Sleep deprivation can also occur at conferences, writing retreats or other writing-related events. And stress. For Pete’s sakes, just planning for and getting to an event can be stressful for some of us!

Have you noticed any writing-related things that trigger migraines for you?

My post is getting a bit long now, so I’m going to stop here (but not because I don't care). Later this week, I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve found that have worked for me to control my migraines (See? There's a little hope).

I hope some of you will join in and share your experiences by leaving a comment.

5 comments:

sruble said...

I've been getting them pretty much constantly since a head injury at the beginning of 2007. For a year and a hlaf they were unbearable. Now they are annoying and painful and only sometimes unbearable (although it would be nice to be able to think straight on a regular basis again).

You mentioned your accident in conjunction w/peri-menopause. I wonder if that's part of my problem. I think it's mostly the nerve damage, but as that heals and the migraines continue (although luckily not as strong most of the time), I wonder if what you said about peri-menopause might be part of it. Don't know. I'm still technically recovering, so I hope they will go away, or at least become only infrequent events.

I'm still trying to figure out my triggers, but bright lights, too much computer time, lack of sleep and stress all seem to contribute. Also allergies and maybe weather changes. I'm not going to admit that dark chocolate might have something to do with it. ;)

Looking forward to your post on things that help. I have yet to find anything, other than medicine, and even that doesn't always help.

Robin L said...

Ack, Migraines! I feel like I have to whisper the word lest I risk waking one...

The point you make about them not being a normal headache that can be pushed through is such an important one!

It IS fascinating how many writers are affected by these. Do you know, Terry, if that's all creative types or just writers specifically. That would be interesting to know...

I've had mine since I was at least a teenager, and maybe earlier.

My triggers are hormones (but not on a regular basis) and not eating enough protein or skipping meals; that's a biggie for me. And a resounding YES on the weather systems! High pressure systems in particular, like Santa Anas.

My most effective over the counter medication for me seems to be Alleve. If I take two of those, I can get by until nighttime, when I knock myself out with a prescription painkiller. It's usually gone by the next morning. I know there are a lot of other, more specialized and sophisticated medicines out there for migraines, but I only get them about once every three months, so I'd rather stick with the old standbys.

Great topic, Terry!

Terry P. said...

Sruble,

Peri-menopause has a variety of other symptoms that go along with it, so maybe if you check into those you'll find an answer.

I often laugh at what a "dull life" I have because so many of the fun things can set off migraines for me.

And Robin, I don't know the statistics on creative folks and migraines, but as I mentioned, the thread on Verla Kay's discussion board was amazing with the number of writers who commented. It's an interesting thought though--do more creative people get migraines? Is there something in the brain structure that coincides with this?

Because I live on the opposite side of the mountains, I feel great during Santa Anas. It's when the fronts come from the north and northwest that kill me. When I know there's a storm a brewin', I take Advil to thin my blood out and work on the prevention aspect of it. Problem is, I don't always know when a front is moving through!

I have a friend who gets migraines if she doesn't eat enough protein or if she eats too much sugar (thank goodness that one hasn't hit me yet).

Thanks for your comments, ladies!
Terry

Geri said...

I used to suffer with migraines constantly (vomiting, auras, etc.). Fortunately, they were eventually resolved through chiropractic care. If you're interested in some migraine relief tips you can read http://www.newrinkles.com/index.php/archive/migraines-causes-and-cures/

Terry P. said...

Thanks so much for the migraine link, Geri. Lots of great info here. And congrats on finding a chiropractor who helped to eliminate yours--that's a gift!

Terry