Sunday, October 20, 2013

"It's On" Follow-up: My Headaches

It's been one of those crazy weeks. And I also have been trying to figure out some new information I got from going to the neurologist this week. This was the first time I have ever been to the neurologist for myself! This sounds crazy, but I was happy to go to the neurologist and nervous at the same time. 

Ever since I was 15 or 16 years old, I have had migraines. My mom and one of my sisters has them as well. My great grandmother and her mom had them too, so I guess I could say they run in the family :(  Boo, migraines! Anyone else who has migraines: I am so sorry that you have to deal with them too. I do not wish them on anyone! Ever!! If I could have one wish in the world for myself, it would be that I no longer had them. Seriously. That would be it. Nothing fancy. I am so done.

When I was younger, they started out coming on maybe once a month or once every few months. But I remember when they came on, they would hurt so badly. Sometimes I would have to take the day off of school. I couldn't do anything. I would lie in bed with a heating pad on my head with the lights off and wait hours for my migraine to go away. I couldn't turn on the lights. I couldn't open my eyes. I felt nauseated. I just sat in bed hoping to be able to fall asleep.

As I've gotten older, they have progressively gotten worse. As I finished grad school and started working full time, they hit a more regular pattern. At least 8 a moth or more. At the highest, I would have 15 to 16 migraine days per month. Sitting in the dark wishing my migraines would go away and nothing working to take them away is never my idea of a fun time, but it's all I could do. 

I have tried many different medications. Some made me gain weight, some made me have more headaches, and others made me feel loopy. I have tried massage therapy. I have tried avoiding the things that I know are my triggers: dark beer, red wine, stinky cheeses (oohh but I love you!), chocolate (oohh but I love you more!!), among other things. My doctor referred me to a neurologist because what was working okay for awhile was no longer. I will say again: I. AM. SO. DONE. WITH. MY. MIGRAINES.

So Tuesday was the day that I had waited for and worried about a lot of the summer. It took me two and a half months to get into the neurologist as a new patient. So, as a person with OCD, this left a lot of time for my mind to loop and worry and wander. The last time that I was in a neurologist's office was when my dad had his brain tumor. So that worried me. "What if my headaches are from a brain tumor?" my OCD questioned. "What if you are going to get the same news that dad did?" Realistically I knew this wouldn't happen, but the thought was always in the back of my OCD brain.

That was a hard loop to squash. It played for awhile this summer, but I was able to stop it for a long time. Closer to the date of the appointment (maybe a few days before), I did have a little anxiety before going to the doctor. I had to work a little harder at keeping this loop from playing in my head. I still have to work sometimes to keep my from getting out of control, especially when it hits so close to me emotionally. Once it's looped through my head, it's harder to squash. If it's merely a though and hasn't yet found it's way round and round in my mind head, that's even better. It's much easier to stop that way.

Once the appointment was near, I asked Bjorn to come with me to make sure I didn't leave anything out when I talked to the doctor and to help me remember everything she said. When I get anxious, my memory and my mind tend to go fuzzy and blank. In the moment I function okay, but once I'm out, I don't remember specific details of what happened in the moment. 

Hi, awesome husband!

Once I got to the doctor, I was a little anxious and nervous. But once I checked in and sat down, I felt much better! I have to say that I think it had something to do with this lovely view!!

One thing that really helps me when I am anxious is visualization. My sister puts a picture in her mind of a forest and then zooms in like shes looking at it with binoculars or a magnifying glass to calm her down. She imagines the texture of the bark on the tree and its color. She goes into really fine detail through this magnification. That DOES NOT work for me! 

No bark for me!! Sorry trees!!

I, in turn, have to visualize a scene, or a story taking place--like a movie in my head. I play the scene through my head--the people interacting, talking, and moving around. One I use often is my family at the beach. My dad's grilling out, we're relaxing, drinking margaritas, Bjorn's swimming in the ocean and crabs are walking through the sand. Someone yells, "Don't burn the burgers!" We all laugh. The more you focus on the details, the easier it is for you to focus less on your anxiety and the faster it comes down. It takes practice, but it works!

The goal: put something else in your mind!

I have a whole Pinterest Board called "Deep Breaths" devoted to "relaxing" pictures that help me visualize some crazy story in my mind and let me replace the anxious thoughts in my mind with something else. Just because trees don't relax me!! Sorry, Rach! To each his own. :)

So looking at this view out the doctor's office window really helped me. I see something beautiful like this fall view of Cincinnati and I think of mine and Bjorn's wedding three years ago. I play a picture in my mind of a specific memory I have from that day and it relaxes me. I remember a fall day that my dad sat in our front yard with my dog, Abby, and my cat, Bridget and the breeze blowing through our hair. I am in that moment and not at a doctor's office. 

Picture: Mandy Paige Photography
This relaxes me.

Once I saw that view. I stopped running my loop. I started thinking of something else, and I relaxed. Well played, doctors. Well, played. I seriously would like to thank them and the architects for designing this building with floor to ceiling windows. But enough about that.

My doctor was amazing! She made me feel like there are options for me, even though I felt like I was at the end of my rope. We made a plan. And if that plan doesn't work, we have another plan! So here's our plan for now:

  1. Don't add any new medication to the mix.
  2. Add new supplements that have been shown in studies to offer migraine relief.
  3. Look at diet and try to eliminate foods (slowly!) to try to figure out which ones are my BIG triggers.
  4. Add acupuncture.
  5. Change "rescue" migraine medication because old medication seems to no longer be working.
I feel good about this plan. I'm going back right before Christmas-time to update her on how everything is going. The only thing that has really overwhelmed me is THE LIST, as I call it. The LIST is a list of possible dietary triggers that migraine sufferers have found to cause their migraines. Whoa! That is to say the least. Here is the list:

Now my doctor made a big point about making little changes here and there to try to see if certain things are triggers or not for me. She said to think "big picture" about what I eat and see if I consume a large amount of any of these items and consider cutting back on those first to see if it helps. So here is what I decided after letting THE LIST sink in:

Here is what I decided to do: 
  1. Cut out all lunch meat (we're cooking a roast in the crockpot this week to use for some sandwiches) 
  2. Cut out all almond milk (who knew nuts were triggers! I switched to rice milk. anyone know a brand with a low amount of sugar?) 
  3. No processed soup, including broths with preservatives (I found all natural beef broth at Meijer. I think I am going to make and freeze my own vegetable stock.)
  4. Eat less chocolate--I can do this.
  5. Consume less sweetener--no "diet" drinks like "diet Snapple"
Here is what I eat a lot of that is on THE LIST:
  1. Avocadoes
  2. Beans
  3. Nuts
  4. Bananas
  5. Eggs
  6. Pickles, olives, and onions--not A TON of pickles and olives (but I love them!)
  7. CHEESE!!!
  8. I don't eat a ton of this, but I do love CHOCOLATE!!

The list is looming in the back of my head every time I go to eat something. I have to keep telling my OCD that I am slowly testing out what items are triggering my migraines. I feel like my list of 5 things is definitely doable. I am not overwhelmed by it. By the whole list--YES! But, I keep telling myself that it's okay. We're going to figure this headache thing out! I CAN DO THIS!

So this week was a good, but overwhelming week in general for me. But I do get to check one thing off my HAPPY LIST! 

                                         13. Figure out a new plan for my migraines

I was so excited that Bjorn and I stopped by the cupcake place that it right around the corner from my house! I know...totally dangerous!! We tried Salted Caramel and Hot Fudge Sundae.

And that night I got a headache. I definitely think chocolate is one of my triggers. Boo :( Bummer. Well, I think I know for sure now. Next time I'll try Snickerdoodle!

You can read about my Happy List here.

Yay! I'm so EXCITED to see what will happen with this new plan. I'm going to remember that I can't change everything all at once. I know I will feel overwhelmed at times, but I am going to remind myself that it's okay to feel like that; I am trying something new. Here goes nothing. And here's to jumping in head first with a new plan, an awesome neurologist, and some faith in finally figuring out how to make me feel better.

Love and happiness <3 Holly

To follow my board on Pinterest "Deep Breaths," click here


  1. I'm excited you are trying acupuncture! I am only two visits in (#3 is tomorrow), but I like it and I promised myself I would stick with it and give it a fair chance. Why not? Great post!

  2. Thanks, Abby! I am so excited too! I can't start yet, but hopefully by the end of November now. I am so excited for you too! Keep me updated on how you're feeling too! I told myself the same thing about acupuncture. I totally agree too; it's worth a shot, right?!


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