As a long-time (and I mean this relatively speaking as I have suffered various types of headaches and migraines over the course of my entire life’s memory), chronic sufferer of headaches and migraines, I have had a lifetime of trial and error when it comes to attempting to either rid or avoid a headache and/or migraine. The first head-splitting headache I vividly remember (and there are many remembered headaches) was sometime in the first or second grade when my family attended Korean Heritage Camp (a long weekend filled with activities that introduce adopted Korean children to Korean culture and tradition). Prone to nosebleeds, I got a pretty gnarly nosebleed over the course of the long weekend. Immediately after the nosebleed (which lasted an inordinately long time as I also remember my parents not being sure what to do after I my nose kept bleeding after thirty minutes), I became ill with a nasty headache. The rest of the weekend was basically ruined. This was probably not my first headache, as my mother has always seemed keenly aware of any situation that may give me a headache (even to this day), but it is my first memorable headache. Another nasty migraine happened (again) over the course of a long weekend. My partner and I took a little trip to a small beach town, and by the time we rolled back to our hotel after an afternoon about town, I came down with a migraine that knocked me out through the entirety of the only full day we had. Luckily, I eased out of it by the time the final morning rolled around and we had a nice day and afternoon, but I basically ruined another trip, another weekend, another event. I do not know exactly how many situations my headaches and migraines have ruined for other people, but to the people in my life who have felt short-changed, I promise you, I’ve never once used a headache or migraine as an excuse to get out of anything. I would never inflict so much bad mojo onto myself.
As far as the techniques I’ve tried, not a single one has worked to quell or dispel a migraine, that is, until recently. At the lively age of somewhere in my early thirties, I have finally come to the conclusion that I have done everything completely wrong.
In the past, I’ve always opted for soothing sounds, dark rooms, sleep. My typical migraine strategy included (but was/is not limited to): putting some sort of dense carb into my stomach so that I could down two generic Excedrin with as much water as I could tolerate, and then off to bed I’d go until the generic Excedrin kicked in or didn’t. This strategy never helped to quell the discomfort, and so I kept on living in misery, hoping that this time, it’ll work. It never did. Not once.
Then, I learned that migraines often times come with some sort of aura (a sort of signal or warning sign that a migraine is coming on), and so, as soon as I realized that I had a migraine, I attempted to remember if anything felt strange or if any sense felt disturbed. After nearly a year of paying attention, I’ve found that my aura is a combination of sensitivity to sound and screens. I’ve always been sensitive to light while in the throws of a migraine, but (after my intentional determination to find out what my aura was [if I had one]), I became aware of the specific misery that the light from screens (my phone, computer, television) exasperated the problem in the form of nausea. Daylight and lamp light disrupts me in a way that creates a sharper head pain during a migraine. Screen light specifically made me nauseous, and after an hour or so of feeling sick to my stomach, I inevitably get beaten down with a migraine. This was the first big clue.
The second big clue was when my migraine cleared. I continued to notice that my ears always popped shortly before feeling that sweet sweet relief of the pain dissipating. That made me pay attention to my hearing just before coming down with a migraine. What I noticed was that my ears sort of ached like my ear drums were being stretched. And then I noticed that I would hear a bit of static off and on for a while before a full-blown migraine rose up.
With this new found knowledge and familiarity with my aura theories, I made a few attempts to preemptively strike against my migraines.* My first attempts went well. As soon as I felt as though my aura had appeared (either through static in the ears or nauseated sensitivity to screens), I would go through the routine: down a carb, two generic Excedrin, and as much water as I could tolerate. Then I would go to bed and try to sleep. This worked pretty well, but taking a nap in the middle of the day is not very convenient. Nevertheless, I stuck to the strategy, and it worked most of the time.
And then, I had an epiphany, What if I force myself to stretch? I stretch regularly because it’s just something I do and have always done. But now, I had to stretch for the good of my neck. One of the causes of my migraines is my neck injury. While working as an alterationist, my boss accidentally dropped a steel bar onto my head. It’s a long story that did not end well for my career at his store, but I am generally quite well. All-in-all, my neck needs to stay loose or I will get a headache. Thus, I realized that instead of going to bed and lying completely still, I thought that I’d force myself to stretch.
The first time I tried my new strategy, it worked really well. It worked so well, I couldn’t even believe it. So, now, as soon as I sense all of the signals of my aura, I immediately go through the same routine as before except now, instead of going to bed, I specifically get moving, despite how I feel. If a migraine arises, there’s not much I can do but pass out in bed, BUT, if I feel well enough to walk around, I get up and stretch on my yoga mat, go for a walk, and generally try to stay active while actively avoiding screens. I’ll throw on some tinted shades as well. I’ve also realized that screens, in general, really bother me and so, use the night light at all times, on the darkest setting, and now, I’m going so far as to get a pair of rose-tinted glasses, specifically for screen-time, as screen-time cannot be avoided in my line of work at this point in time.
Honestly, I am not even sure why I am so compelled to write about my migraines and newly-found strategy that actually works as I am sitting here now after deploying this strategy this morning after realizing that checking in on my friends on insta this morning was making me nauseous. Yay! I know that there are many people who suffer from migraines, and so, I am sharing my successful strategy with hopes that perhaps someone out there will find it helpful. I know that all migraines are unique, and so, you will probably have to come up with your own solution, and so, I suppose my real point is that you need to figure out what works for you, and if you still have not found a solution, keep trying. I’ve been suffering my entire life, and it took years to learn about my own body. In the meantime, I hope my strategy is a winning strategy for all of my future migraines, but I am realistic. There’s a chance that a simple change in water will affect my headache frequency, but for now, I am hopeful and ecstatic that my newest strategy is the first strategy to work successfully.
Until next time.
*I’m realizing now that I have not given you a sense of how many migraines I fight off at any given time. On average, I suffer one and a half migraines per month. They are, presumably (by both myself and my physician), related to my menstrual cycle. Every once in a while, maybe one or twice a year, I will suffer a stress-related migraine, and about once or twice a year, I will suffer a physical-tightness-related migraine due to issues that are beyond the scope of this here piece.