In the past month, so many people have reached out to encourage me to continue sharing through my writing and in return, sharing their own experiences and battles with migraines, anxiety, depression or chronic pain (or if they’re really lucky like me – all of the above).
A few nights ago was special though. After spending much of that day listening to the “Migraine Miracle Moment” podcast some of my biggest concerns were confirmed. Rebound headaches are caused by frequent use of medication to relieve (abort) or prevent (daily dosage) migraines. What Neurologists and Migraine Specialists are now discovering, are the long-term effects of these medications (OTC – like Tylenol Migraine, Triptans and daily preventatives) have on their patients.
Since the marketing of the first Triptan (abortive medication) in 1991 many patients (as high as 80% in one study) are showing a worsening of symptoms (intensity and frequency). Ingesting triptans are sort of like how I forced my body to ingest the entire last 2 weeks of December – same outcome anyway. And in some cases, medication no longer brings relief, as the migraine adapts and morphs into an indestructible entity. Many migraineurs go on for years or decades trying to lasso this moving target only for it to slip free each time you think you’ve unlocked its mystery – the key, medication.
I was sharing this with my husband at dinner because I have experienced waves of doubt in my own choice to forgo the daily preventative meds – only agreeing to a triptan (Cambia) if I was having a severe migraine and only if my standard 2 Tylenol Migriane (taken at the first sign or aura) didn’t catch “it” in time.
I am not against meds. In the right situations, they can be effective, can literally be a lifesaver. But for me, in my situation it just didn’t “feel right”. I felt like taking meds to be rid of my migraines was just band-aiding bigger underlying issues – that I sub-consciously (as well as consciously) knew were there. <Elephant enter scene> If I took meds at this point to basically meet one goal (return to my job of classroom teaching) I would only be blanketing the situation. Still leaving anxiety, work-a-holism and chronic pain all tucked in tightly, as strange bedfellows enjoying the elbow room gained from the absence of their buddy migraine.
I felt strongly, I was already doing so much to treat the migraines with NUCCA chiropractic treatments, rest, yoga, walking, counselling, writing, healthy diet and stress reduction.
I also did one more important thing to manage my migraines. Leave my doctor. With the onset of the new migraines (“new” because I had gone through a similar bout about 18 months prior to this – working my little addictive brain right through them – it wasn’t as pretty as it sounds. Believe me, there are fewer teaching challenges I have faced, than attempting classroom management with 29 students, unable to see, lights low, knowing there is impending stage 3 (Pain) about to kick in once your vision is restored. This is a lose-lose situation. For me and for my students.) So I went to my doctor for support to come up with a game plan.
I was using some of my sick days to rest and try to decrease my anxiety from “Supastarrrr!” girl from SNL (you know, the cheerleader who sticks her fingers in her pits) to someone more like Ross Gellar from FRIENDS (mostly manageable anxiety – unless there is a couch involved. “PI-VAAAT!”). After returning to my Doc, with no change to the frequency of my migraines (3 or 4 a week), I told him I was going to need more time to “sort this out”. At which point he told me that not only could he not give me a leave but expressed how strongly (and by strongly, I mean raising his voice) he believed I should be taking a daily preventative medication adding, “We can’t just take time off work for headaches!” And by “we” he meant him and me, as he already prefaced his partiality for meds, explaining that he himself takes them daily for his migraines, so they’re obviously safe. Um ya, that happened. It was a gross experience.
By the end of the appointment, I was feeling full-scale-relapse-Hannah-Horvath. Completely blindsided by his bias and personal take on my situation. And yet, upon leaving that exam room for the last time I walked out with a referral to a neurologist (which I had to fight for as well) and he had somehow found a way to write me a leave from work – you know the one he said he earlier “could not??” This was not only confusing and anxiety-inducing – it had me doubting my choices and questioning who I was – as if I had done something wrong. I know now this is not the case. All I had done was advocated for my self and my health. I do worry about what another more fragile patient would have agreed to in that office that day and in the subsequent months following. I will never know because I immediately and very actively began finding a new doctor.
Now living in a smaller Northern B.C. town, finding a doctor taking patients wasn’t an easy task. But the timing was right and I found a Doc willing to take not only me, but my husband and son as well. My decision to find a doctor more aligned with my beliefs has been reaffirmed many times since that day in October. Remember me mentioning not being against meds earlier? This was something my new Doc reflected in our first appointment together. She said, “Meds are great for someone who is unable to get out the door to their yoga class or their counselling appointment. But you are doing so many things to improve your health already on your own. I wish more of my patients would work on the deeper issues like this.”
Whether it was in the literature “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Mate, “A New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle or the podcasts “The Problem With the Solution” by Invisibilia or the earlier mentioned “Migraine Miracle Moment” podcast, my hard fought for and earned meeting with the Neurologist – who also agreed that the process I was working through was enough without meds, or my new Doc who listened and supported without judgement, and actually showed appreciation for my efforts in my new full-time job – me. I felt I was on the right track.
Then the past few weeks of Christmas happened, and if you read my last blog entry, you know I fell off the wagon, hard. Even reconsidering my position with medicating my migraines. But then there was that “special night” a few nights ago – that I mentioned like, 12 paragraphs ago. (And you thought I was just off on a rant without an end point:) I got one of the best affirmations that this process is working and well worth the time and commitment.
While recovering from what might have been a rebound headache, the ding of my phone distracted me from the insessant throb in my head. And there, in my instant messages via Facebook, was an unexpected message from a dear friend. A dear friend who had parted ways slowly over the years like those dear friends do. With the start of new relationships, growing family, moving to other towns and cities – we had been seperated by time, space and life. Thinking of eachother but allowing the images on Facebook to fill in the blanks that all was well in eachother’s new worlds. But Monday night, she reached out and sent the most sincere thank-you for “writing with beauty to express my journey” and how she was also connecting with my words, had read each post and has herself, endured her own health challenges over these passing years – very similar to my own.
I guess even though we’ve been apart, we’ve been very much together these past years, more than we realized. She also had some personal remedies to share that I can add to my arsenal. And in a timely turn of events, shared her cautionary experience about the overuse of pain meds.
Her words meant so much to me for so many reasons, but for her to choose that day – that moment – when earlier I had been reconsidering the possibility of daily migraine medication and belittling the amount of Tylenol I had been ingesting lately. Her words helped me slow down. Her timing reminded me that I am exactly where I am meant to be. Her encouragement reassured me that my instincts could be trusted. And to borrow some of her own beautiful words and apply them to my own experience as she had been doing with mine, “…rebuild myself to not a perfect person, but one that I would choose over the old me.”
Thank-you friend, for your support and helping me heal.