Botox was playing a very positive role in my life with migraines. After a handful of treatments, I was able to go longer before needing a nerve block. I began to only need them as I got closer to when I was due for my next Botox treatment, instead of throughout the 12-week intervals. This was something to celebrate! I was going several weeks without having an excruciating headache!
After one solid year of Botox, I started feeling significantly better. I started to get more glimpses of normal life and began to feel more normal at times, rather than being constantly addled by migraines. I could tell I was making significant progress. I continued to focus my mindset on achieving greater health and wellbeing. When a breakthrough headache would occur, I would take Cambia® or Sumavel DosePro® with good results.
Over the months that followed, I learned through trial and error that I now had sensitivities to food and beverages that would trigger migraines. For me, pepper became a headache trigger and the few times I would “go with the flow” and eat veggies or meat that had been peppered, I would later regret it.
I recall being at a steakhouse and ordering chicken and asparagus. When the asparagus came out, it had significant amounts of salt and pepper on it. Within an hour I was suffering. I was still unsure if pepper was truly a trigger and didn’t want to be a burden on my family that was having dinner with me or a burden on the chef / restaurant. After this particular experience, I decided pepper was not going to have a place in my kitchen and I would do all I could to eliminate it from being part of the seasoning on my food when out.
Something that took me by surprise that same year took place on the Fourth of July. I was enjoying a party for the holiday with extended family and I drank a carbonated soda beverage that I had never had. Not too long after drinking it, I came down with a pounding migraine. I was ill for two days. That was the only “new” thing I had ingested. This artificially sweetened beverage is made by a major manufacturer and instead of only using aspartame as a zero calorie sweetener (as it does in other products), it uses an additional sweetener known as Acesulfame potassium. I was able to identify that as a migraine trigger for me. Needless to say, I have not touched that beverage since.
These experiences taught me to stay aware of ingredients, seasonings, and sauces. I am now wary of “new” things without thoroughly researching the ingredients.
Light is a huge migraine trigger for many of us. It is obviously not something we can entirely control all the time. I’ve had to make adjustments since my migraine journey began, as it seems I suffer from photophobia (not fear of light, but high sensitivity to it).
The American Migraine Foundation, in a September 22, 2016, article entitled “What is Photophobia?” by Kathleen B. Digre, MD, states that “no one knows the exact area of the brain that causes light sensitivity….” The AMF identifies migraine as the most common medical condition that is associated with ongoing photophobia. It is interesting in my particular medical history that meningitis is another neurological condition that amplifies the condition.
Having dry eyes further complicates photophobia. In my case, I never used eye drops prior to having meningitis and migraines. Now I religiously need and use eye drops every single morning. As unattractive as it may sound, eye drops and nasal spray are part of my life every day; they are always in my travel bag. You’d be hard pressed to not find those with me when on an overnight trip somewhere.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (in an article entitled “Photophobia: Looking for Causes and Solutions,” by Marianne Doran (contributing writer)) states “about 80% of people who have migraines have photophobia. It is one of the diagnostic criteria and is considered one of the predictors of the debilitating headaches nearly 98% of the time. Migraine sufferers are more sensitive to light between migraine episodes than are other people. Research has shown that migraine sufferers also have a low threshold of tolerance to loud noises and are more susceptible to motion sickness than are people who do not have migraines.”
In my work life, I’ve kept stronger bulbs turned off or have had them removed from overhead light panels. I set my phone and laptop screen to mid-low brightness even when I’m without a migraine. And if I’m outside during daylight hours, I always, always, always wear dark sunglasses.
I’ve had a multitude of people, both in my professional and personal life, tell me how much I have changed over the past six years. I have made many decisions for my own wellbeing. I know what’s best for me.
For example, certain songs or “musical” intros to tv shows pierce through my skull. They lead to anxiety and stress, and can be the slightest trigger needed to push me down the migraine path. Only we know our strengths and weaknesses and how best to proceed. We have to control our own environment for optimal health. There is no way around it.
Migraines have brought new people into my life and made certain friendships stronger over our migraine bonds. Through my openness and broaching the topic with different people day to day, it has begun to feel like I have established a supportive network / community within this journey.
It’s also been educational – learning what triggers others’ migraines and what tricks they have up their sleeve to fend them off as soon as possible. I love a good suggestion! Please send yours in under my “Share your experience” section.
Coming next: Exclusive interview with migraine sufferer: “I believe that my headaches were the worst thing in my life.”