Migraines have been a part of my life for a long time. Both my parents had them. My mom suffered from hormonal migraines, while my dad was afflicted by crippling migraines triggered by red wine, cheese, and stress. Watching the two people closest to me suffer all through my childhood and adolescence had the unfortunate effect of instilling in me a degree of fatalism when it came to migraines. I came to believe that migraines were just something I had to live with. They were in my genes, they were in my fate, and there was nothing I could do about them. This was the frame of mind I was in when I started having migraines of my own, as an adult. My stressful and hectic job as a nurse was definitely a major contributing factor. For a while, they were tolerable enough. I thought I was patient and resilient enough to manage the pain. But eventually, I realized that I wasn’t. That turning point came shortly after I delivered my second child. The joy of giving birth to my beautiful boy was almost overshadowed by the crippling pain of my migraine attacks, which became more intense and more excruciating than I ever could have imagined. These attacks began in the early hours of the morning, and would then last three full days.
This meant that I would wake up under attack, with the horrifying knowledge that I had three days – three torturous days – of being consumed by sheer pain, nausea, and the impossible need to bury myself in a darkened room and wait for the agony to end.
This went on for three years. At first, it was one or two attacks a month. But towards the end of those three years, it had ramped up to two attacks a week. Migraines had become somewhat akin to a full-time job where I spent days off desperately trying to catch up with the rest of my life. After a point, I decided that I just couldn’t live with this. Especially not with two small children to care for. So I did what everyone does when there’s something wrong with them.
I went to a doctor.
I went to many doctors, in fact. For the better part of a year, I was in and out of doctor’s offices. They listened to me patiently and then, inevitably, prescribed medication. I ran the whole gamut of migraine medication, in terms of drugs, dosages, and combinations. At one point, a doctor even gave me injections I was supposed to self-administer when I felt an attack coming. The medication did help, albeit to a limited extent. I suppose that, more than anything else, it was the feeling that I was finally doing something to make things better, that kept me going. But my tenuous optimism started to fray at the edges once I realized, to my horror, that the meds ultimately weren’t really making a difference.
It was difficult for me, being a trained nurse, to admit that conventional medicine had its limitations, and couldn’t always help someone in pain.
So, since medication wasn’t solving my problems, I worked on fixing my diet instead. My first attempt was based on a book I ordered online – ‘The Maker’s Diet’ by Jordan Rubin. I followed the diet plans suggested in that book meticulously for about seven weeks before my efforts ultimately petered out. I suppose, in the long-term, no one can live by a rigid diet plan. I guess I simply hadn’t grasped the deeper concepts of eating healthy. So when I wasn’t following the diet plan to the T, I was completely stumped as to what I should eat. They say that the third time’s the charm. Fortunately, in my case, it’s my second attempt that paid off. A friend of mine, who’d been going through something similar, had got herself tested using a mail-order home test for food intolerance, and she recommended that I follow suit. A week after taking the test, I got my results. And at the top of the list of foods, I should avoid were gluten and dairy. I had to look up what ‘gluten’ was, and to my dismay, realized that it was a part of pretty much every food that I regularly ate! In fact, just before reading the results, I’d had a sumptuous breakfast comprising of butter, milk, toast, sausage, and cake. Now it turned out that all these delicious foods were precisely what I needed to avoid in order to get rid of my migraine!
So I started down yet another long road to recovery. Going gluten-free and making sure I stayed that way wasn’t as simple as walking down to the grocery store and picking up the ‘gluten-free’ options. It took me a while to learn the right way to cut down on processed foods and additives, not to mention learning all about whole foods, organic foods, and free-range. I eventually discovered the Paleo diet, which my body now thanks to me for!
Recommended Read: How I Learned to Manage Eating Out on a Diet
I knew my efforts had paid when I woke up one day, three days into my new gluten-free and dairy-free life, and realized that there was no pain in my head.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I still get an occasional migraine, but it’s nothing that some aspirin and a good night’s sleep won’t fix. That apart, my life has been completely transformed. Whole days can go by without the word ‘a migraine’ even crossing my mind! From being something that dominated my life for so long, the dreaded migraine is now nothing more than an old vanquished enemy. If you suffer from migraines or know someone who does, there are just two things you should always keep in mind.
Firstly, there most likely aren’t any quick fixes and simple solutions. Secondly, given time, and efforts in the right direction, things will get better.