My migraines triggered a few years ago, after Stephen moved in with me. We were at the same job, a marketing firm run by a husband/wife team that were off their rocker. Seriously. I have stories. They are crazy and not in a good way.
So. Stress. And we wrote off my migraines to stress.
Then, they got worse. Like piercing pain in a specific spot on the right side of my head worse. I could press my finger on the curve of my skull above my ear and feel the pain shift slightly. ”It’s right there.” I would moan in pain. It felt like something too big was trying to force its way through an opening too small. And the pain spider-webbed down into my ear, along my jawline, behind my eye. I could feel every nerve in my back molars, in my ears…my eye felt like it’d been punched repeatedly.
We thought maybe something with my teeth. Nope.
Ear infection? Nope.
They finally got so bad that it was debilitating. I would get searing flashes of pain across that specific spot in my head and couldn’t function. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, sometimes they took my breath away. That’s when we finally went to the doctor.
He was concerned. Very concerned when I said that it was a very specific spot. Concerned enough to send me to get an MRI to check for the dreaded T word.
Meanwhile, he gave me some super extra strength painkillers to help take the edge off so I could at least pretend to be a functioning member of society.
MRI day came and went. No tumor. Big sigh of relief.
But much confusion. If no tumor, then what on earth was causing [that much] pain in [that specific] spot?
He sent me to a specialist. The specialist ran a battery of tests and put me on various medications. One medication sent me into shock which was fun. Two hours of cold sweats on the bed and the inability to move my neck because of muscle seizing is exactly how I like to spend my afternoons.
“Don’t take that one again.”
After many medications that did nothing and the ever increasing dose of painkillers that were starting to make me loopy and exhausted, the specialist pretty much threw her hands up and declared, “Well, it looks like you’ve discovered a brand new acute type of migraine.”
“Fantastic. How do we treat it?”
“We don’t. We can’t. It’s new and nothing is working. Just keep taking these painkillers and we’ll be in touch.”
We’ll be in touch.
Never heard from her again. She probably published a paper and made money.
I finally stopped taking the painkillers and, since we figured stress had to be a trigger, I quit my job. Stephen and I had often talked about starting our own design business so I left the corporate world in an effort to get better and to start slowly doing freelance work. It seemed to help. The pain was less frequent. I was able to manage any flare-ups with over the counter meds.
We got married. We went to Spain. I got pregnant.
I had almost completely forgotten about them until after Olivia was born when I had a blinding one out of the blue one day. It was like that spot on my head got all pissy one day, “Remember ME?”
Rather than returning to an unhelpful doctor, we just sat down and went through everything I did and ate during the day to see if anything could be a trigger. Then we tested things one by one. I stopped caffeine. I stopped sugar. I stopped dairy. I stopped alcohol. Stephen got up more at night with the baby in case sleep was a contributing factor. I quit my breastfeeding-safe birth control pills.
The funny thing was, everything worked for about four days. Four days after stopping whatever we were testing at the time, the migraines went away. On the fifth day, I’d have a searing one again and be curled up on the couch wishing I could carve out that spot on my head with a spoon.
We were convinced stress was part of it and we still, to this day, believe that. I get stress headaches around particularly stressful periods like payday (i.e. the day I pay all the bills and hope we have enough) and this move coming up, etc. etc.
One day, completely unrelated to migraines, we were sitting on the couch chatting during one of Olivia’s naps and Stephen mentioned that he’d like to try going gluten-free. His mom was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance that affects her energy levels and her joints. He was having trouble with losing weight and overall energy so he was suspicious that he might have the same intolerance. I shrugged “Sure, why not?” and had a fleeting thought about my migraines and “Oh maybe this will help.”
We purged all the gluten from our home. Bye-bye pasta, bread, soy sauce, flour, cereals, lunchmeat, beer. We went cold turkey. I started researching gluten-free baking and slowly started to familiarize myself with various alternative flours. After two weeks, Stephen walked in the kitchen with a huge smile on his face and said he’d lost 25 pounds. I went and weighed myself and happily discovered I’d lost the last 5 pounds of pregnancy weight I’d been trying to lose. As I went to tell him, I realized I hadn’t had a migraine in a while.
But I didn’t say anything for fear of jinxing.
A week later, I mentioned it and he was thrilled that we might have discovered the largest contributing factor to my migraines.
I can now say that it’s definitely the largest contributor as I have been one lazy gluten-free eater lately. It hasn’t been [horrible] but I had cake on Stephen’s birthday and it’s kind of snowballed since then. Piece of pizza here, some french bread to sop up sauce there, etc etc.
Yesterday, I was floored by the same searing pain.
So, I have to go cold turkey again. I think my reaction is to a build-up in my system. It’s like I have a meter. If the meter pegs too much gluten, I get migraines. Couple that with stress and I get massive pain. But I don’t know how big my meter is and it’s just easier (not ideal but easier) to just cut it all out.
Hopefully, it won’t take as long for it to purge from my system as before. Meanwhile, I sit here and wince as the pain sits there in that [one spot] punishing me for straying.