Nine months ago, on a cold and crisp March morning, as I walked my daughter to school, I noticed a strange electric shock type headache over my left eye. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. But it kept on happening again, mostly in the mornings, sometimes it would need a painkiller, other times a large glass of water would starve it off.
Over the weeks that followed, I felt tingling on my left cheek, and I was pretty sure my face felt numb. In passing at the GP surgery, I mentioned my strange headaches and face feelings.
“Oh, that sounds like migraine” remarked the GP. She offered to refer me to a neurologist, as she was concerned about the numbness, but I was relaxed about it and said that I would keep an eye on it to see how things went. To be honest, I couldn’t believe it was migraine as it didn’t fit my idea of what a migraine is, generally of a person laying in a dark room, curtains closed and being sick with pain.
Around June time I was sitting quietly in my living room, reading a book, when I felt a very strange sensation within my left inner ear. It was a spasmatic like vibration, as if a butterfly was trying to escape the ear canal, fluttering inside and tickling me. This odd feeling began to come in around twice a week, the frequency jumped up to around three times a day by late summer.
By September, my headaches were beginning to intensify and were waking me up in the morning. The electric shock pain was scraping down into my left temple, joining into my left ear and muffling my hearing, and this weird vibration was turning up in its intensity to the point where it became so uncomfortable that I wanted to either vomit or pass out.
I spent one weekend so unwell, with no respite between head pain and vibrations that we almost called an ambulance. At the time, I had no idea that I was experiencing a full-blown, high-grade migraine attack that was lasting days. In fact, what I did not know at the time was that I had been having episodic migraines since March (my GP was right!) that had now turned chronic.
Migraine symptoms are unique to the individual and are a collection of neurological conditions, sometimes including the head pain. Mine for some reason decided to have the epicentre right within my ear canal.
Luckily, I have private health insurance and was seen quickly by ENT, who diagnosed a rare condition called Middle Ear Myoclonus (a spontaneous spasm of the ear drum). This, however, was secondary to chronic migraine. What followed this diagnosis was a blur of doctors, MRI and CAT scans, hospital admissions and preventative migraine medication. I was now in state of constant, chronic migraine pain and discomfort. My life and work as I knew it had completely changed.
There is currently no cure for chronic migraine disease, and it is difficult for doctors to understand what triggers it as it can be from any number of different sources that over stimulate the nervous system. This can be from hormones, food or allergies, smells, light, neck muscle trauma/injury, stress or even medication overuse.
There are many preventative medications on the market, but it can take years to try and find the right one for you and the side effects can be ghastly to say the least.
My GP had me take one of the strongest preventatives very quickly as my migraines were so severe and long lasting, which did take the edge off. They are used to treat epilepsy and Bi-Poplar and the side effects gave me internal tremors, body twitching and I lost control of my bladder twice. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop the frequency of migraine either.
When reading though chronic migraine forums, I realised that the poor people who have been suffering from this condition have been living half-lives, not really being able to hold down a job, some having to deal with daily symptoms for over twenty years. The future was looking depressingly bleak for me.
I decided that the only thing that I could take control of was my diet, so I bought a recommended Migraine Plan book and set to work on removing five key elements of my diet to see if they would make a difference.
It has been a few weeks now and not only have I seen a vast difference in my migraine symptoms, but I have also had some surprising things happen along the way to do with my mental, physical and emotional health that I was not expecting.
Cutting Out All Alcohol
I did this one as soon as I had my first proper migraine attack. I have to say it was easy because of how unwell I was. I also do not want to drink whilst being on such strong medication. I have drunk socially since I was sixteen years old, the only time I stopped was when pregnant with my daughter and when I breastfeed for thirteen months.
This year, my alcohol consumption did creep up, especially my absolute love of red wine! But my body has never thanked me. I’ve suffered with chronic rhinitis for years, and my sinuses would always become inflamed if I drank dark spirits or some red wines.
Since knocking it on the head my nose is clear, and my anxiety levels have reduced significantly. I have no brain fog and my memory has improved. For someone who suffered terribly with brain fog in her thirties, I would say this is remarkable.
Cutting Out All Caffine
By far the hardest thing that I have cut out on this journey has been my coffee. I only had two a day, but boy did I love my two a day. I love a coffee shop and I love the ritual of coffee, the smell of it (when I can smell it) – the texture of it, the sound of it being ground up….it’s everything! But I gave it up because it’s a known migraine trigger and more to the point, I didn’t want to over stimulate my nervous system anymore.
I do have moments of nostalgia, but since I have found Yorkshire Tea Decaf, I’m almost okay with it………..
Cutting Out All Refined Sugar
This is the one that my friends turn white at when I tell them that I’ve cut out all refined sugar, but honestly, it’s been the easy one for me as I’ve never been a massive chocolate, cake, biscuit or ice-cream fiend. It’s a tricky one though, as sugar sneaks into sauces like ketchup (massive fan!) and mint jelly (weird but another massive fan) and other things that we just don’t’ think about.
But I am thinking about it and I’ve removed it as much as I can, around 85% I reckon. Sometimes It’s hard when you get that sweet tooth urge, and I do have a substitute in Stevia for my porridge which is allowed on my plan, so I am not completely barren. But this reduction must be helping in a reduction of inflammation which in turn is helping my migraine reduction.
Cutting Out All Dairy
Much of my face migraine pain feels like it comes from deep within my sinuses. So, after chatting to a lovely acupuncturist, she advised me to cut out dairy, especially in milk form and replace with oat milk. This will stop the mucus build-up and allow me to breath better.
I went the whole hog and cut out the butter and cheese too but on occasion, it may sneak in to mash potatoes or in a risotto. I think the removal of milk has made the biggest difference for me. Many people link dairy to migraines so there could be something in it. I think I’m going to stick with this one, as it does appear to be working for me and most importantly, my sense of smell has returned…..
Cutting Out All Gluten
Gluten is a highly inflammatory substance and as I already have stage four endometriosis which does not respond well to anything that is inflammatory, I probably should have cut it out years ago. In fact, around ten years ago, I got a marker on a blood test for coeliac disease. After my stomach biopsy came back negative, my consultant said to treat it like a red herring. But I always did wonder, do I have an oversensitivity or intolerance?
Whenever I used to eat pasta in my twenties, I would need to run to the toilet and almost throw up and I suffered with so many tummy troubles during that decade and my diet back than was very gluten and processed heavy.
So, I decided that now is the time to knock it on the head. But here is the thing that has happened in the weeks since. I have managed to defer some surgery that I was due to have on my lower bowel for an issue I have had for twelve years. Due to my endometriosis and the strong medication I needed every month for years, it caused a very painful condition that has never healed in 12 years.
However, since cutting out gluten, and reducing my inflammatory response, the pain has disappeared, after twelve whole years and I doubt I will even need that surgery now.
So, there you go, by cutting out these five things from my diet, I’ve managed to turn around a desperate situation into one of hope.
Some might ask is my life boring now, but I would say no. I reached some dark and low places in my moments of illness. Day after day of being trapped in my bed, going from a strong, independent wife and mother to having my husband having to do everything for me because now I was pretty much housebound. My changes have given me my life back.
Until next time
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