Migraine: The End Result of a “Perfect Storm”

Feb 14, 2017

I like to call migraines a perfect storm of circumstances.

The reason I relate them to a perfect storm is that in order to have the “storm of a century” the wind, water, temperature, lunar pull, season of water levels, and other things all have to be just right in order for the perfect storm to happen. The same thing, in my opinion, happens with migraines.

I look at migraines as a build-up of layers of actions, thoughts, behaviors, and consumption that you knowingly or unknowingly repeat at a regular interval in your life. The end result of that layering is a migraine. These are factors within your life that compound each other until you head literally feels like it wants to explode.

I think it is a true chemical reaction inside the brain stem and brain.

In my line of work, successful migraine treatment involves more than a twice a month massage. It requires that the client and I work closely together to figure out their “perfect storm” sequence of actions, thoughts, behaviors, and consumption.

When I take on a client for the symptom of migraine management, there is a conversation I have with them right off the bat that is about observation.

Effective migraine treatment lies in prevention. Once they hit they are endured until they subside – with or without medicine. Managing a migraine only at the point it hits and creates the pain will not result in prevention.

One of the things I start to have a client do is to keep a journal – or at the least mentally keep track – of what happens within their mind, body, and emotions up to week prior to a migraine “hitting”. Within the week before the migraine happens, there are always things that happen that are a pre-cursor to the migraine coming to full maturation. Once I ask the client to start observing this in their life, they can begin to see what I call “red-flags”.

My Red Flag Journey

I am very familiar with this process of layering and looking for red-flags as I was a sufferer for years with migraines. I rarely have a migraine anymore and I want to share with you what I have learned about managing migraines.

I can remember having “bad headaches” as a child. They were less frequent and grew into a more common thing as an adult. As I reached my 20s and then into my 30s, I suffered with migraines that seemed to come on for no reason but were consistent. These headaches would start generally on Saturdays and I would spend Saturday and Sunday, throwing up, sleeping, taking medicine, enduring the pain until they stopped, and being exhausted until Wednesday the following week.

After enduring this for a decade, I tried to pinpoint where they came from. At the time, I owned a home on 3 acres and I was constantly digging with a shovel or working outside. It seemed that the more time I shoveled the worse my neck and shoulders became and that spiked a headache. It seemed that if I spent too much time in the sun, the light or heat would cause a headache. It seemed if I ate more sugar, it caused a headache. If I stayed up later on Friday, I got a headache. I started worrying on Thursdays if I was going to be able to do my yard work that weekend because I thought the chores outside were making me have migraines.

The headaches got so bad that I sold my home and moved into a lower-maintenance home with a small yard to not be in the sun and shoveling in the hopes that my headaches would get better. It did help, but the migraines still came on.

Four years later, when I was pregnant with my 2nd son, I was so horribly sick that I basically lived on rice and vegetables for about 6 months. But unbelievably, I didn’t have many migraines. (It was the only part of that pregnancy that was pleasant! Of course, my son is adorable and so worth it).

At 6 months, I started to feel a little better and could eat a few more varieties of food. My oldest son asked for a treat at the gas station one day on my way home from work and I bought him these red gummy sharks with a red gooey center. I couldn’t resist and had a handful of them with him and I didn’t get sick.

Exactly 24 hours later (5:00 pm), the worst migraine headache I have ever had in my life just hit me without warning. After being without a migraine for about 6 months to having that horrible migraine, I realized that something I did caused it. I went back and wrote down everything I had done or ate for 3 days prior to that migraine showing up. The only thing different that I had done (in the last 6 months, really) was eat those darn gummy sharks.

After experimenting with a few things and having a couple more migraines, I figured out it was the red dye in the gummy sharks. I can have green, yellow and blue dyes. But I CANNOT have red, purple (blue + red), or orange (yellow + red).

Then came the realization of all the different foods that have red dye in them and here is how it fits into my story of successful migraine prevention.

  • Consumption: my favorite foods are anything red. Pasta sauces, ketchup, hot sauce, cherry flavored anything, strawberry flavored anything, raspberry flavored anything, cinnamon anything – RED anything.
  • Timing: I could not pinpoint the red dye to my headaches because it takes 12-24 hour for the chemical to do the damage. A full day after I eat it, I get the headache. It didn’t make sense before. I truly feel that something swells in my neck or brain that creates the horrible, chemical reaction.
  • Behavior: To help manage my sugar intake and weight, I allowed myself a treat on Friday or Saturday nights. My favorite things were – you guessed it- red. Licorice at the movies, gummy bears as a treat on the counter as I walked in and out of the house working in the yard, chocolate covered cinnamon bears, red gummy hearts for valentine’s day – you get the picture. I typically rewarded myself on Friday night and by Saturday afternoon and evening, after I had worked in the yard all day, I was dealing with a migraine.
  • Behavior: Unresolved anger is the only other thing that will bring on a migraine. If I get angry and allow myself to become unreasonable with it, then I cannot control the outcome of the chemical reactions that anger puts into my bloodstream. It has taught me to be calm and deal with things in my life that bother me before they become a problem.

Migraines Solved

I no longer eat anything red at all and migraines are rare. I look at the label of everything and anything I eat that is in a package. For that matter, I try not to eat things in packages at all. One of the last migraines I had was a year ago, in March, and it lasted for 3 days. I had eaten pizza from someplace I knew didn’t have red dye in their pizza sauce, except that they had run out of their regular sauce and had replaced it for that day with something they bought local. It had heavy amounts of red dye in it.

Not only did I get that migraine that lasted so long (unusual), I got a kidney and bladder infection, interstitial cystitis (bladder spasms due to irritation), and horrible spasms in my neck and shoulders. The sensitively and allergic reaction to red dye has grown so much that I had a heavy histamine reaction that created the infections.

Actually Not Funny

The funny part is that when I went to the doctor for the infections and cystitis, the medicine they prescribed for the cystitis was – you will never believe this – a pill loaded with red dye. They said the dye stuns the bladder and that is what they use to calm it down. Ironically, after doing some research I have found that interstitial cystitis can many times begin from dye sensitivities in many women. Then Doctors treat it with a dye and it helps, then perpetuates the problem so you have to keep taking it.

I just drank water until I could float and took slippery elm until I got enough of that in me to coat my bladder and it stopped – and didn’t dare eat pizza for 6 months. Now I order my pizza with white sauce or no sauce.

My story is unique (or not) to red dye and migraines.