A Day in the Life of a Migraineur

A guest post by John Martinez with Axon Optics…

A day in the life of a migraineur is not a normal day. It’s like a day of playing dodgeball, but if you get hit, you have to call out of work and live with head-splitting pain. Migraine triggers can appear at any time, and the migraine can rear its ugly head on a moment’s notice. 

Living with migraines can sometimes feel like going on vacation, without any of the relaxation of going on a vacation. You need to check the weather, make sure you’ve packed everything you need, and always have a backup plan in case things go south. 

If you have a friend or family member that experiences migraines, this is worth a read. A day in the life of a migraineur revolves around migraines: avoiding them, treating them, and explaining them to others. 

Avoiding Migraine Triggers 

A day in the life of a migraineur often includes dodging triggers. The list of migraine triggers goes on as long as a migraine itself. Any of the following could also cause a head-splitting migraine:

  • Hormonal changes 
  • Changes in the weather
  • Stress 
  • Certain levels of physical activity
  • Strong smells
  • Bright lights
  • Loud music 
  • Dietary changes 
  • Caffeine or alcohol 

 

A day in the life of a migraineur may include turning down an invitation to happy hour, staying inside when they want to go outside, or trying to change an event to a more quiet and low-key location. All the while, the migraineur is attempting to stay calm, because too much stress may just bring on the migraine they are trying to avoid. 

Throughout the day, migraineurs may be recording their diet and activities in order to discover and control their triggers. Not all people with migraines are triggered by the same things – the process of pinpointing triggers and then avoiding them can take up an entire block of a migraineur’s day. 

What’s In A Migraineur’s Purse? 

It’s not always easy to dodge these triggers; how are you supposed to know when a change in barometric pressure is going to cause numbness and pain throughout your entire body?  

If migraineurs can’t avoid migraine triggers, they will have to treat migraine symptoms. This means carrying a bag with everything they need to deal with migraines. 

Medication 

Over-the-counter medications offer some of the quickest relief to migraines. It’s always good to have your painkiller of choice on hand when symptoms start to arise. Over the counter medications include Aleve/naproxen, Excedrin Migraine, ibuprofen, and Motrin migraine. 

For those of us who have severe, chronic migraines there are also prescription medications that you can take when you have a migraine coming on, imitrex being the most commonly used. There are quite a few options for daily medications and even some shots that are supposed to work for a month at a time, but these are new and not always covered by insurance, like any other med, they don’t work for everyone.

Hormonal medications may also help to regulate migraines – but this is not applicable to everyone. Female migraineurs should talk to their doctor about taking contraceptives or other hormonal medication if they have migraines. 

A Cold or Hot Compress 

This lifesaver can also provide relief in a pinch. Cold or hot compresses against the back of the neck or on the forehead can help to numb some of the excruciating pain of a migraine. Unfortunately, it won’t treat blurry vision or other types of numbness. 

Sunglasses

I recommend FL-41 Glasses specifically!

Migraine glasses, also known as FL-41 glasses, have begun to give a lot of migraineurs hope. These rose-tinted glasses have been crafted to block out rays that trigger photophobia (sensitivity to light.) They can be worn indoors or outdoors. Migraineurs who don’t enjoy wearing glasses can order FL-41 contact lenses.

If you have ever experienced photophobia, you probably get significant relief by wearing sunglasses indoors. However, research shows that over time, it can make your light sensitivity WORSE. Maybe too much of a good thing really can be bad? If you want more information on this, check out, “Why Wearing Sunglasses Inside is a Bad Idea”   by John Martinez at Axon Optics.

Caffeine – coffee, coke, etc.

Like hormonal medication, caffeine can either cause migraines or treat it. A small can of cold brew or a soda sometimes helps migraine patients, but this is not a widely successful trick and is definitely not a long term answer. 

The Dark

Sometimes nothing helps with a migraine and you are stuck laying in bed in the dark, wishing away the pain and nausea and whatever else comes along with your migraine, everyone has their own “aura” or mix of symptoms – light sensitivity and sound sensitivity are some of the most brutal triggers, so stepping out of your cave, trying to turn on a light to focus on a task, or even just looking at your iPad to Netflix your migraine away can cause a massive wave of killer discomforts of all kind.

Eye masks/sleep masks and ear plugs are your friend. Noise machines with peaceful background sounds like fans, white noise, rain, etc. can also help block out the more painful noises and give your brain something to focus on that ins’t “dangerous.”

Support

Most importantly, don’t fight alone, except when you’re mid-migraine and can’t stand even the smallest of noises.

Whether you find your support through religion, family or friends, your dog, or an inspirational playlist on your phone, it is important to have something that helps you stay positive and hopeful. There are also support networks on facebook and other social media sites that can make a big difference. Of course, having a supportive doctor is also very important, so keep that number in your wallet, too.

…But Don’t Take Our Word For It 

Every migraineur has a different experience. While some people feel like an ice pick is piercing their temple, other people experience numb fingers and blurry vision. (These are real quotes, by the way.) Some people may experience symptoms for mere minutes, others, for hours or even days.

Whatever it feels like, it doesn’t just feel like “a headache.” Lucky for most, you won’t ever have to feel this pain, but part of being a migraineur involves telling people that migraines are not just headaches, that they are serious, and that they need more awareness, more research, and more treatment options, much like any other chronic, misunderstood illness.

 

Guest blogger John Martinez, in association with Axon Optics, edited / posted by Positively Rachel as an awareness post for chronic migraines

Thank you, John for sharing with us, as always I am excited and grateful to have a guest blogger!

If you want to read more about migraines and how they affect daily life, you can check out my own work on a previous post, “Chronic Migraines: More Than Just a Headache” or “Kids Get Migraines, Too!”.

Mermaid Soul

When I close my eyes, I go to the peaceful, beautiful underwater world at the lake. It’s dark and mysterious, the lake floor just deep muck squishing between my toes as I push off to surface like a dolphin, emerging just to take a breath before going back down, being engulfed by the water. You can hear the motor of boats before you see them, it is a soft, rhythmic stutter that comes and goes with the small waves. I could swim like that all day, every day and never be tired of it.

And then I’m in the clear, pure water in the rivers I swam in as a child, always searching for treasures in the slippery rocks under my feet, daring to go a bit farther, a bit deeper, conquering the current, being one with the water. There’s moss beneath my feet, the rocks I hit with my knees, and the little pinchers of crayfish. I find the deepest part and disappear for as long as my lungs will let me, sometimes swimming away and seeing if my family noticed how long I was gone, if they worried at all, other times just sinking into the water and just being one with it, listening, feeling the cold water and the hot sun, washing my problems away, down the river they go, I am at peace.

Chlorine. Salt. Sweat. The pool, the water I spent so much time in, practicing my strokes, competing, loving and hating it at the same time. I always seemed to tire before others, my heart rate was always higher, and even when I took my inhaler, I couldn’t breathe, but still, it was my passion. Summer mornings diving into the cold, cold pool, a shocking wake up call for swim team practice, back and forth, often toe to finger close to the person before me, the person behind me. When swimming for fun, not practicing, I will disappear under the water, swimming without coming up to take a breath, going deeper and deeper, testing out my lungs, happy and at ease.

One day I’m going to be free of central lines and feeding tubes and I’m going back to the water. I’ll live on the lake, I’ll travel and see the incredible beauty of the underwater world through my own eyes, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, maybe hippos too – just no snakes. ☺ I can’t wait to return to my life as a mermaid, feeling the water, seeing the beauty, feeling no pain, just peace and happiness, such simple things.

These memories are worth gold, they’re what I need to have faith and they inspire me to make my dreams come back to reality. A piece of my soul belongs in the water, the thought of return comforts me when I need an escape, being my happy place when I need to disappear, and gives me hope and drive to find my way through my trials and back to my underwater world.

Recovery: The Real Challenge with Surgery

The past two weeks have been even more challenging than my “normal” for both my body and my mind. I had surgery two weeks ago to place a new/additional feeding tube and we ran into some challenges and now I am trying to heal and recover.

I’ve had to spend more time in bed since getting home from my surgery because I’ve been unable to move much on my own. For the first week I couldn’t sit up, stand, walk, sit down, go to the bathroom, brush my hair, or do anything for myself. Being 100% dependent on other people is really hard, regardless of the fact that I was already disabled and very dependent on my parents for so much even prior to surgery.

IMG_8484.jpg
Kevin needs his new tube placed!
IMG_2437.jpg
Baxter alerting me.

I have to admit that the first week or so post- surgery is all a blur. There was lots of pain, many doctors, a painful car ride home (or two), a lot of sleeping, medications, ambulance, pain, another ambulance, an awful ER, pain…. But what I do remember is that both of my parents were right there by my side the whole time. There was never any talk of hiring a nurse to do the hard work or asking another family member or close friend to come help so my parents could go back to work. Every day I had at least one if not both of my parents there taking care of me, no complaints or mention of using up their sick days.

IMG_8413.jpg
3 tubes?!

For the first many days I slept 20+ hours a day with the help of pain medication, nausea medication, and sedatives, which all together helped make me more comfortable. After my ER trip on Monday/Tuesday I stopped taking the heavy pain medications because they delay gastric emptying so I also stopped sleeping and instead started having major insomnia again. By Wednesday/Thursday I was starting to walk on my own and eventually getting out of bed by myself, too. Although I run out of energy quickly and my pain levels are still severe, every step forward is worth a celebration.

IMG_2477.jpg
Our one and only trick or treater 🙂 My favorite visitor!
IMG_2476.JPG
Always blessed and spoiled by my parents’ coworkers!

Having such a supportive and involved family made all the difference for me; I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with meds or finding a good nurse or anything because my parents and sister were on 24/7 “Rachel Duty” for as long as I needed them. We also have an incredible community that supports me by sending cards, flowers, and gifts but they also support my parents at work and through facebook and texts/calls of support and well wishes. Being the parents and care takers of a young adult as sick as I am is no easy task and it’s extremely important to have that support.

IMG_8460.jpg
Mom sleeping in the ER.

Surgery is tough, but recovery is hell. Waking up each morning in major pain and knowing it’s not going away isn’t easy on anyone physically or mentally, but each small improvement or sign of progress gives me hope. Life is precious and every day that your body is functional and pain free is a gift; I encourage you to take advantage of every day and live life to the fullest, always follow your heart and do more of what makes you happy. Find joy in every day.

Xoxo

Why I Continue to Avoid TPN as a Young Gastroparesis and Generalized Dysmotility Patient

I’m about to hit my 3 year mark of being tube fed. I never would have imagined that I would be 21 and fed through a tube in my gut, but it isn’t my last choice as far as alternative nutrition options go.

I’ve been asked and offered many times to go (back) on TPN, or total parenteral nutrition, which is nutrition that goes straight into your veins. This option gives you full nutrition—protein, fats, vitamins, etc—and can be tailored to your exact needs.

Because my intestines and colon are delayed (they don’t process food or feeds at a “normal” rate), I don’t get in enough feeds to meet my calorie goals and I haven’t been able to gain back any weight. My BMI is considered extremely low and some of my doctors would really like me to go back on TPN. For those who don’t know much about TPN and for those who have never had to make the choices I have, I’m going to try to explain to you why I – as well as many of the other girls in the same situation—want to avoid TPN for as long as possible.

Although TPN is complete nutrition, and it probably sounds like a great option to many of you reading, it comes with many risks. TPN requires you to have a central line or a long term IV that goes deep into a large vein and then straight to your heart. These can get infected easily and lead to sepsis, which if not caught in time can be life threatening.

While tube feeding is much more natural and forces your GI tract to at least try to function, TPN leaves the GI tract to shut down completely. For someone with dysmotility (lack of movement), this can mean there is little to no chance of returning to tube feeding or eating if another treatment option becomes available after they start TPN.

TPN also puts you at a higher risk for glucose abnormalities and liver dysfunction. The damage to the liver can be so serious it can cause you to be unable to run TPN or even require a transplant if not caught in time. While on TPN, you are required to do weekly blood work, blood sugar monitoring, and weigh ins. TPN can also cause volume overload, metabolic bone disease, and reactions to lipids (fats) such as nausea, headache, back pain, sweating, and dizziness.

So there are many, many undesired side effects from TPN. But aside from side effects, TPN is scary because for those of us with gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility, TPN is our last option. To go on TPN means to admit that our intestines are no longer functional enough even just for tube feeds. It means we can’t eat, we can’t tube feed, and we may not return to either.

Yes, some people go on TPN and come off of it able to tube feed or even eat again. Some people only use TPN to supplement their tube feeds or oral intake. Everyone’s case is different and TPN helps so many people live a more “normal” life because it does provide full nutrition; it can boost your energy and help you regain strength and muscle that is lost from malnutrition. TPN saves the lives of many starving patients with gastroparesis and generalized intestinal dysmotility.

That said, it doesn’t make it any less scary. Losing the ability to eat is one of the most confusing and complicated things you can imagine. Going from eating orally to being fed through a tube is one of the strangest and hardest adjustments I’ve had to make, but knowing I could lose the ability to feed even through a tube in my gut is even harder to accept.

TPN is a miracle for so many people, but it is also a nightmare for many of us. It’s what can help us live, but also what can put our lives at risk. I’ve been on TPN before, and I fight my body (and sometimes my doctors) every day not to go back to it. You can’t understand what it’s like to go through this until you’ve been the patient, but I hope that everyone—doctors, nurses, family member, friends—can try to understand how hard it is on the patient to make these decisions and all someone needs during that time is support and love.