Saturday, December 30, 2006


Christmas Cookies Will Give You A Migraine

Every year my friend Debbie and I make a batch of Christmas cookies. She's moved to Chicago, but put in an extra week in New York City to ensure that we'd have our cookie time.

This year we made seven varieties, and discovered two killer ingredients that can make all the difference: eggs from true free range chickens and Sheffern Berger chocolate.

Unfortunately, the cookies also unleashed a beast of a migraine in me.

I haven't had one so awful for the past three years.

Red wine, coffee, lack of sleep, noise, stress and apparently too much chocolate are the main triggers for me. If I screw up the balance of these things, I can set off a firestorm.

I struggle with migraines--and their triggers--every day and have to work around them all to get any kind of writing done. Today was a relatively decent day, the first day I had any energy at all in two weeks. Two weeks! Forget Christmas, forget the lovely meal I had planned, the decorating I wanted to do. It breaks my heart to have missed out on my favorite holiday.

The whole time I was in my migrainous state, I would alternate between deep fatigue and fear that I was never, ever going to get better. Awake, I was dizzy, nauseous and dissociated from the outside world. I took medication to control the pressure in my head, and this made me even more nauseous. I couldn't eat but of course, skipping meals only makes migraines worse. My eye was numb and I had problems with my vision. I would remind myself that the electrical storm had passed before and that it would pass again. I took my pain medication, then found myself rebounding from too many Excedrin. It has been harrowing. I hear that people who have migraines wonder if they are experiencing a stroke or a tumor or a seizure and it's not surprising.

At the peak of my migraine, I occasionally reviewed the chain of events that had led me to this place. I asked myself if it really was worth it to stay up until 2 AM, then drink a strong cup of coffee to wake up the next morning to go to work, then take Excedrin to deal with the inevitable headache, if all these repeated activities were going to inevitably result in a migraine of this nature somewhere down the road. I think that the answer is no. Today I feel as though my New Year's resolution should be to quit coffee, seriously monitor my wine intake, watch my diet (god, no more salami) and control my sleep if I'm going to polish my manuscript.

In other words, I'm going to look like a prude to you.

We value a certain kind of joie de vivre in our culture. We like it when people are flexible and playful and can tell a great joke and handle their alcohol. I remember once reading an article by some guy who swore he "never trusted anyone who wouldn't drink." Because drinking to him was equated with moral worth. Drinkers are cool. Non-drinkers are pussies.

I've gone through phases where I controlled my diet/sleep/socializing before so I know what my new swearing off of fun is going to mean. It is awful to be in a social setting where everyone is drinking, and you know that you really love red wine and you really want a glass, but you are also fighting a migraine pushing up against your right eyeball. And if you have that drink, pain will explode in your head. So, you ask yourself; do you have the drink then go hide in the bathroom with a bottle of Excedrin to get rid of the migraine so you can look socially acceptable, or do you explain for the hundredth time that you don't want to drink? And do you then have to explain that you get headaches and that is why you aren't drinking, and it isn't because you are some uptight prude, which you know deep down inside the jolly person across from you suspects you are.

My Aunt Jane tells me that once upon a time, people thought that allergies were all "in the head." It was just a lack of willpower that caused her son to break into hives when he ate peanut butter. If he were more stoic, there wouldn't be a problem! I think that telling people you are prone to migraines has a similar effect.

Suffering from migraines does have an impact on how I use my time. I have to be able to be creative when my head is clear and when I'm in a writing mode, I want to stay in a writing mode. I don't want to go out and play. So, yes, the jolly guys at the party are right. I come off as pretty serious. But if you had my nervous system, you would be too. You'd plan ahead so you knew you could get some writing done. You'd be pissed off if you wasted 2 weeks to deep fatigue and nausea. You'd want to meet with a friend and have an intense discussion to make the most of the time you have together.

Wow, that's terrible :/

I don't drink for personal reasons, and it appalls me that people would actually ask why you don't. If they're people who know you, surely they already know about the migraines; if they're people who don't know you, it's none of their business.

I just say, "I don't drink, but thank you", and that's that.

I used to get migraines back when I drank Mountain Dew like water, day in and day out. They weren't as severe as yours, but they were enough that I swore off caffeine for almost two years. Now I enjoy it in moderation, but I don't use it to wake up. I guess it helps that I've always loved sleep and I'm something of a wallflower ;>
Aw, thanks Heather. That was much more helpful and comforting than an offer for used cars.

I think there's a lot about caffeine that we don't know. Some people are wired so they can take it and it doesn't cause problems, but I guess I'm not one of those people!

I hope you had a good holiday. I'll see you on Japundit!
Ohh, there was something in the newspaper about this! You can say something along the lines of "I'm not drinking today, but please enjoy yourself!" The "today" removes any trace of judgment (according to this article) because it shows that sometimes you do.

Dunno if that helps or not. People can be so defensive about their drinking.
Thank you thank you Kaytie. I think that's the line I'll use. Thanks also for your sympathy.

As for your comment about defensiveness, I think that's very wise. Often people's definsiveness about drinking is more about them than it is you as is the case with so many things!
Oh, Marie, I feel your pain! (Literally: had the worst migraine in years last week - 12 hours of throwing up every time I sat up; every 2 hours or so I'd nurse the baby then hand him off to E. so I could go vomit. Eergh. At least it was only one day - the clusters must be far worse than even weekly plain ol' migraines.)

But enough appetizing imagery. A few tips gleaned from the very few occasions I do drink: European wine has far fewer sulfates than American wine; I can usually have one glass of European red with food and be OK. Not so even the best U.S. stuff. Vodka is the only reasonably safe hard liquor, migraine-wise. Irish coffees are good, since you get the vasoconstricting caffeine and stomach-coating dairy along with your alcohol. No drinks without food, ever. If it's a special occasion (your own wedding, say), preload with an Imitrex or other sumatriptan drug, if you take one; don't do this often, though, or you'll get kickback headaches. No processed meats (I cheat with the occasional strip of Neiman Ranch bacon, but that's it). No more than 5 teas and 2 coffees a week. Carry snacks and water always.

Disclaimer: This is just my regimen - please don't take it as gospel, or even good advice. But it helps me a bit. Now just have to figure out how to avoid those big dips in barometric pressure...
Thank you, Lisa. G told me a couple times to ask you for advice, but you gave it before I could ask.

I did everything wrong that week to trigger the big old M. Ate salami, drank red wine AND sake, 3 crazy-thrashy-dance classes, the cookies, the weather (not my fault, actually), too many NSAIDS and the coffee.

Couldn't abort the f*((&*er to save my life.

I think I get my triggers better now and will just have to be disciplined.

The Europeans in my life will be pleased to know that their wine wins in my case. Since I quite coffee (cold turkey) and Excedrin, the clusters have all but vanished. Now if I can just become mentally sharp again, I'll have a hope of being happy once more!
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