Things that make my life easier

I am still accepting suggestions for a catchier title for this series: introduction here and first entry here.

A little background first. If you prefer to skip that, click here to jump directly to the product recommendation…


My memories of high school are a blur by now. I can pick out snapshots — crouching in the fetal position outside the music building, the chill of the winter fog seeping deep down into my bones, the sensation of my “feminine sanitary products” reaching a saturation point, and trying not to let my chatting friends hear me moaning for the pain emanating from within me. Collapsing onto the grass out front, waiting for my mother to pick me up to take me to the ER for uncontrollable tremors, after the school nurse refused to even let me rest in her office, much less go home for the day. Dropping off a schedule change request form in the counselor’s office, seeking to reduce the amount of walking between classes… but most of it I honestly don’t remember.

I know that in the spring of my junior year, apparently I went to the doctor for headaches. I know my headaches intimately now, and I remember having had them back then, but I don’t remember ever thinking to seek help for them. I ended up at a rather gruff and arrogant ass of a neurologist, who nonetheless knew his stuff. He asked me to describe the headaches — which was difficult for me; to this day I have problems recognizing patterns of pain until they’re just about to knock me in the face — where they occured, when, what it felt like, how long it lasted, what helped, what made it worse. And of course, he knocked on my knees with that triangle-on-a-stick to check for my reaction.

After a full exam and a review of my history, with me sitting awkwardly on a table shoved up against the wall, he looked at me and declared:

“You have a very long neck.”

That was my diagnosis. Verbatim.

He explained that my muscles were significantly underdeveloped, and with the noted anatomical variation, that meant that I couldn’t hold my head up straight. This resulted in pain in my neck and shoulder muscles (which were the worst area for pain at the time, and also severely tense), which would then radiate upward into my head, which triggered migraines.

(Of course, all of this is precisely what a vulnerable, self-loathing teen girl needs to hear. But that wasn’t his fault.)

It always rubs the wrong way when someone uses the word “migraine” to mean “really bad headache,” when the two aren’t remotely in the same league. (It grates the same way when someone complains that whatever hurt so much, they had to take a single Tylenol! Oh dearie me! — it’s not an entirely rational reaction, but there it is.) These migraines are disabling in the strictest literal sense of the word. It progresses to a point where the pain is so bad I want, need, to scream, cry, moan — but I can’t, because to do so would involve force and movement and sound and any of those things would only make my condition worse. It is the point at which laying my head on the softest down pillow feels like grinding it against a stone cold rock so hard as to rip skin and draw blood. It is the point at which I know the position I am in is making the pain worse, but the pain is so bad that I can’t move to position myself any other way.

And I can remain in this state, or at any point in the process leading to this state, for weeks on end, the pain building and subsiding, and sometimes catching me by surprise with a sudden severity for which I could find no cause. Recovering from these attacks required careful, diligent effort, completely rearranging the world to create an environment that added no further burden, so that I could patiently wait out the pain.

This is no mere “headache.”

He prescribed physical therapy, which sucked so much strength out of me that I started receiving failing grades on my progress reports in school, where before that time I had maintained a perfect 4.0 average. I remember fighting to get them to delay the PT until after the school year was done, so I could do it when I had no other obligations, but to no avail. My AP US History teacher, in an act of compassion, and aware of my aspirations to college, raised my second semester grade from a D- to a C- in light of my AP test score of two. Those of you who have taken AP exams will understand precisely how pathetic that made me feel.

Those headaches have stayed with me since — in fact they were the primary cause leading me to drop out of college the first time, and then drop half my classes the second. (Then the anxiety kicked in full-force and I gave up for good.)

Over the years I have learned how they progress, what triggers them, what to do in response, and what to do to prevent them altogether. It’s a rather complicated dance, like the relationship you have with that supervisor who you know can’t stand you, and the egg shells you walk on so as not to provoke large-scale conflict.

The modifications I have made to my life to deal with these headaches are pretty major, so I am sure I’ll write about more of them over time. But with this as an introduction, I’m going to single out one product that has done me very well ever since I plunked down a painful $105.99 for it:

The Symphony Pillow by Tempur-Pedic

I bought mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It’s the same price just about anywhere you can buy it, but I wanted to be able to feel it for myself before blindly handing over the cash for something that could turn out to be ineffective at best, disastrous at worst.

Understand the context here: what I sleep on is imperative to my pain state, most particularly regarding my head, neck and shoulders. It is my first line of defense against those awful migraines. If I get my sleep fucked up, I can pretty much count on the warning signs popping up eagerly the next day. And once the process is kicked off, like a car rolling downhill, it’s pretty damn difficult to bring it to a stop.

My head and neck need careful support. It has to be at the right height — too high or too low pulls at my neck muscles, and a crick is the least of what I’ll be getting the next morning. The material is important too; a nice soft pillow might not offer enough support, while a firm supportive pillow might be too hard a surface to lie on.

Basically, my sleep life is Goldilocks on crack.

It gets frustrating, because no matter what kind of pillow I buy — and trust me, whatever you have to suggest, I’ve tried it — it seems like it never lasts more than a few months, whether it goes flat, or gets too lumpy, or whatever else. And then I have to go and flush another $50-100+ down the hole.

(Health is expensive. Health is especially expensive when the “medical equipment” you need is mostly specialized forms of the things everyone uses in their everyday lives. And while you’re at it, throw on the therapy bills, because sooner or later you’re going to develop a complex about the fact that all of these things you count on to be able to climb out from under the pain every day are considered a “luxury” by any normal person… What feels like pampering to them feels a little more like getting an infected tooth pulled to you, but outsiders only ever seem to see it as that privileged pleasure, which makes you feel like a right ass simply for daring to adequately treat your condition!)


I’d been looking at “memory foam” for a little while. It seemed to offer the support I was looking for, without the risk of going flat in two months. My problem was that most of the pillows made from it were too hard. If it hurt to try to push my hand down into the foam, how was it going to feel to try to rest my head on it?

This pillow was the one exception I could find. Each side of the pillow (the front and the back, and both long sides of each) is a different construction. I confess I don’t know what the hell they were aiming for with each one, but regardless it allows a little bit of variation, whether I’m really needing that high support one night or a softer pillow that yields more to pressure another.

And I really did luck out with this one. (It’s rather hard to truly test a pillow in the middle of a retail store.) When I took it home and out of its box, threw it on the bed and lay down on it for a test — it felt good. The material was just slightly soft and giving, but it held firm enough to keep my head where it should be.

But I have learned, also, not to put too much stock in my initial response to something. I find that I can only ever accurately gauge my condition when I have the perspective that time gives. It’s hard to tell how tall you are just by standing up.

This one, though — it’s been a good five months now and the pillow is still doing really well. Used to be that I had to fluff and fold and smoosh and shape my pillow to get it to behave how I needed it to — and I would still often wake up with that familiar pain in my neck muscles, and have to spend the rest of the day trying to chase it off rather than being able to do whatever else I needed to do that day. I would judge when a pillow got too flat by when I went at least two or three weeks waking up with those headaches every day rather than “just” every few days!

But this pillow is just a matter of lying down — no adjustment needed — and five months later it’s just as strong and resilient as it was when I bought it. I’ve had a couple headaches (and I do believe it’s been limited to a couple) and they were triggered by other forces. And even when I have a headache already, I can rest my head on this pillow ok — I used to keep an overly-soft pillow around for my migraine nights, when I needed something as soft as possible, because my head was so, so sensitive to pressure. I haven’t had to switch pillows like that at all.

There is a lot more to migraine prevention for me, but it seems that I have this aspect of it nailed. And with as many things as I have to pay attention to just to live something resembling a “normal” life — those points of confidence are a true blessing.

Similar Posts (automatically generated):

34 comments for “Things that make my life easier

  1. TrishB
    July 28, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    You’ve described every aspect of my migraines. My one question is about how the pillow deals with cool vs. hot. I need to flip my pillow constantly in search of the cooler side. Will this pillow accommodate that? Damn. I hate to ask pillow questions on a blog devoted to feminism, but the migraines kill me.

  2. July 29, 2008 at 12:31 am

    nd while you’re at it, throw on the therapy bills, because sooner or later you’re going to develop a complex about the fact that all of these things you count on to be able to climb out from under the pain every day are considered a “luxury” by any normal person

    Wordy McWorderson, basically. I feel exactly the same way about my meds, my numerous heating/cooling pads, and my acupuncture sessions. I know, deep down, that I’d rather have all of those things than be close to bed or couch-ridden, but still, the mental flagellation is among the toughest things that I deal with in addition to pain.

  3. July 29, 2008 at 3:40 am

    When I was getting migraines every day in primary school the nurse would give me one paracetamol and make me chew it. They were not the chewable kind. She said it was to ensure kids didn’t “fake it”. Of course paracetamol didn’t do anything other than make me feel sicker and to this day I still can’t stomach it well. For me it’s ibuprofen + codeine, repeat.

    I get really angry when people describe a migraine as “a headache”. So not true.

  4. NormaJ
    July 29, 2008 at 8:12 am

    Wow. I get horrendous migraines, though they are not as bad as yours sound. I tend to get many more secondary symptoms which last beyond the pain. Like my vision gets completely distorted, and I’m so sick to my stomach that any movement results in me trying to throw up whatever I ate a week ago – can’t eat during migraines but I’m sure that’s common. I might try the pillow since I seem to wake up with them – I’ve never had a particularly good doctor treating mine though so I have no diagnosis beyond “migraine.”

    Random question: I just realized a few months ago that I was at a higher risk for strokes while on the pill because of my migraine, but my doctor leaves a lot to be desired and I’m on student health care so there’s not much I can do. Does anyone know more about this risk, and if the risk still exists if you’re on the progesterone only pill?

  5. Shae
    July 29, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Since you’re going to the doctor, you’ve probably heard about all the pills and such available for migraines. But it can’t hurt to make a recommendation, I think, if it might help someone.

    I had migraines that pinned me to the bed for about 48 hours straight (and caused me to flunk a test or two) before my doctor gave me Zomig. One Zomig taken with some coffee, early in the migraine, eradicates mine within the hour. It has changed my life.

    Also, they are worse during the menstrual week, so I was switched to the birth control pill Seasonalle (now available in generic). Four periods a year vs. twelve equals less migraines.

  6. July 29, 2008 at 9:22 am

    What feels like pampering to them feels a little more like getting an infected tooth pulled to you, but outsiders only ever seem to see it as that privileged pleasure, which makes you feel like a right ass simply for daring to adequately treat your condition!

    Oh yeah, I’m hearing that, since obviously my husband is an unemployed bum who lies around all day doing nothing because he’s lazy. It feels like going around in circles with him some days. I can’t imagine what it’s like in his head, but out here I’m constantly reminding him that it’s *okay* to have a disability and not be able to do things and it doesn’t make him bad. But his parents wanted him to “pass”, and having someone in his life who’s of the opinion that he’s actually allowed to be sick is a big deal.

  7. Olivia
    July 29, 2008 at 9:23 am

    In high school I started getting horrible headaches and since I had been in a couple of minor collisions my mom sent me to the chiropractor. His diagnosis was that I had a straight neck with no natural curve. Frequent chiropractic sessions helped restore some of the curve, but I am still prone to neck pain and headaches particularly in times of stress.

    I finally bought a cheap, conoured neck pillow and it’s been a godsend. It’s pretty firm and has two heights of neck support. I’ve looked at the tempur-pedic, but it’s a bit out of my price range. For long trips the travelling neck pillow is a big help.

  8. July 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Migraines R All of Us apparently.

    Vicodin is my best friend forever. I’m allergic to all the Zomig, Imitrex stuff.

  9. July 29, 2008 at 10:58 am

    You’ve described every aspect of my migraines. My one question is about how the pillow deals with cool vs. hot. I need to flip my pillow constantly in search of the cooler side. Will this pillow accommodate that? Damn. I hate to ask pillow questions on a blog devoted to feminism, but the migraines kill me.

    Cool vs. hot isn’t something that has really affected my migraines (besides extreme temperatures, which cause pain regardless), so I can’t speak much to that… tho’ I imagine a good silk pillowcase might help? The pillow is made of “visco-elastic foam” which responds to heat. And the cover that comes on it is one of those soft foamy types, which will probably get warmer than just a typical cotton or poly fabric. I would say if I’m comparing it to a down pillow or a fiber-fill it will probably be warmer than either of those.

    If you can find it or one like it in a store it might help, because then you have something in your hand to compare instead of trying to imagine it. I tried a couple memory-foam pillows that ended up being too high and too hard — and I tried a pillow with a foam core and down surrounding it that did go too flat after a couple months, just like every other down pillow. This one was the softest foam-only one that I could find. But every person is different and you might need something different for your own body.

    Jill invited me to write here knowing what I write at my own blog, so don’t feel bad talking about these things! It’s good to be able to share and learn from each other, since there typically isn’t a lot of space for us to do so in mainstream society. Hopefully at least a couple people will get something useful out of it.

  10. July 29, 2008 at 11:05 am

    When I was getting migraines every day in primary school the nurse would give me one paracetamol and make me chew it. They were not the chewable kind. She said it was to ensure kids didn’t “fake it”.

    Color me NOT SURPRISED. I had a variety of school nurses over the years and they pretty much all hated me. It was completely useless to visit the school nurse — when I needed to go home b/c the pain was at its worst, she’d suggest I lie down on that hard couch-like table in the back (SO not helpful)… and when all I needed was just ten or twenty minutes of that sort of rest, she would send me right back to class. And the medication rules were beyond fucking ridiculous. I carried my own bottle of Tylenol (the only med I took during the day) and took them as I needed, damned if I was going to have to go to the teacher and ask for a pass and walk to the nurse and explain how I felt just to get a single frigging Tylenol. My pain isn’t an on/off switch; I need to be able to gauge my own condition and take my medication when *I* know I need it, which isn’t always predictable enough to count on those middle-men being cooperative.

    I always wondered, with these rules, what happens to a kid with asthma who gets a severe attack on the far side of the field during laps in P.E.? Do they have to walk all the way to the nurse’s office to get their inhaler? Just, what the hell. Things are so fucked.

  11. July 29, 2008 at 11:40 am

    I use to get bed ridden migraines at least twice a week in middle school. The nurse didn’t believe me and my doctors declared it “hormones!” I would have to go into my room, turn off all the lights and curls up in bed, with something cool pressed against my forehead. Sometimes I would cry, but that would only make it worse. I could hear EVERYTHING outside my room. And I would have to grit my teeth and not kill people when my dad would BUST IN and let light in and ask me if I was better yet. (To this day my father is still useless when it comes to me being sick.) My mother, who is against medicine, would make me feel bad for wanting more advil (in the 10+ years I have been getting them, not a single doctor offered me something stronger.)

    I spent a lot of time that year throwing up from the pain. I was sure I had a brain tumor.

    Since then they have slowed down. They aren’t nearly as bad and I only get them every month or so, instead of every few days. I live with a woman who is completely trained on how to handle them and when I start feeling one coming, we drug me up and put me to bed. It’s a system.

    So, I literally feel you pain. I’m glad you found something that works for you. :D

  12. July 29, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Random question: I just realized a few months ago that I was at a higher risk for strokes while on the pill because of my migraine, but my doctor leaves a lot to be desired and I’m on student health care so there’s not much I can do. Does anyone know more about this risk, and if the risk still exists if you’re on the progesterone only pill?

    Also, they are worse during the menstrual week, so I was switched to the birth control pill Seasonalle (now available in generic). Four periods a year vs. twelve equals less migraines.

    That first question is something I can’t answer, but are there any clinics near you that serve low-income folks? It depends on where you live, but a lot of places do have offices that have a sliding scale payment system, which may mean a $20 visit instead of $200. You have a chance of finding a good doctor there, and the benefit of a good dr. cannot be overstated… my original Awesome Gynecoloist worked at a clinic that served poor folks pretty much exclusively. If you’re uninsured, or under-, they usually try to find a way to make it work for you.

    I remember when I first got the pill at PP they made sure I understood the risks. I was on the pill for several years — a low dose pill, kariva (gen. for Mircette) — but right now I’m on a six month round of Lupron to treat endometriosis. I’m not getting periods anymore… lol. On the pill I was covered to skip the placebo weeks, mimicking what Seasonale does, but with a pill that better fit my body chem. It was a lifesaver. After I finish the Lupron I’ll be going on a progesterone-only form of BC (whichever I end up with) …

    having someone in his life who’s of the opinion that he’s actually allowed to be sick is a big deal.

    It is. Trust me, it is. Without an understanding hubby, I don’t think I’d have the space that I do to try to be honest with *MYSELF* about what I am feeling. I’d be stuck in self-doubt mode 24/7.

    And Christina — I use the Vikes for my headaches too (haven’t found a serviceable alternative yet, but to try to prevent them from happening in the first place), but that has to be managed carefully because there can be rebound headaches. Things just never seem to work out for us, do they?

  13. July 29, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    With migraine attacks starting at age 15 and continuing for nearly 40 years now, I am still searching for the best treatment and remedies for me — and for the right pillow!

    I have just published a book, ‘Migraine Expressions’, which will hopefully play a role in helping non-migraineurs including medical professionals truly understand the difference between migraine disease and ‘headaches.’ It is a compilation of honest and dramatic art, poetry, essays and photography from people with migraine and their loved ones, illuminating what migraine is and how we live with it. A bit more about the book can be found at

    Hoping for all of us that the current trend for media awareness and additional research funding, etc., will provide more migraine relief, I wish you pain-free moments, days and nights!

  14. July 29, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    The neck problem sounds familiar… all of my migraines (which are thankfully rare and usually don’t last more than a day) start in the neck muscles about a day or two before it hits. If I can do some stretching and take some pain meds right away then I can either prevent it or at least shorten the duration. I can’t imagine being unable to stop it. What a train wreck. :(

    Thanks for the pillow recommendation. I fight with pillows constantly and have given away the expensive ones to friends when they fail to work for me. I’ve always found the foam ones too firm as well. Looks like there is another one to try now! :)

  15. July 29, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Yeah, Nikita, it’s that whole process… after years I’ve finally recognized that it’s the same almost every time. Starts with pain in the tops of my shoulders, back/sides of my neck. And it travels upward. And the longer I go without treating it — with heat, with pain killers, with rest, etc. — the more effort I have to put into stopping it where it is. If I recognize it at the very beginning I can just ask mattw for a shoulder rub and maybe take half a Vike — and if there isn’t something that’s feeding it (sometimes just sitting on certain chairs pulls on my shoulder muscles) it’s gone. But the longer I wait, the more and more pain meds I have to take, the less and less I’m able to do, and the longer I’m going to be lying in bed waiting for the pain curve to start trending down. Sounds like you have something very similar.

    The PT originally prescribed for me was heat treatment, electrical stim (something I’m experimenting with now for my back), massage, and then weight lifting to strengthen the relevant muscles. I think that was too much for me at the time, but it is still something to be mindful of — the stronger the muscle, the less pain you’ll feel. But, sometimes the exercises to strengthen those muscles can end up making you tense and sore. It’s a hard balance to strike.

  16. HeatherMae
    July 29, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    TrishB, try going to a sleep number store. They have a material that doesn’t pull in heat like normal fabrics, so it never stops feeling cool. I’m not sure if they cover their pillows in it or make pillowcases from it, because I don’t have a problem with temperature, I just thought it was cool and science-y and the guy working at the store was super eager to give me a demonstration of everything.

  17. Melissa
    July 29, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    This post speaks to me as a person who has had very difficult experiences with doctors (and others) when it comes to managing my extreme menstrual pain and migraines! I have been prescribed several different types of birth control pills for managing my period troubles– I get my period about once every 3-4 months, but each one is accompanied by crippling cramps, heavy heavy bleeding, vomiting, and occasionally passing out from the pain and hormone level changes. I literally have to stay in bed for at least 2 days of each period. This has been a difficult situation to try to explain to professors, classmates, employers, family members, friends, basically everyone involved in my life!

    Coupled with these, I was, for a time, dealing with severe migraines about 2-3 times per week! However, these migraines were made even more frequent with birth control! When speaking with doctors about these troubles, they usually tell me I have to choose either birth control or migraine prevention medication (I was on Topomax) since the mixing of these two medications is dangerous… plus Topomax has some strange side effects… What I’ve resorted to (against the recommendation of my doctors) is the combination of birth control plus a Zomig as soon as the pain starts… but even that is not the best option since I still have the blinding pain until the Zomig starts to work!

    It’s just so frustrating to hear a medical professional tell you there’s nothing you can do about crippling pain! I’m still trying to figure out the best thing to do about all this– thanks for your post!

  18. July 29, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    The best advice I have for people who are neglected by medical professionals — keep pushing. And don’t let people batter you down into thinking you’re imagining all of it.

    It took almost ten years to get my endometriosis diagnosed. I didn’t even know it existed until my second try at college, when I was complaining to a (very dear) roommate and she said, “Have you seen a doctor about it? That sounds like it could be endometriosis.” I walked straight to the computer and looked it up and… I fit every symptom.

    And it was still three more years til I was able to get it diagnosed! Still going through the treatment for it.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to your health, you’re only going to get proper treatment if you fight for it. Fight hard enough that you’re worried everyone thinks of you as a hysterical pain-in-the-ass bitch. With a capital B.

    Because when it comes down to it? No one else is going to do that fighting for you. And without it, you are going to slip through the cracks.

    Migraines, endo, fibro, CFS, lupus, depression, so on — you are going to have to see multiple drs. before you find one who is able to put a name to your condition and direct you toward effective treatment. It sucks ass — the sickest have to fight the hardest to get good treatment — but there it is. Take comfort in the knowledge that the gods of irony are visiting upon you, which makes you all special and shit. ;p

  19. July 29, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    NormaJ: My doctor just took me off the combined pill because of migraines. She said it’s an absolutely unambiguous counter-indication for the combined pill because of the stroke danger. (It would have been nice if they’d asked me about migraines four years ago when I first went on it, but never mind…) I’ve gone onto the progestogen-only pill, which does not have the same risk factor.

  20. Froth
    July 29, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve had migraines since I was two. School nurses just had to get used to me. Other kids wrote ‘asthma’ on permission forms; I wrote ‘migraines’.
    Then I turned sixteen, and wonder of wonders, there was a drug I could take! Twenty milligrams of sumatriptan, taken via nasal spray at the beginning of a migraine, will kill it completely about half the time, reduce the severity the other half. So half the time I still have to lie down in a dark room for a while, but at least I don’t throw up and pass out.

  21. NormaJ
    July 29, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks, Rachel. My doctor did something similar and then accused me of not telling her enough about my migraine (which I did – she just wasn’t listening). Anyway, I did some research a couple of months into taking the pill and was alarmed, so I asked my friend to ask her mom (a Gyn) who told me to get off it immediately…Fun!

  22. owie
    July 29, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Does anyone know of anywhere I can read up on migraine drug and bcp interactions? After reading all this I did some googling, but didn’t find anything. I use a GP, not a gyn, and have been perfectly happy with my Jolessa and Maxalt (which makes my formerly 3-day migraines go away in a couple of hours, though they sometimes attempt a comeback the next day)–should I not be?

  23. July 29, 2008 at 7:50 pm


    1. For lack of a gynecologist, ask your GP. Some GPs are really good even about “specialized” issues. (I stopped searching for a rheumatologist when I switched to my current GP, because he’s knowledgeable enough about my fibro to be helpful.) And if not, sie should be able to direct you where to go instead.

    2. Find a gynecologist! I assume if you’re on bcp you are biologically female and if so, please find a gyn you can be comfortable with and make sure you’re up to date on testing.

  24. J.
    July 29, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I just wanted to add a couple comments. I, too, suffer from neck tension because I’m a somewhat nervous person and tend to clench and grip the muscles in my neck, shoulders, and upper back as a nervous habit. I’m sure you’ve probably already considered both of these remedies, but getting regular massages can help. (Or even learning to massage yourself using a tennis ball – tennis-ball massages make my scalp feel so good.) And doing Pilates can help with spine alignment and making you more aware of how your muscles feel, how tense/relaxed they are, whether you’re remembering to breathe or not. (Learning to breathe into pain has been helpful for me.) While beginners just learning Pilates tend to grip their necks the first several classes, you eventually learn how to use the core muscles *instead* of the peripheral muscles. We overuse peripheral muscles because they’re easy to get at and feel and occasionally even to see, but some of the work they do can actually be done by core muscles instead.

    I’m not sure if these will help with migraines, but they’ll probably help with the muscle tension, which is a major cause of pain and imbalance for lots of stressed-out women (including me).

    Your words about crouching somewhere in a corner alone in school because you were consumed by pain remind me of my pre-birth control days when I got horrible cramps in school. People are just such assholes about women in pain, like it’s a terrible inconvenience, and pain can be so isolating. I used to leave class in high school and lay on the bathroom floor for 20 minutes, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, because I hated to go to the nurse and publicly announce I was feeling ill from my period. Once on my period I fainted in the hall and my social studies teacher had to wheel me to the nurse’s in a computer chair. They’re these weird, lonely moments.

    Have you read any work by Nancy Mairs? She suffered from multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair for some of her life and writes about women/disability/sexuality/depression and how healing it can be just to share stories with others, to know that others are also suffering along with you, in a way, that you’re not alone.

  25. Mischa
    July 29, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    I have similar tension headaches that occasionally turn into migraines. I have used catnip tea to help with them sometimes. It seems to have a mild sedative/muscle relaxant effect.,11475,4093,00.html

  26. Nombrilisme Vide
    July 30, 2008 at 1:45 am

    I’ve never been precisely sure what’s responsible for my migraines, but I’ve gotten them most of my life. I’ve long been tempted to suspect there’s some genetic predisposition involved, as my mother also gets them, but no one else in my family does (and I’ve more physiologically in common with my mother than any other of my non-migraine-suffering siblings). Periods of high stress, or periods with unaccustomed physical exertions have been what generally triggered them for me, and they come hard and fairly frequent when they come, usually at least one every two weeks. Happily, I never had any trouble getting this taken seriously, entirely due to the influence of my migraine-suffering mother the nurse.

    To date, the only thing I’ve ever found to kill my migraines dead is large doses of caffeine and ibuprofen at the very offset, as soon as I notice an aura developing. If I don’t catch it before my vision is compromised, it’ll cripple me for several hours and linger painfully for a day or two. At that point, nothing helps but heat and pressure on the head (yes, I’m one of the ones that finds heat soothing and cold miserable when faced with a migraine). I will say that they seem to be becoming less severe with age, but they remain a perpetual periodic “pleasure”.

    Hmm. That’s an interesting thought. My migraines have become less frequent and severe over the last few years, and I’ve been using a memory foam pillow during this same period for totally unrelated reasons. Mayhaps there’s a connection there for me, as well…

  27. LS
    July 30, 2008 at 4:36 am

    Oh, god, migraines. I get them — not usually debilitating level (I only wish they would kill me), in part because I inherited my mother’s pain tolerance (of the ’causes serious health complications due to lack of symptom’ variety). When they do get to be disabling it’s the associated symptoms — light sensitivity and nausea – that do it, not the pain. But I will never forget the May of my senior year, when an idiot ran a stop sign and slammed into our car, giving me whiplash that aggravated the migraines and kept me up in pain several nights running just as I was prepping for the APs. Those of you who get them like that all the time — I feel for you. I really feel for you.

    I second the recommendation for caffeine and ibuprofen at the very first twinge. (By the by, any OTC “migraine” medication is painkiller + caffeine; save a few bucks and take the generic with some coffee or soda.) Other things I’ve had success with: an ice pack – the soft gel kind – on the back of the neck, right at the base of the skull. Reach back and feel for the U-shaped dent in the skull where the spine joins it; that’s where you put it. This does little during the day but is an absolute winner when I’m trying to get to sleep with one. For daytime, go the opposite route and try heat. I find draining some tension from my neck and shoulders helps alleviate the symptoms enough to get through the day, so I put a warm compress across my shoulders. My aunt (yeah, they’re genetic) swears by washing your hair — heat + water pressure + fingertip massage.

  28. Rosie
    July 30, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I second the recommendation for an ice pack at the back of the neck. I think it has something to do with constricting the blood vessels and easing the pressure. My mother was prescribed blood pressure medication by our old GP, who made headaches something of a hobby. If taken early on, it puts the migraine on hold.

    My migraines are different from my mother’s. I can’t look at any light and often have to throw up whatever is in my stomach, even if I haven’t eaten in 12 hours. For a while, my new GP (also a great doc) would supply me with free samples of triptans like Imitrex or Maxalt (because get this, my insurance wouldn’t cover it unless the doc spoke to them directly. Apparently, a prescription was not enough to communicate the fact that I needed this stuff.) The triptans would work for a while, but I quickly built up a tolerance. Lately, I’ve been taking Excedrin Migraine and have been thankfully successful. It’s really just a massive dose of aspirin, acetominephine, and caffeine. It will kill your pain, but potentially keep you up. It’s a fair trade, though.

    I agree, AmandaW, it’s frustrating when someone uses the term migraine for something that 2 advil will kill in 20 minutes. It helps to commiserate, because so often people are unsympathetic to sufferers of chronic pain. As if it’s all in our heads (no pun intended.)

  29. kalien
    July 30, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    While I in no way condone illegal activities *ahem*, I have heard that for migraines accompanied by heavy vomiting (which prevents the use of oral medication) pot is quite helpful. It stops the nausea and vomiting, and even if it doesn’t eliminate the pain, it can make it more bearable. The latter effect can also make it useful for other chronic pain conditions.

  30. Melissa Mad.
    August 1, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I’ve gotten migraines since middle school. I addition to other triggers that I can avoid, weather changes also trigger my migraines. Where I live now, sudden changes from high pressure to low pressure are relatively common which has increased the frequency of my migraines. Since I can’t alter the weather I just have to take medicine (midrin/duradrin) at the first sign of a migraine and deal with it.

    Mine are always light sensitive. I’ve found that wearing dark sunglasses indoors and not going outside during the day or looking at bright clusters of light such as lamps or computers helps to decrease my symptoms when I have a migraine. My headaches can also be sound sensitive. During a light-sensitive headache, my body’s perception of light intensifies. Every thing looks brighter. Outdoor lights become nearly unbearable, and dim indoor lights look normal with dark sunglasses. During a sound-sensitive episode my hearing becomes more acute like what meggygurl was describing. Couple that with my light sensitivity and the pain and normal life becomes difficult to say the least. I have been known to write papers using medicine, coffee, and sunglasses during a migraine even though I have no business looking at a computer screen while migraining.

    The thing that helped me the most with decreasing the intensity of my migraines was learning how to control my body through biofeedback/meditation. My migraines are centered around my eyes and then radiate outward through the muscles from my eyes to the back of my head. As long as I catch a migraine early, if I focus on controlling my breathing, relaxing my muscles all over my body, warming my hands and feet, and decreasing the blood flow/pounding sensation around my eyes and forehead with my mind it decreases the intensity of my migraines. I still need medication, and if I don’t medicate or relax early both work much less well.

    Since this has become the migraine discussion forum, I have a question. I take Estrostep Fe for debilitating periods. I’ve done so since the 11th grade and am now in grad school. No one ever told me it was a bad idea to mix birth control and migraines. Is there somewhere I can go to get information? If it just increases the risk of stroke, at this point in my life, I need my pills to cope so I’m more than willing to accept that risk for a better quality of life now. Maybe that is being young and shortsighted, but everybody has to die of something. I would gladly trade quality of life for length of life if I had to make the decision.

  31. August 4, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Have you tried acupuncture for your migraines? It works very well, doesn’t have any side effects and doesn’t hurt (seriously). You should find a good acupuncturist in your area. I’ve helped enough people become migraine-free that I think it’s something every migraine sufferer should consider.

Comments are closed.