A person laying down with their hands covering their face.

Migraines for the Holidays

I’ve always wondered why I end up sick over the holidays, it’s the least stressful time of life for me. This post is about my discovery of why migraines are so severe over the holidays and a bit about trauma and illness.

A person laying down with their hands covering their face.
A person laying down with their hands covering their face. Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

I have been living with some sort of chronic illness for most of my life. This Christmas I was looking forward to having three weeks off of work and school. For years, I have worked over the holidays and this was a rare one, nothing was required of me and I planned many fun things to do with the kids. However, I ended up with two migraines followed by intense spinning that lasted for three days. I have had them all of my life but this was the first that I have experienced with so much intensity.

I tried to message my doctor and ask to increase my medication but she was away and fully booked for a month. The emergency department couldn’t find anything wrong with me and kindly reminded me that there were people in “serious” conditions needing my place. I ended up laying on the couch curled up in a ball for three days. If I so much as opened my eyes, turned my head, or walked to the washroom the throbbing pain and nauseousness knocked me off my feet.

When my doctor’s office had a clinic doctor call me and increase the medicine, I was able to return to life to some degree. When school started again, I slowly recovered and am able to do my work and play with my kids, but the spinning hasn’t left me. This week, I have had an appointment with an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat Specialist), my Natural Path Doctor, and a Neurologist. What they shared ended my long journey of discovering what is wrong and a new one of what to do about it began.

It was explained that stress can have a delayed effect and strike when relaxation begins. Science Daily published a report in 2014 to explain this, ” Stress has long been believed to be a common headache trigger. In this study, researchers found that relaxation following heightened stress was an even more significant trigger for migraine attacks.” Kathleen O’Shea wrote an article for Psychology Today and shared that she suffered from migraines after taking exams for her master’s degree. It makes complete sense however I never understood it before.

I learned that my cortisol is low which explains why I have been struggling with being triggered so much. It was explained to me that cortisol is depleted throughout the day and when it is running low, the body can’t combat the stress response as well. For the first 35 years of my life, I gave everything I had to give to everyone but myself and suppressed my anger.

Dr. Gabor Maté ‘s work brought me to a new place of discovery and understanding. It brought me to self-love, self-compassion, and gave me hope. He can explain why it is such a hard place to find in this quote “As far as orthodox medical practice is concerned, the mind-body research all falls into some Bermuda Triangle, lost without a trace.” and then he says “Illnesses are looked at only from the perspective of their physical manifestations.” Wow!

A broken window
A broken window Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

I’ve always felt like a broken window because I can see out but no one can see any value within. At least I thought that no one could but looking back, there were a few people along the way. When you grow up knowing that others see you as broken, how can you see yourself whole? Despite having an amazing counselor that believed in me for over a decade, I never saw the beauty myself. I tried to help people, in excess, and it never made me feel better about myself. As I began University and started to learn about trauma, I started to see that despite having health issues, everyone has value to offer to the world. For some reason, I have always been able to see it in everyone else, just not myself. I remember when a pastor wrote a verse on the board, it said “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. This is from Matthew 22:39 Niv. I thought to myself “of course, I always love my neighbour” but then he underlined “as you love yourself” and said that unless we love ourselves we can’t truly love others. This took a long time. I thought about it often, “how do I love myself”?

Coming back to this week’s doctor visits, most of the doctors I see know about trauma, but don’t factor it into the conversation. One suggested that I reach out to an integrated doctor. One cared deeply and knew the work of Dr. Gabor Maté. He spent 3 x’s longer than he is alloted with me and really listened. He encouraged me to keep doing my trauma therapy, exerscising and eating well. He told me that medication is necessary now but not necessarily forever. One piece of advice I received is to weigh the cost and benefit of medication, if the medication allows me to do school and parent my children then I may decide it is worth the side effects. I was told it is a personal decision that must be weighed in my own mind and that I could decide. I left feeling empowered and finally was able to hold my head up high and look him in the eyes.

Hands holding a small pink rose
Hands cupped holding a small pink rose. Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Despite having migraines for the holidays I am feeling hopeful for the future. This experience has led me to the belief that “It’s not about how long we have so it must be about how well we loved”. I am writing about my journey for a couple of reasons, first, if I am going through this journey of trauma, shame, and healing there must be others. If we walk together we are in solidarity and stronger. Secondly, I want my kids to know that no matter what happens to us in life, if we believe in ourselves and keep on getting back up again, we will get strong and find and give love.

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