Migraine to me, is more about what happens after and not so much as ‘during’. Of course, I feel like chopping my head off when that pounding pain hits, along with the nausea, dizziness, aura, sensitivity to light, sound, smell and movement. And yes, of course I feel the stomach discomfort, and GI issues. I can hardly keep my eyes open, or sit. All I want is to pass out but I can’t. And the medicines don’t work. When it ends, I am not relieved because I realize that it’s not really over.
Migraine changes your brain
1 in 7 people suffer from migraine. It is crippling. So far, science has been able to determine that it is neurological. So it goes without saying that every migraine episode affects your brain. It is traumatic. And trauma changes your brain.
If your MRI shows white spots in certain regions of the brain, it is likely that some of the functions attributed to those areas are impacted (don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise). For example, my MRI shows white matter lesions in areas where speech, memories, focus, concentration and emotions are processed. So it makes sense that I am not as articulate as I used to be, or that I have trouble making decisions and managing emotions, or that my skill levels have deteriorated, or that I cannot visualize/plan.
Stress is the root of all problems and it is not easy to ‘snap out of it’
When you begin to notice the changes to your personality and identity, you feel stressed. And from stress comes anxiety, as well as depression. It is not your fault that you are unable to let go of the person you used to be. It is natural to grieve. It is ok that you are confused. “What happened to me?” is a question that lingers. And “What if this gets worse?” is a question that traumatizes you even further. Stress is not only about emotions. It could be about your body, or mind, or even the environment around you. Pain, noise, air, and anything in between can add to your stress.
Another thing that science doesn’t know
It’s bad enough that scientists cannot figure out the cause, or actual mechanism of a migraine. It’s worse that they aren’t able to understand how migraine affects mental health, or vice-versa. We talk about serotonin and estrogen and dopamine and other hormones that can impact mental health. However, when it comes to migraine, science is clueless (at least for now).
The answer could be as simple as Meditation, Movement and Food
You are probably scoffing right now but it is true. Meditation could be one answer. Researchers have found that people with migraine have less gray matter in their brain. Less gray matter can increase migraine frequency and intensity. Meditation is found to increase gray matter in areas that are involved in emotional reactions, memory, decision making, cognitive flexibility and planning. It is a form of stress reduction. It could improve your awareness and help you manage stressors and by that reduce the frequency/intensity.
Stress reduction is the key
I hadn’t exercised all my life. I’d get stressed when I had to exercise and that would trigger migraine. It is important to find the form of exercise that you are comfortable with. You should enjoy the feeling of movement. For me, that is yoga. Moving with my breath tells my mind there’s no need to trigger the flight or fight response. Also, makes me more aware of the feeling in my body, more aware of where I store my stress, which muscles are tense, and which areas are in pain.
I used to feel drained when I woke up. I’d have to drag myself through the day. I’d struggle to fall asleep. It affected my mental health. I felt useless. So I figured it was time to gain that energy back.
Habit stacking is miraculous
I start with a routine. Wake up at the same time, go to bed at the same time. Do the same things in the same place every day. And slowly, habit stacking helped me include meditation, yoga, walking and meal prep in the routine. I wake up at 5AM. I go to bed at 10PM. I’m not as tired as I used to be. Hey! I started writing again. Even if I don’t do as much, I am happy that my body made it through the day. So I feel positive and grateful at the end of it.
If migraine impacts mental health, and mental health impacts migraine, then there is one thing you can work on. Mental health. If trauma changes your brain, healing will too.
Are you with me in this healing journey?