For the most part, my blog is purely professional and devoted to social media and digital marketing best practices. This is by design, to provide thought leadership within my industry and ensure I’m pushing myself to keep learning.
However, like all of us, there’s more to me than my work. I love character-based improv comedy, magical realism, everything Hamilton, traveling to exotic lands ranging from Japan to Norway and so much more. I firmly believe that a rich life outside of work leads to smarter and more creative input inside office walls.
Many of you who know me won’t be surprised at the above. After all, what’s social media good for if not bragging about one’s passions? Well, it’s not great for getting real about the less than pleasant aspects of one’s life.
It’s partly why I’ve never written before about my travails with chronic daily headaches — because writing about health issues isn’t fun. Frankly, during the worst months/years of my illness, I didn’t even want to talk about it with friends. While talk therapy can be very helpful for some issues, for me talking about my headaches made them real, something I preferred not to admit.
I also worried how writing about my condition might affect future employers’ perception of me. In hindsight, though, I think my recovery only further exemplifies my tenacity.
Ultimately, I’ve started to field more and more questions from fellow headache sufferers and thought detailing my experience in one place would be helpful. And, hey, if I optimize this post for SEO…maybe it could help people I don’t know, too.
Rewind: How I first got headaches…in my 20’s
I never had migraines or headaches growing up. It wasn’t until 2012 that they appeared, after a bout with the Epstein-Barr Virus (which apparently is common with chronic migraines. . . your body thinks it’s still fighting the virus which makes it FREAK OUT).
My headaches first appeared visually, but not with an aura, like many migraine sufferers. Instead, they made their presence known with a slight buzzing in the background of my vision. It’s heard to explain what that looks like exactly, but I can try. Consider the room you’re in. Then, imagine that as you look closely at anything directly, the picture is vibrating ever so slightly.
When my headaches were really bad, the vibrations would ramp up until they were incredibly obvious and the first thing I’d see when I woke up each morning. The vibration/buzzing isn’t painful itself, but a good indicator of my headache level.
Second, I became very, very tired. I’d go to work and then come home and collapse after dinner. Sitting or lying in bed, in the dark, I’d wait for relief that often didn’t come.
But, I still worked hard — probably harder than I’d ever worked before. After all, I pride myself on producing an excellent product. And I didn’t want anyone to know there was anything wrong. Importantly, I didn’t want to admit to myself that there was anything wrong, either. My husband disagreed. And gently (and then forcefully) pushed me to see a doctor.
Chicago doctors to treat Chronic Daily Headaches
I saw a neurologist at the Chicago Dizziness Center and he evaluated me, telling me I had migraines. I was given various medicine (but not for migraines…no meds exist solely for migraines, really) and got a smidge better, but not substantially so. After trying out three different daily headache meds, my doctor’s next idea was to put me back on the first one that I’d previously tried to no effect- to which I firmly said, no thanks.
I then researched new headache doctors in Chicago and found The Diamond Headache Center and,based on Yelp reviews, saw Doctor George Urban. He’s a great doctor and I’d highly recommend him. He told me that there are multiple types of migraines and headaches and I had a variety called Chronic Daily Headaches(CDH). In short, the headaches I had were low-level, almost like a constant hum. Most patients can say with certainty when they first started. On the plus side, they weren’t totally debilitating, but as the name suggests, they were constant.
Think for a sec what that means: they do not end. They don’t last forever in most people. Some ladies see it go away menopause, for instance, but FML.
For awhile, I felt hopeless. And sorry for myself. I’d remind myself of all the people with serious illnesses, like cancer, and try to feel grateful I wasn’t worse off. Instead, I just felt guilty.
Starting in late high school and into college, my mother would always scold me for being too busy and doing too much. But, I loved seeing friends, going to art exhibits, and exploring my city. Suddenly, I was doing nothing – barely able to concentrate on a tv show after a full day of work. I hadn’t expected one of the side effects of my headaches to be loneliness, but there I was.
Dr. Urban and I experimented with more daily headache meds and not all worked; one made me gain 15 lbs in a month (wee). But, we finally found one that gave me some solace. He also gave me emergency one-off treatments like muscle relaxers.
Amazingly, I felt better than I had in years. While I worried about being on meds permanently, the meds also gave me my life back.
So what, if I didn’t take it at the exact time each day I felt a bit out of control? So what, if when traveling in Norway I thought I forgot to pack my next month’s prescription bottle and was convinced for an hour we’d have to return home early because I wouldn’t be able to function without my medicine. Believe it or not, it felt like a small price to pay for regular functionality.
Looking back on it now, the amount of meds I put into my system is kinda scary.
Inflammation causes headaches. Diet helps.
Thankfully, I have a happy ending. Through intense research and trial-and-error, I’ve been able to get off my daily headache meds. I’ve been meds-free since January and knock-on-wood, doing great.
But, this was not a miraculous discovery. I put the same dedication that I put towards my work towards my help.
For chronic headaches (not necessarily migraines), the most important thing to understand is what causes you inflammation. Here’s where I ding my doctor, because he told me this: that there was no way to know what causes inflammation aside from allergy season/changes in weather.
Our bodies are affected by environment which includes things like changes in weather pressure, but also the food we eat. This means we have more control than we think. There is a migraine diet…but chronic daily headaches isn’t a typical migraine. I tried the diet and it didn’t work. I also tried going gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. It didn’t help.
I kept researching and discovered that there is actually a good test one can do that looks at our bodies on an individual level to see what causes an individual inflammation. It’s called the LEAP diet and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s a blood test that works similar to an allergy test, where you’re tested against specific types of foods and chemicals (120 foods! 30 chemicals!). At the end, you have a very good idea of where you stand…but you still need to test yourself.
I did a food elimination diet over 3 months and learned that for me, soy, olive oil and eggs were the biggest offenders. I won’t lie — it was a difficult few months, but the information learned has proven invaluable; I now know that a single M&M can trigger a headache because soy is in EVERYTHING.
Things I do & take to prevent chronic daily headaches:
To be clear, I still have the condition, but it’s barely noticeable most of the time due the changes I’ve made in lifestyle.
In addition to changing my diet, I’ve also found some supplemental items that I consider my chronic daily headache all-stars that supplement my dietary changes:
- Regular Preventative Acupuncture: I see Tim Su at Alternative Health Group here in Chicago and, not to mince words, he is a genius. I actually found him initially through Diamond and not only does he understand headaches work, but also how to treat them! He’s not a magician, but he’s incredibly kind and flexible around scheduling. NOTE: Not all acupuncturists are great with headaches. . .so do your research.
- Woman’s Balance Chinese Herbs: For many women, the time around our period is the worst for headaches. Taking these helps me SO MUCH I CAN’T EVEN. You need to take 3X3 per day so I go for the 270 pack but if you want to test, you can start with 90. IMPORTANT NOTE: You need to start about a week before your period for it to work.
- Magnesium Oil Spray: My headache doctor has been telling me to take magnesium supplements since I first started seeing him. They didn’t work. Then, a friend told me about using a spray since it’s better absorbed into the skin. With intense skipticism, i agree to try it. Whoa. It’s amazing. Highly recommend.
- Wellpatch Cooling Head Patches: These are a small fix but can mean the difference between doing work and not. Personally, they make me less nauseous when I have a mid-level headache.
I’ve also tried the Cefaly migraine device and not sure I’d recommend it for CDH. It’s helped during the worst of my headaches but you can really only use it when lying down…and my headaches were already improving when I got it. I’m 50/50 on it, to be honest. A good Cefaly review can be found on the Migraine Pal blog.
If you’re having chronic headaches, I am so sorry. I can’t guarantee that the above works, but I think it’s worth trying. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to answer as best I can! If you want to leave your email to chat privately, that works too.