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Wishing I could give advice to myself before I was ever diagnosed with migraine

I’ve had migraine disease for about twenty years now, but, like many people, my condition went undiagnosed for many years.  During those years, I did what I could to take care of myself during these “really bad headaches.”  Sometimes when I look back on how I treated myself during high school, I wince. I’m not regretful, exactly, but I do wish I could go back in time and give teenage and early college Janet some tips on migraine management, particularly as far as food is concerned.

Before all else, I would tell—nay, I would order—high school Janet to eat on a regular schedule. In high school, I was always cutting it really close, time-wise. For my entire life I’ve had trouble waking up in the morning, and in high school I would hit snooze so many times that I’d end up dashing out of bed with barely enough time to take a shower, let alone get a bite to eat.  I would skip breakfast nearly every single day.  My guess is that I had breakfast maybe one morning out of every weekday as a teenager.

You know what else I was really bad at? Planning and making sure I had a lunch to eat each day, let alone a healthy one.  Once in a blue moon I’d be organized enough to pack a lunch at home—usually peanut butter and jelly and a side of chips or something.  But most days I bought school lunch.  Up until the end of seventh grade, buying food in the cafeteria meant you’d get served a full meal (though you couldn’t pay me to choose between the plasticky pizza and the “meatloaf” nowadays).  Teachers would encourage you to eat everything on your tray.  In high school, adults presume that you are old enough to take care of yourself and make sure you’re getting the nourishment you need.

How I wish I had had some little anti-migraine angels on my shoulder to intervene when I ate a packet of chocolate chip cookies nearly every day as my “lunch.”  To be fair, very few things served in the MHS cafeteria were all that palatable, but why did I have to jump on the cookie bandwagon? Lots of folks—girls in particular—would get the warm cookies in their little plastic baggie and make that their meal for the school day.

No wonder I spent many after school times ravenous and exhausted. On days when I had play practice and felt well, I would order fast food on the way to the theatre, scarfing down tons of carbs in order to satisfy the hunger that had built up since the morning.  On days I didn’t have play practice, I’d go home and crash out until at least 6pm, a migraine pounding its way into my brain.  I was confused and upset by these “terrible headaches,” but I rarely, if ever, talked about them with anyone or thought about their possible connection to my lifestyle, including my lifelong habit of meal-skipping.

Do you ever look back at your habits pre-diagnosis and see some obvious things that would’ve made you a little healthier? If you could go back and change your eating habits, sleeping habits, stress levels, etc., what would you change first, and why?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • jo17151
    5 years ago

    Don’t be afraid to assert yourself with doctors. Don’t take medical advice from well meaning friends/family.

    Tell your doctor about all the symptoms that are experienced before and after the pain. Don’t let others minimize your symptoms when they say “that happens to everybody now and then”. While they may have had good intentions and it was an attempt to put me at ease, I took it to heart and it only made me feel badly and delayed a diagnosis and treatment.

    “Everybody” doesn’t experience flashing lights and floaters before a “headache” . .nor are they left grasping for words and unable to string together a sentence the day after a “headache”. Tell your doctor.

  • lwawro
    5 years ago

    I would have said no more often. No, I can’t complete the project a week before deadline. No, I can’t be the only sibling to take mom to every doctor appointment, grocery shopping every week, and out for lunch once a week because she needs to get out of the house once in a while. Someone else needs to take a turn. No, I can’t go to your shower, wine tasting or wedding reception, because I have a very bad headache! No, I won’t be the perfect employee, daughter or friend. But I will take better care of myself and manage my stress, because if I don’t, someday I won’t be able to do any of those things.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Dec 24, 2011
    9AM
    Boston Common, Boston, MA

    Me to “old me”:
    Take an imitrex now. And put on sunglasses. You are getting the migraine which will change your life forever. You may be able to stop it. If you can’t, don’t feel guilty or blame yourself. It’s not your fault. Call this dr (gives phone number). See him immediately upon returning home. Also, be easy on your loved ones if they don’t “get it” right away. They will stick by you. You’ll be ok.”

    Anyone have a time machine? I would so do this….

  • MarleyM
    5 years ago

    “don’t feel guilty or blame yourself. It’s not your fault.”

    OMG, yes, THIS. SO, so much.

  • Jules2dl
    5 years ago

    I’d tell my younger self not to push so hard in many ways. I put a lot of stress on myself with my need to excel academically. I also pushed myself to keep going through the migraines. I remember being stopped in the hallways by caring teachers who could read the pain in my face and would walk me to the nurse’s office.
    I’d tell myself not to put myself on a starvation diet; that 115 pounds on a 5 ft 6 in frame doesn’t = fat.
    Mostly, I think I’d just try to convince myself to love myself just a little bit.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Love this Jules. Thanks for sharing.
    Lisa

  • Ruth
    5 years ago

    I would tell myself “Get your Ph.d. before you’re 30 because your life will be over when you’re 45. Since I did NOT do this to myself by eating badly or skipping meals or anything else people like to blame migraineurs for, and the migraines began suddenly and coincidentally with the onset of perimenopause, there isn’t anything I could have done to avoid it. But had I known of the inevitable, I would have fulfilled my life’s dream at a much earlier age rather than putting it off, as I did.

  • MarleyM
    5 years ago

    I just put in the paperwork for indefinite medical leave from my PhD program. I’m 46. Perimenopause seems to be my root trigger as well. You’re not alone. And you didn’t do anything wrong by waiting – life just threw you a curve ball. Not your fault.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Great advice. Have you been able to get your PhD?
    Lisa

  • michellelowe
    5 years ago

    I started having bad headaches at about the age of 3, my parents took me to Dr.s trying to get help, but the doctors said I had tension headaches, this was 52 years ago. Much less was known about Migraine then. I never even thought about how I ate, but I was not a healthy eater. I was an athlete and always on the go, but if I stopped moving the headache would knock me down. It took until I was in college for me to become proactive and finally ask questions. Like if I have tension headaches how do I relax, what do I do to not wake up with such intense pain. I didn’t get answers for many more years, I go valium, and other pills to shut me up.
    So if I could tell my younger self anything it would be to be more proactive and not feel like I was to blame for my pain.

  • BethAnn5
    5 years ago

    I was diagnosed at 3 yeas old, but in 1972 you couldn’t do anything for a 3 year old with migraines except let me vomit & go to sleep! I was not proactive until I was in my late teens/early 20’s. Now that I don’t have insurance anymore (yea divorce) I have knowledge and understanding and a voice to speak up…maybe one day I’ll have it all together at once and can get to work on my migraines! 😉
    Best wishes to you!

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    I would tell myself something very similarly!
    Lisa

  • amj916
    5 years ago

    What a great article! I would tell 22 – 30 me to pay more attention to myself when in pain. I would tell teenage me to stop taking powder caffeine aspirins with colas, stop eating chips with MSG and keep telling my parents about my terrible pain.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the feedback. I don’t even want to begin thinking about what I’d tell my early-twenties self!

    -Janet G.

  • Sandy
    5 years ago

    yes, i never heard of migraines until i went to college and heard someone give a presentation on migraines. I thought “thank God i don’t have that. I just have really bad headaches.” I would educate myself more, sleep hygiene, skip meals, and not drink alcohol. hang overs with migraines are terrible.

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    I’ve had really bad headaches since high school. Even been hospitalized for them. Finally, at age of 55(this past August) I was finally diagnosed with migraines!! I’d tell myself to pay attention to the weather and don’t take”the pill”. I did for a few months but stopped because of my headaches. I’m slowly learning my triggers but…days like today…I’ve no idea what is causing it.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Beth,

    Better late than never to have the diagnosis. I hope you find some things that help!

    Lisa

  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    I would have told teenage me to stop taking a fist full of Advil every day, lay off the soft drinks, and get some sleep. Oh, and lay off the pickles and sour cream flavored potato chips!

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    5 years ago

    Amen to all that!

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