The best health of my life

In 2004, I traveled to Costa Rica for six weeks. While I was gone, I had a grand total of ONE severe migraine.

Yes, just one. In my adult life, things had never been that good before, and they’ve never been so good since (though I have had some streaks!).

A few months after I got back, I started graduate school. I also chose to start seeing a headache specialist for the first time. Our early days as doctor and patient were the Halcyon days—we actually sat and talked one-on-one for awhile each visit. (A few years later we were to the point where I saw him for all of 2 minutes at once. I fired him shortly thereafter for reasons that were a little more nuanced than that.)


I vividly remember telling the neurologist, “I went to Costa Rica last spring, and I hardly had any headaches at all.” And I vividly recall him saying, “Well, that makes sense—people’s migraines often get better when they travel.”

Oh. Okay.

Except now, with the benefit of hindsight, I know that travel does NOT help my migraines, and most friends I have find that their headache patterns are often exacerbated by travel. Something more was happening.

Considering I’m a “patient expert,” it’s kind of embarrassing that it took me so very long to figure out why I was virtually migraine-free for a month and a half: ROUTINE.

I woke up at the same time each day.
I ate a breakfast of beans, tortillas, fruit, and a banana smoothie every day.
I had class from 8-12 each day.
I had a healthy lunch with friends after class and spent the afternoon doing homework and roaming around.
I took zero naps—it was impossible to sleep in a house shared by so many people.
I had dinner with my host family at the same time every night.
I went out with friends and was home around midnight, when I went to sleep.

For a long time after my trip, I marveled at my headache-free period. “How did I do that?” I wondered, examining just one element at a time. “It must have been the banana smoothie every day. That’s it.” Or, “I nap at least every other day at home in the U.S., but I had no naps in Costa Rica. That’s it!” The theories continued until one bright day when I was bright enough to realize it was the whole package that went together. It didn’t much matter that I had a few beers each night or that it was hot as all get-out most of the time. I was able to handle these things because my routine was so constant and, minus the beer, so healthy.

Now to try to recapture the good parts of that routine (say, everything but the beer and partying) and get myself back in optimal health. Ready…go!

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