Trigger UNhappy-when worrying about migraine triggers impacts the way you live

I’ve spent nearly two-thirds of my life keeping an eye out for migraine triggers. When I was a young teenager, I didn’t know that my debilitating headaches had anything to do with migraine disease, but I did know to avoid sweeteners like aspartame like the plague.  In the years of living with migraine before my diagnosis in 2001, I may not have had a name for what I was going through, but I could sometimes look back and realize what I’d done to become so ill.

After I was diagnosed with migraine at age 21, it became easier to begin figuring out what I could do to be healthier and have more migraine-free days.  In addition to getting a prescription for a triptan (a pill that aborted my migraine attacks altogether most of the time), I started reading the few migraine-specific materials I could get my hands on. I learned that I wasn’t alone in feeling crappy after a couple of glasses of red wine:  many of us migraineurs have found that to be a major trigger.  I gasped when I read about some common triggers, hoping that some of my favorite foods and drinks (aged cheese, beer, bananas, onions, and more) weren’t going to prove to be triggers for me (I ended up having to mostly avoid only half of those things).

As time has gone on, I’ve had several periods of my life during which my migraines got really frequent and really severe.  These periods have risen and fallen much in the same way as autoimmune disease flares (something that will resonate with lots of you here).  During an upswing when I feel good, I don’t tend to worry too much about triggers both potential and surefire, but when I’m feeling crappy I start to get a little bit nervous.

Sometimes, instead of just keeping a good distance from triggers, I get a little paranoid in my attempts to avoid them.  Even things that only sometimes trigger migraine attacks get crossed off my list of possibilities.  If I’ve been feeling great, t hen sure—I’ll go out to see Jim play a show (he’s a musician) and not worry too much about my late bedtime. But if I’m in a migraine flare, I will not only skip the show (thereby avoiding loud music, bright lights, a crowd, etc.) but also go way out of my way to stick to a strict sleep schedule to avoid any interruption in my sleep.

I can feel myself getting anxious about every little thing when I am having a rough migraine week (or month).  I am nervous to sit under fluorescent lights for even a minute.  While driving at sunset, the sunlight flashing rapidly through the winter trees makes me convinced I’ll get a migraine for sure. I’ll try a bite of a friend’s dessert and instantly become paranoid that maybe the cook baked with Splenda (a trigger) instead of cane sugar.  My cat will start meowing at 3am and I’ll become convinced that I’ll never get back to sleep and that the interrupted sleep will trigger a migraine. And on and on.

Of course all of this worry is another name for anxiety, which is also known to exacerbate migraines.

What to do? Do you ever feel as if you’re going overboard in your trigger worries?  Do you live less fully not because you have a migraine but because you fear one?

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