Woman scrubs body in shower with red gradient over head signifying pain

Taking Care of Your Basic Needs While Dealing with Head Pain

Brushing your teeth, let alone making dinner, may seem simple to someone who lives day-to-day blissfully pain-free. Living with head pain, episodic or chronic, makes these simple tasks seem insurmountable. From everyday chores to taking a shower, seeing to your basic needs can sometimes be an afterthought when dealing with migraine disease or several cluster headache attacks a day.

These are a few tips to ensure your base needs as a human are met while you deal with head pain.

Eat a small snack if a meal is too much

When my episodic cluster headaches were at their worst, I would lose about 10 pounds over the 2 months of 4-6 attacks a day. At first, it was an accident, but then I had this wild idea that I could "starve" out the pain by forcing my brain to focus on another area of my body. Although my waistline approved of this detrimental method of dealing with the bi-annual cycles, it didn't work. But your body and overall health depend on getting enough calories in a day.

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After a few years of coping that way, I cut out many foods, basically living off of beans, specific vegetables, and chicken. I found that this simple diet got me through the cycles much better than the starve-it-out technique. If making a meal is too much, settle for a small snack like a protein bar or banana.

Take a short (or long) shower

In the throes of pain, your hygiene is often the first thing to go. Raise your hand if you've gone five days without a shower — SAME. Washing off or taking the time to soak up the warm water makes you feel like a new person. For some, this could exacerbate the pain, while others may find it relieving. Hot water running over my feet coupled with ice on my head has helped me with some cluster headache attacks. Sometimes a quick shower is all you need to lift your spirits.

Ask. For. Help.

I'm awful at asking for help when I genuinely need it. My husband is the same way with his chronic cluster headaches. You likely have family and friends who are willing to run that errand for you, pick up your meds at the pharmacy, or grab a few groceries. There have been cluster headache cycles where I lived off of delivery food in Denver — that isn't good for my health or wallet. When my sister or a friend would bring me groceries, it was beyond helpful and improved my mental health along with filling my belly.

Caring for your family

We have a baby at home. After birth, I had a short cluster headache cycle that lasted two weeks. I went through six tanks of oxygen and even broke down and used a sumatriptan injection (which meant I couldn't breastfeed for a few hours). Luckily, it ended sooner than expected, but I'm not the only one in this household who experiences cluster headaches.

My husband has chronic cluster headaches, and January through March is the toughest time of year for his head. This time frame means extra talks with his neurologist, new medications, and going through the research to see what else he can try. He's treatment-refractory, which means the traditional options do nothing to treat his pain. That makes having a baby more difficult. It means the division of childcare has to change. It means having more patience and stepping up to handle more diaper changes. And, it means missing out on extra sleep so that the other has the chance to recover from a cluster headache.

Care for yourself while treating the pain

We're not the only household raising a child while dealing with head pain. Headache disorders affect tens of millions of Americans, and that includes women, men, and children. It's important to find a way to care for yourself and your family while also treating your pain. Allow yourself that space.

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