My Dead End Search for the Root Problem
Last updated: June 2023
When I was first diagnosed with chronic migraine, I was obsessed with finding THE root problem, and thus the answer to make migraine go away forever. So were my parents. We all wanted to fix it, and we assumed that with enough detective work that there would be a chance, however slim, of finding that one food, activity, pattern of events, or secret evil force that was behind all this pain and disability.
Unqualified migraine detectives
We thought this even with the knowledge that there is no cure for migraine, that it has a genetic component, and that chronic pain is rarely something that just gets up and walks away. We were baffled with the reality that something like this could come on, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and change the life of an otherwise “healthy” person.
We asked questions.
Is it something in the air at work?Is it garlic? Chocolate? Cheese? Is it the coating on your non-stick frying pan coming off on your eggs and poisoning you every morning??Is it that parasitic toxoplasmo-whatever from the cat litter box invading your brain???
The real answers are complicated…
We spent a lot of energy wondering about these things even when none of these questions proved helpful. What did help over time was a gigantic, complex, carefully tailored treatment plan created with the help of my migraine specialist, and backed by scientific evidence. This treatment plan encompassed every part of my life and included a rigid sleep routine, gentle exercise, food trigger identification and avoidance, preventative medications, acute medications, mediation, yoga, breathing techniques, medical acupuncture, massage, and counseling. It was, in fact, the opposite of a single cause or simple quick fix, and a heck of a lot of hard work. Over years, lots of emotional and financial support, plus a healthy dash of hardcore determination, the migraine attacks retreated noticeably giving me more good days than bad.
After a couple of years of relative stability, I recently experienced a chronic migraine relapse. Looking at my migraine journal, it seems this happened over a few months of pushing my body harder than usual, especially with long distance travel. And even though I now have a much better understanding of how migraine and chronic pain work (neurons that fire together wire together, genetics, childhood trauma, neuroplasticity, blah blah blah) I was still tempted to search for that one root cause so I could dig it up, throw it in the compost heap, and get on with my life.
And really, how arrogant of me: migraine researchers and specialists don’t claim to understand the root cause(s) of migraine, so how on Earth could I?
From what I gather, shaking chronic migraine is very rarely just a matter of cutting out one mysteriously powerful trigger or finding a single magical treatment. In my experience, when someone claims this they are either incredibly lucky, or they’re selling something.
When we are suffering, and struggling to maintain a sense of purpose, hope, and joy in our lives, it’s tempting to look for quick fixes. But when we can admit that a problem might not have a quick fix (even though a tiny part of us might still cling to that dream), we can begin the real work of acceptance and living our best life with migraine. Until there’s a cure…
Has looking for quick fixes ever led you down the wrong path? How did you get back on track?
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?