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Ruminating on triggers: What was I thinking?

Ruminating on Triggers: What Was I Thinking?

What were you thinking messing with your diet the day before a concert? You know better than that. And you made it even worse by taking a triptan. Why did you do that? You should have known you were too far into the attack for the triptan to be effective. Now you may not be able to attend tonight’s show and you may be too sick to enjoy your birthday celebration tomorrow night.

Breaking my own rules

This is my current internal dialogue. For weeks, I have looked forward to seeing a band play at an art opening tonight. Yesterday should have been a day of extreme caution to avoid upsetting the delicate balance that has made me feel great this week. Instead, I’m probably going to have to miss the show because I broke my own rules and challenged my diet.

Trying to reason with migrine

I’m angry with myself because I do know better. After berating myself for a while, I began to ponder my first question: What was I thinking?

  • I was thinking that this diet change might actually make me feel better.
  • I was thinking that the migraine attacks triggered by diet changes don’t last very long and that I’d be able to correct the problem with my next meal.
  • I was thinking that a triptan would definitely take care of the migraine attack. It didn’t seem risky because I’ve been triptan-free for nearly two months. That seemed like it had to be long enough to recover from medication overuse headache. (Wrong!)
  • I was thinking about what would be most likely to manage the migraine so I’d be able to make the concert. A triptan seemed like a better bet than Midrin or naproxen.

These were not mindless decisions. I weighed the pros and cons of each one in excruciating detail. Unfortunately, my reasoning turned out to be incorrect.

Remembering not all triggers are avoidable

After a migraine diagnosis, we quickly learn that finding our migraine triggers and avoiding them is a key to migraine management. While I agree that identifying triggers is helpful overall, it too often becomes a source of blame. Not every migraine attack has an identifiable trigger and triggers are not always avoidable. Yet all the talk of triggers can prime us (and the people in our lives) to believe we’re to blame when a migraine attack ensues.

Familiar pattern of blaming onself

That’s exactly how I’ve spent the last two hours—blaming myself. That’s totally unfair. I did not eat the food or take the triptan thoughtlessly or carelessly. The decisions I made were rational and logical. But because they led to a migraine attack, I blamed myself doing something wrong.

This is a familiar pattern. I used to believe that ruminating on triggers was the only way to protect myself from future migraine attacks. I thought it would keep me from making the same mistake twice. Far more often, it’s a source of self-loathing.

Yes, it’s a good idea to reflect on potential triggers so you can avoid them in the future. But blaming or berating yourself is rarely helpful. I’ve gotten better at not ruminating in recent years, but sometimes I’m still lulled by its false promise.

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


  • jcollup
    2 years ago

    We also need to remember, migraines are a neurologic disease!
    We can try to avoid them and learn our triggers, but we can’t remain frozen in place, afraid of it all. That’s not living, in my opinion, that’s existing. If eliminating certain foods helps, great! But I am disheartened to hear of migrsiners policing everything they can in desperation. That’s why we need to shout louder and demand research and development. And to NEVER be blame- shamed for your medical disease. Do medical provider’s, and the community shame people with seizures? Or even diabetes? Of course not. Don’t let your doctor’s make it about triggers alone!

  • jcollup
    2 years ago

    So true! After the prodome of vertigo, fatigue, yawning, blurred vision, insomnia, bradycardia, eye twitching/swelling, and sudden sensitivity to the environment, (the TV is suddenly too loud, etc.), Who can remember what triggered it?
    We can’t control all types he triggers. Food is easy. The environment is not. The stress of traffic, someone near you with too much perfume, florescent lighting, incense at church, or a change in weather…who can avoid all that, ALL the time!

  • SkiingIsBelieving
    2 years ago

    I have learned a ton about triggers lately, and how the times they affect us most is if our electrolytes are out of balance. Migraneurs are particularly susceptible to electrolyte imbalance because of the voltage issues in our cells and our hyper-sensitive neurons that deplete cellular energy. We often talk about the “tipping point” of accumulated triggers, but I’m realizing now that my sensitivity to triggers is hugely influenced by electrolyte–specifically potassium and sodium. When this is well-balanced, triggers don’t have a foothold. Super interesting stuff:

  • sfnative
    2 years ago

    The “Blame Game” ties in beautifully with “Self Esteem,” and let’s face it, many of us with migraine or chronic migraine get kicked in the self esteem bucket way too often. We must all ask ourselves if we basically feel good about ourselves sans migraine. If we do, then I feel we have a better chance to walk a straight line with migraine, than be dragged all around that line, fall all over the line or simply give up and sit down on the line, because we’ve let migraine win. Triggers…It got to a point where I didn’t want to hear that word ever again, because I knew that if I was “seething” over something, if my husband was pulling one of his “kitchen police” scenarios, was stressed out, or really hot, pain would be there in 2 minutes. That was 34 years ago up until recently. And, that was after being asked by numerous migraine gurus west of the Mississippi to do the food elimination thing – all for nothing – until 2017 and one paragraph by a FB friend on a Wellness forum. As a result of her post, I came to realize within a week of several food INGREDIENTS which increase my chronic migraine pain within minutes. This spike in pain to a Level 7 or 8 can stay with me for 3 days or 3 weeks, so this epiphany was epoch. Thanks to this FB friend, I learned that modified food starch and any modified food, as in modified soy protein for example, is just horrid. MSG and its metabolites another. Sea salt is as bad as the ones just mentioned. I’m so glad my husband has taken this to heart. He now reads every label. I mean EVERY label. After returning from an ortho doc appt this afternoon, he asked me if I knew what was in the acetaminophin tablets in the bottle he was holding. “No,” I said, ” No clue, aside from the medication.” Then he said, “You’re not going to believe this, but this junk has modified corn starch in it!” He nearly yelled it in joy. We treat these finds like gold, because this darn stuff seems to be in everything!!! If you haven’t yet started to looked for “modified” ingredients on packaging, please do. Though I’m a “scratch cook and baker,” so that we can eat clean, it is sometimes difficult to avoid these chemicals. My bottom line is great news: Since discovering my reaction to these chemicals and avoiding restaurants that were listed on this site, my days of spiked migraine pain are down at least 80%. Yes, read that again…down 80%…and this after 34 years of chronic migraine pain every day. My wish is that ALL of you will be able to figure out at least some of your triggers. Keep the faith. Don’t blame yourself. It is what it is, but keep in mind that there are answers waiting to be found.

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