- Going to sleep at the same time every night
- Waking up at the same time every morning
- Eating at regular intervals
- Avoiding all dietary triggers (smoking, alcohol, dairy, gluten, nuts, sugar, etc.)
- Taking your medications on time (but never too much)
For the chronic migraineur, perhaps the best chance for fewer flare-ups is a regimented life that includes a strict sleep schedule, eating regularly, careful avoidance of triggers, and a healthy diet. Accepting this reality can be a challenge and may cause us to feel that we are giving up our freedom. However, our views might change after time spent living within these confines, if we experience a decrease in pain and frequency in our migraine attacks. Indeed, we may even come to see some of these limitations as an odd but effective way to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
When a migraine specialist gives us the aforementioned list and asks us to restrict our lives in order to have the best chance at preventing flare ups, it can feel like a big ask. After all, our lives may already feel so small due to the many limitations the condition places upon us. We are known for canceling plans. We have learned to avoid noisy restaurants and concert venues. Now our doctors want us to go to bed early and at the same time every night, restrict what we eat, yet take care to eat regularly, etc. But that’s just it. When we really think about it, our doctors aren’t actually asking any more of us than our bodies are. If we listen carefully, our bodies are likely already asking us to go to bed earlier, to sleep longer, and to eat more frequently. Indeed, some migraine flare-ups might be the body’s way of telling us it needs more care and focus. In truth, the condition is already causing us to live in a restricted manner.
Giving up freedom to get freedom
It can be hard to accept the idea that we can’t stay out until 3am without repercussion; that we can’t eat whatever we want; or, have a couple of glasses of wine with friends without ending up with a major attack the next day. We watch friends enjoying these life pleasures without effect and it can feel unfair.
However, once we own up to the fact that for many of us, these actions almost inevitably lead to more attacks, we might reframe these limitations and learn to embrace certain restrictions because they are our best chance for freedom from pain.
I’ve gotten to the point that I’m no longer bitter if I can’t partake in a glass of beer or a piece of birthday cake, because I’m clear that these activities will lead to pain for me. My happiness, instead, comes from the fact that I’m simply able to be present. I’m there! After years of missing out and not being able to be at the party, I am celebrating the fact that I’m able to be there at all.
And there lies one of the great gifts of migraine. The way it makes us grateful in ways that few others can be. We take nothing for granted because we know what it’s like to be sidelined, home alone in a dark room while others are living it up. So, ultimately, I’ve learned to do what I must so I can increase my chances of being there. Better sleep and a better diet are ultimately healthier choices anyway. Ultimately living with care is small price to pay if it means I’m more likely to be able to show up for those important moments in life.
What about you? How do you feel about living a regimented life? Is it something you try to accept or push against? Everyone is different and we are all learning from one another – tell us where you are in your journey!