Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Migraines Past, Present but not Future.

At around 4am on Christmas morning I felt that oh so familiar heavy feeling. No, I’m not talking about the present filled stocking at the end of my bed (though rest assured I had been a good girl so Father Christmas did indeed visit), rather Mr migraine had decided to descend. At 4am, on Christmas.

Aren’t migraines rude? Now, I am officially a Christmas-ophile so nothing was going to ruin my Christmas day. As soon as that dull pain at the back of my head and shoulder woke me up I grabbed my ZOMIG nasal spray triptan (that I already had by my bed side) and shoved that sucker up my nose! I put my Migraine Ritual Care Plan into action pronto! I was somewhat disorientated to find that my bed was covered in a bright pink sparkly bed spread, and that there was a picture of Hannah Montanna hanging above my head. I’d forgotten that I was in my 10 year old niece's bedroom. Indeed, in that middle of night haze, I’d totally forgotten I was staying in my sister’s house. In Kent.

The nieces & nephew...a little taster of what awaits!
I actually blame the journey to Kent for the rude migraine. I’d fallen asleep in the back of the car (without my neck collar on) and my head had lolled forward and I’d essentially given myself mini whiplash. I’d jerked awake and immediately knew I’d be in trouble later. Also, a house full of 3 over excited kids (under the age of 11), who clamber all over you, while lovely, is never good  for those of us with dodgy necks. Also, sleeping in different beds, even when I bring my own pillows, is often enough to trigger a migraine if I’m in a vulnerable state.

Yet, this being Christmas I didn’t want to miss any of the day – 
especially not going to Church to see the Archbishop of Canterbury being lead into the Cathedral by my little nieces and nephew. Mum took one look at me when I made it down to breakfast and said “Happy Christmas. You’ve had to take a Zomig haven’t you?”Although migraines may be invisible to many, mothers have special powers of perception. I also had an especially bad case of migraine hangover. So Mum drove me to Church separately, and in short I got to wink at my nephew and try to make him laugh in Church (what are Aunties for?) but I didn’t last the whole service. I spent a good chunk of the day in bed with a migraine hangover, missing going for a walk to the local pub but made it down for lunch and some vital present opening!

I did feel a bit glum missing bits of Christmas, but it’s not the first time it’s happened and I’m sure many migrianeurs have much worse stories to relate. This year, as I’m getting ready to go down to Kent again I’m feeling very optimistic and totally confident that I will not be getting a Christmas migraine visit. Why? Well I’ve spent the year focusing on my migraine health, plus I will not be falling asleep in the back of the car (I will have a neck collar strapped on even though I don’t really need it) and I will be taking several pillow options with me! I’m also now on the mighty Topamax, I’ve now been having bi-monthly nerve blocks, I’ve finished two courses of Prolotherapy and my Physio re-hab is coming along nicely. So I feel pretty damn confident I must say! Go me. 

Avoiding Christmas Migraines Future:
But Christmas is rife with triggers and many of my fellow migraine bloggers have been posting fabulous tips and tricks on how to avoid the many pitfalls that await – which I have linked to below – including some advice from the fabulous National Migraine Centre. My main advice is to make like a Girl Scout and "be prepared" (I was never actually in the Brownies/Scouts etc so don’t really know what I’m talking about but…) if you’re going away take your own food if that’s easier, own pillows, any and every migraine comforts, don’t forget take more of your medications than you might normally need etc and also don’t be afraid to make a fuss if you need to – it’s Christmas we’re allowed to look after ourselves. Meanwhile, I'll be trying to avoid the temptation of one too many Christmas Champagne Cocktails....

Top Tips:

I so wish you all migraine free Christmas Holidays!

And so does Chipster!

See you all in 2013 - well probably before....

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Search For Mr Perfect....Pillow

I thought I had found THE ONE.

Reliable, welcoming, firm yet tender all at the same time. After years of searching, countless sleepless, tear-filled nights were finally over as I had found my perfect match. No Mum, don't get excited I had't got engaged to Mr Darcy look alike 6ft 2, rich-handsome-is-kind-to-animals, Architect. Some might argue I'd done even better by finding my ideal pillow!

Yes, I had found the Holy Grail of pillows. For migraineurs this can be a never ending Quest. And I had been searching for roughly 5 years until an Osteopath told me about the Tempur Traditional Pillow. It's shaped like a normal pillow - but filled with that magic Tempur stuff. Does anyone even really know what Tempur is? All I ever remember from the TV ads is that is it 'Space Endorsed by Nasa' and I would get really confused thinking Tempur is what you baste prawns in? But that's Tempura, in case anyone's as confused as moi.

Anyway.... I purchased said pillow and was amazed. Unlike the 3,000 other pillows I'd purchased this one was all I'd ever dreamed of.

I'd been warned of the dangers of purchasing the wrong pillow. Every Osteopath, Physiotherapist, Alexander Technique person I've ever seen had said that supposed 'neck pillows' can often do as much damage as good. Those rock hard solid ones, which feel like your head is lying on a lump of concrete, can be quite hazardous. But conversely, I've woken up with neck sprains from sleeping with paper thin, non-existent feather pillows, which has then triggered a migraine. Obviously it's incredibly individual but there are some basic guidelines which the fabulous Kerrie outlines beautifully in the following article. 

I would just add a note of warning, sleeping on your stomach, on your front, is evil. Don't do this - you are twisting your spine in ways not intended by nature. I knew one Chiropracteur who made his patients sleep with tennis balls in their top Pajama pockets, just to get them to stop sleeping on their stomachs. 

But back to my pillow saga, so I had finally found my perfect pillow mate and we were happily settled in slumber bliss. But, like all good domestic arrangements, things started to go awry. I started to wake up with little bits of Tempur Space endorsed fluff in my hair. It had actually got through my pillow case into my hair. My beloved was letting me down, crumbling before my eyes. Finally, Mum made me see it was time to let go, move on, and buy a new model. With a heavy heart I threw my love into the trash, vowing never to forget the time we spent together, but I walked into a specialist store and purchased a Mr Perfect Pillow II.

Immediately, I knew something was wrong. Despite the fact that the price tag nearly melted my credit card, this pillow seemed to be twice the size and twice as heavy. I told myself I was imagining things but that night as I lay down to sleep, my fears were realised. It was like lying on a brick. I wept.

But I was so determined that this was still THE ONE that I stubbornly slept on it for two more nights, despite the fact I couldn't really move my head the next morning. It really wasn't me. It was him, I mean it. So I decided to slice open this pillow and pull out some of this Tempur stuff. By the way, this is not actually the first time I've performed open pillow heart surgery. I may have pulled out the stuffing of a pillow in a Hotel in Egypt, shoved it in a drawer  - then pushed it back in and sewed the pillow back up at the end of my stay! Needs must my friends. But I have been on holidays where I've woken up every night with a migraine at 4am and the trigger has been 'dodgy' pillows.

While we're on the topic of Hotel's - can I just say that I highly commend The Penny Hill Park Hotel for their pillow menu. I recommend all migraineurs stay in Hotels with pillow menus if you can't take your pillow mate with you. This also means you're less likely to be a pillow vandal! A couple of months ago I went to Penny Hill Park with a friend, and was over-joyed at the pillow options available to me. I tried one of everything, as did my friend, Salvatore. Indeed, Salvatore was so taken with the V shaped pillow that he purchased one the very next day. Here he is below, happily enjoying a snooze on his V pillow.

Salvatore enjoying a slumber on his V pillow
But back in the real world, without a pillow menu at home, I was distraught. I had decimated my Tempur pillow, even withouth half its contents it was still a veritable brick.  My poor Mum let me test out each of her pillows but nothing was comfortable. I'm sure the needs of my dodgy neck are changing  but surely, I wailed, it couldn't be so hard to find a soft yet firm, but not so firm supportive pillow!

So on Tuesday, Mum kindly drove me to a Hotel outlet supplier shop. Pillow mecca. I think they were rather disappointed that we were just looking for one pillow, not the 300 hundred I'm sure they're used to selling, but they graciously let me lie on their sample bed and test out a plethora of pillows.

Me trying out a plethora of pillows at the Hotel Supplier

And lo and behold I think I may have found it. Firm, yet fluffy and supportive. As Mum and I approached the check out counter I began to dread the amount this precious cargo would cost.


That's right, a whopping £7. "It's all-right, Mum, I've got this one" I gallantly offered! My original Tempur Pillow had cost the best part of £200. It just goes to shows that expensive neck pillows aren't always the way forward (and to all my friends that I am capable of finding a bargain!)

I'm pleased to report I woke up migraine free this morning. God bless 100% Polyester.

Coming Up
Christmas Triggers Past and Present

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

How a Christmas Tree gave me a Migraine…

“You did what?” snapped my Mother over the phone.

“Wait till you see it. It’s so shiny.”

“Oh God, sometimes you’re so stupid it’s astonishing. Where are you now?”


I debated telling Mother the truth. I was, at the moment, lying prostrate on the floor in our sitting room, strapped in a neck brace, slipping into a rather comforting medication induced haze, staring up at the twinkly fairy lights I had painstainkingly wrapped around the 6 foot 1 Christmas tree that had nearly broken my back.

“Um, I’m just in the kitchen making myself some food!”

“Liar. Are you getting a migraine?”



“Do I need to come home?”

“Mum, I’m absolutely fine, this is going to be the best bloody Christmas tree we’ve ever had! You’ll be home tomorrow anyway, you’ll simply love what I’ve done with the place.”

And with that I hung up with the phone before Mum could cross-question me further. The packaging of the Zomig nasal spray I had just taken for the “non existent” migraine was digging into my hand, which was, incidentally, riddled with pins and needles. I lay on the floor, staring at my beautiful for creation for about another half an hour before forcing myself to walk/roll into bed. Despite my discomfort (I refuse to use the word agony in this context) I was ever so pleased with myself. Three days later, however, I was beginning to see the folly in my festive fervor.

It all began with an ill-fated trip to HomeBase (our local Gardening/DIY center) to buy a bargain Christmas tree. Before you judge me too harshly you must know that I am obsessed with Christmas. I nearly cried, aged 24, when my family made the Christmas cake without me one year (my sister claimed it was because it was convenient for her 3 young children – puh!) I am still obsessed with finding the perfect recipe for Mulled Wine (by the way I still don’t understand why regular red wine triggers a migraine but I’m fine with Mulled Wine? Probably sweeter and less alcohol?) And mainly I’m obsessed with Christmas trees and decoration of said Christmas trees. They must, absolutely must, touch the ceiling. Else I cry.

Last year, when my migraines were basically back to chronic state, my parents had gone away to France for a few days, so I decided to surprise them by decorating our flat and putting up the tree. All by myself. Now just to remind you I have a bit of a buggered up neck and last December I was fresh from two out-patient procedures where you to get watch a lovely needle being stuck into your spine under live X-ray (to treat torn discs and Cervical Radiculopathy amongst other things.) Here’s a picture! 

I stupidly watched this happen live! Don't my filling's look lovely...

At this point I wasn’t even on Topamax yet and hadn’t started the bi-monthly nerve blocks that have started to also make a real difference to my migraines. I was also working with a physio getting my neck ready to start a course of Prolotherapy Injections (which it’s hoped will toughed up the ligaments in my silly neck, to stop it frequently going into spasm which always send my migraines through the roof.)

Forgetting all of this, I sauntered off to HomeBase to find the biggest Christmas tree I could find. I shoved caroling children and arguing couples aside to make sure I got to the front of the line. This appeared to be the last place in London that was still selling decent trees. By this point I was already beginning to feel a bit dizzy, but I didn’t care that my blood sugar levels were dropping, I wanted a tree that would touch the ceiling. However, when my turn came, I simply pointed to the tallest one I could see and smiled my sweetest smiled and begged the salesman to put it in the back of my car. I remember thinking Mum would be so proud of me.

“It’s not gonna fit, luv” grunted the guy.

“Yes, yes it will, young man, just push!” This young man was clearly an amateur – my giant Christmas tree did not, obviously, fit into the boot of my car but if one left the boot open and did clever maneuvering only about a foot would be poking out. Obviously.

I drove home at a snail’s pace but am pretty sure most of Mum’s golf balls rolled out of the back of the car as I went round a few roundabouts. I ignored the honks and screeches. It’s a small price to pay. I told myself I’d put some replacements in her stocking.

Once safely home, I got out of the car and looked up the flight of stone steps which lead to our front door and which I had, conveniently, forgot exist. Ah. No matter. I would simply drag the tree up said steps. Dragging was not lifting. I was forbidden to lift anything heavy by my physio and Doctors, but I was sure dragging items smoothly along floors and stone steps would be fine. Just fine. It was Christmas, I wanted to surprise my parents after all with a beautifully decorated tree and flat.

So, I took a deep breath and holding the stump lent back and eased it out, as if I was pulling a calf out of its mother’s womb, and the tree plopped out of the back of the car. So far so good. Nothing appeared to be broken, on either myself or the tree. All I had to do now was mount the steps, which seemed to have doubled in length. I realized I’d have to lift the tree a little, so I turned on my abs, clenched my buttocks and went for it. Glide, I told myself, you’re simply gliding uphill. The bloody tree left a green wake of needles behind it. Traitor. If I was writing a film script of this moment you’d see me laboriously clamber to the top of the steps, precariously balance the tree on the top step, only to realize I’d left my house keys in the car, drop the tree down the steps and have to repeat the whole procedure all over again. But that didn’t happen….. ahem.

Once safely inside with a now half bare tree, I realized the battle was only half won and why Mum always had Dad, or whoever else was around, help her right the tree in its stand. They’re bloody heavy and bloody tall. But I was not one to be daunted by such antiquated gender stereotypes; I did not need a man to help me put up a Christmas tree. Oh no.

I knew I could not physically lift the thing up any more, my back was nearly gone and it was just too heavy. What to do? Well, dear reader, cleverly maneuver it onto a chair, putting the stand in just the right place so that you can stand on the stump and, in essence lever it into position! Genius! Yes! That is until it topples over in the wrong direction nearly smashing into smithereens your families antiques -  meaning you have to catch it, hear something go crack and you’re pretty sure the crack is something in your back/neck.

Anyway, to get to the pine needle point: I got the bastard tree up. The stump hadn’t been cut smooth so I had all our kitchen chairs wedging it up while I screwed it in...needless to say I was in tears by the end. Yes, I am quite stupidly stubborn. And then, to make matters worse, once I took off the netting, it appeared to be missing a layer of branches, have two heads and a twisted spine!!! So I decided to make myself a batch of mulled wine and take some pain meds (NO THIS IS NOT WHAT I ADVISE YOU TO DO!!!! THIS WAS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY!)

Bugger tree's best angle! 

I could feel my back and poor neck beginning to seize up but for some ungodly reason I wasn’t going to let the tree beat me. I was going to decorate it. So I dutifully clambered up a ladder and put up the fairy lights. I knew this would cheer me up. I turned on the power. And nothing. Black. Like my mood.

I wept anew.

Still, undeterred, I decided to continue. I think I was now in some kind of trance. In place of branches I put some fake poinsettia’s and managed, even though I say so myself, to make the bastard tree look pretty damn good. I couldn’t feel my hands and my head was beginning to thump but I had managed to save Christmas! Or so I told myself. And then I collapsed on the floor and Mum rang.

Dodgy Photo - but you can see wonky/missing branch

My physio recently reminded me of this festive escapade. She said she had a whole page of notes about ‘the Christmas tree incident’ in my folder. She advised I get a fake, mini tree from Marks and Spenser. I told her I’d rather die. However, much to my horror when I returned from my appointment yesterday, in the corner of our sitting room was a LITTLE Christmas tree. Already in its stand.

“It doesn’t touch the ceiling, Mum”

“It cost £42 and it’s rather lovely.”

“Hmmm.” I sat down and eyed it suspiciously while Mum got out the decorations. This morning I can report that I have no migraine a very cute little tree.


Next Week:
How to Avoid Christmas Migraine Triggers:
Last Christmas I spent Most of the day in bed – How I hope to Avoid triggers this year…..

Friday, 7 December 2012

I've been nominated for a "hilarious" blogging award! See who else I'm nominating in turn...

Being British it goes again ever inch of my moral fibre to brag or boast in any way. I have an inbuilt self deprecating 'mode' that I thought was understood the world over as being slightly ironic. When I moved to America, however, this got me into slight scrapes when talking about my writing. For example, when asking people to read my work I'd say "It's really terrible, useless really, I'm sure you'll hate it!" And was rather shocked when they replied "Oh, Ok I wont' read it then". What! No! That's just what one is meant to say to appear modest!

So, I shall learn from my forthright, lovely, American friends and proudly announce that I have been nominated (anonymously - thank you whoever did this by the way) for a WEGO Health Activist Award! I am also genuinely pleased with the category I've been nominated in:

Hilarious Health Activist Award - The Health Activist who makes you laugh alongside their advocacy. 

I'm chuffed (as we say here in Britain) because one of my main aims with this blog is to make people laugh. I do sometimes write serious posts, migraines aren't always funny, but quite a lot of life and what I observe is funny and as the old cliche goes "laughter is the best medicine". Migraines make life quite miserable enough, so I hope I can provide some cheer and friendship through these monologues.

Here are some of what I consider to be the most 'hysterical' posts since I started blogging - just incase your curser happens to slip to the 'endorse badge' to the right. I'm not asking you to endorse me - I'd never do such a thing..or suggest you can also endorse/nominate me by clicking here....wink wink.

The Face Of Migraine. Dating and Migraine: A letter to M and Getting Rich & Skinny of Migraine Meds

Anyway, enough about moi.

I really (honestly) wanted to write today to tell you who I'm going to nominate and why. There are so many categories in the WEGO Health Activist Awards I've had a hard time narrowing down who I want to nominate so here goes:

For Best Ensemble Cast Award: Awarded to a group who advocates with tireless dedication and wide-reaching impact. Nominate your favorite organization, community, group, or foundation.

 I nominate the fabulous Migraine Trust here in the UK. The Migraine Trust work tirelessly on behalf of Migraineurs and are leading the way in research, education and advocacy. Without them I know many people would be very lost and alone.

For  Best in Show Awards (Community/Forum) 
Awarded to someone who exemplifies the use of one particular social platform to raise awareness and make connections. Someone who exemplifies the use of a community or forum. 

I nominate The National Migraine Centre's On-line Forum Healthunlocked - via Rebecca Sterry. The forum is an amazing place for migraineurs to share experiences, tips and tricks, ask questions about the National Migraine Centre and generally feel a sense of community which is so vital.

 For Ms/Mr Congeniality Award
Awarded to someone who always has a kind word, a positive note, and a virtual hug. Nominate your favorite community cheerleader.
I nominate fellow Migraine Blogger Emily Guzan and her blog That M Word. Unlike me, Emily manages to write short, pithy posts that are educational, heartfelt and highly amuzing - and she's always to be found on Twitter encouraging and supporting the migraine community.

And finally Unsung Hero Award
Awarded to the member of your community who is always helping, advising, and sharing – but may not know how amazing and valuable they are. Nominate your favorite secret weapon.

I'd like to nominated a lady I've never actually met, but who I've become friends with via the medium of twitter and email, who doesn't have a blog but is active on twitter in the health community: Patricia Nordeen. I really hope Patricia doesn't mind that I'm going to briefly share the fact that I think she's an incredibly brave and inspiring woman. Despite recent personal loss, chronic Basilar migraines and more complex medical dramas than make up one episode of House this lady always has a kind word and good advice for others. You can find her on twitter via @questionable7 if you want to learn more.

Please join me in nominating those mentioned above, it takes about two seconds. All you have to do is click here! How exciting is this? It's like the Oscars for the on-line blogging health

To find out more about WEGO and the awards check out:

Monday, 3 December 2012


Mulled wine is brewing and hopefully migraines are not, yes it is already time for the second exciting Migraineur Of The Month! For December I am very pleased to introduce you to the incredible Hannah. As you will read below, Hannah has had to put up with an incredible amount since her migraines started in 1999, yet managed to achieve wonders despite all she has had to cope with. I know many of you will be able to empathise with what she has to say and will, no doubt, admire her hippy loving heart of gold. 

Can you remember & describe your first migraine?

I can't remember my first classic (painful) migraine as it was over 11 years ago. I do, however remember my first vestibular and silent migraine which was on the 13 of June 2006. I was at the bus stop on my way to work and it felt like someone had hit me on the back of the head. I lurched forward and everything started to spin out of control, it went on and on and I fell out in front of the bus clinging on to the bus stop. I have no idea why or how I did it but I got on the bus and an hour later after calling him my husband came to pick me up and found me on the floor in the middle of town holding on to a wall. I have lived with constant dizzyness and many other symptoms every day since then.

Best migraine top tip anyone’s ever given you?

Disregard nothing, but question everything.

Worst Trigger?

Hormones, weather and skipping a meal. I get a lot worse in winter too as I can't stand the artificial lights. I get a lot more classic migraines in winter and a lot dizzier too. It's hard to work out triggers when it's everyday, I have to go by what triggers a classic migraine and what makes everything spin more violently. 

Chipster! Victoria's 'Migraine' buddy
Favourite migraine comfort?

Hmmm not sure to be honest, I try not to go to bed when the dizzies are bad as the last time I did that I couldn't get up for 6 weeks.  Though when the pain comes I feel quite grateful to crawl into bed.  My cat comes to sit with me, she just lies near my feet and she lies so still, I can barely feel her but knowing she is there is comforting.

What’s the worst assumption that’s been made about you and your migraines?

Like everyone, I am sure, I have had a few. ;) Mainly that I am depressed and or anxious. I was called a psycho once, not by a doctor I might add. I have been asked if I am used to it yet and told that we all get dizzy from time to time. I think the thing that has hurt the most is when people assume you aren't trying hard enough or have given up. Fighting doesn't always mean you have to force yourself to do things that make you more ill every day.  Even the smallest things can take an enormous amount of effort.

What are you most proud of doing despite living with migraines?

You know I am proud of a lot to be honest, my movement is very restricted and I am mostly housebound with this now but I have still managed to maintain a blog since 08 and I have taught myself many crafts which have changed my life, I have also been published in magazines sharing those crafts. The thing I am most proud of though is going to my sister's wedding and managing to dance the first dance, I will never forget that. I have had to give up a lot with this so carving out a kind of life is hard and I feel everything I manage to do each day (even if it's just getting up) is an achievement.

If you could be the Queen of England for a Year what would you do!?

Well I am a hippy at heart, I believe in kindness and compassion. I would ask everyone to do something nice for their neighbor, anything, make them a sandwich or give them a cake or maybe just say hi. Everyone has their struggles and when we connect with an open heart we can see people for who they are, not what we perceive them to be. :)

Hannah is the author of Span's Studio where she shares her creative endeavors and how they help her to live despite living with MAV and constant movement. 

You can find her here:

Well I think we should all do as the lovely Hannah says and be kind to one another this December! And give each other cake. Hannah, thank you so much for being Migraineur Of The Month - you're a real inspiration and Migraine Monologues wishes you a healthy and happy 2013. 

Hannah was nominated as Migraineur Of The Month by Miss November, Clairebellemakes

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Migraine In The Work Place: My Story Plus A Study By The Migraine Trust Shows Prejudice In Work Place INCREASING

A bout of chronic migraines meant I had to quit my job last summer before I got fired.

This sounds quite dramatic, and is not necessarily the course of action I’d suggest for others, but I realized that I had to put my health first. I needed to concentrate solely on getting these migraines and other related health issues (my dodgy neck etc) under control once and for all, otherwise I could never have a career.

Unlike other migraineurs, I have always been very lucky with my bosses. My first real boss at a Head Hunting firm was actually a Doctor and an old family friend (yes nepotism is a wonderful thing), so was always incredibly understanding; as she knew about my car accident that had, for me, been the start of my migraine journey. I actually even started that job as a form of physical rehab, starting off 2 days a week. When I eventually moved to a bigger firm, I was a bit of a coward and didn’t know what I do now – that you can declare migraine as a disability (more on why this can be wise and brave below.)

Instead, truthfully, I asked if I could work for 4 days a week as I had to go to physio for my neck and needed other treatment. Working 4 days in that office was agony, I got occupational health to assess my desk, so my computer was set up ergonomically correctly and, yes, soon had to miss days due to migraine and my bosses were understanding. I felt awful letting down clients and co-workers. But I always stressed the physical aspect of my condition, that I had spine damage – not wanting to incur any of the usual plethora of misconceptions that go with migraine. But trying to sit at a desk for a full day was probably too much for me then and my migraines spiralled. Luckily I then got a scholarship to do a Masters Degree at New York University and do what I really love… brainer really – even though it means I’ll be broke for the rest of my life.

But when I came back from America (or rather was kicked out by immigration – really do I look like a terrorist?!) I decided I needed another ‘day’ job to help pay off student loans while I appealed my visa. So, I started another part time job helping to set up a recruitment company. Again, sitting at a desk was killer on my back, bright office lights and other migraine triggers started to come into play – and at this point I still wasn’t quite aware of the extent of the damage to my neck. And it was trying to do this job that I had my mega neck spasm after a 3 day migraine and the descent back into chronic migraines began. I had to miss so many days I felt bad for my lovely boss who, while being terribly understanding, was trying to set up his new company; the last thing he needed was me being a weight around his shoulders. Did you know absences due to migraine and headache cost the UK economy £2.25 Billion! I was also starting to make stupid and potentially disastrous mistakes – a result I’m sure of the migraines! So I decided to resign. For me, this was an incredibly tough decision. I stubbornly refused to quit for a while. One morning I woke with the start of a migraine, tried to get ready to go in, not wanting to call in sick yet again, and nearly fainted in the bathroom. Mum found me crying on the floor and begged me to give up the job.

Although this was by no means my dream job, giving it up meant I would have to stay permanently with my parents, give up any hope of independence and give into the fact that I was, once again, an invalid. Aged 31, it was soul destroying.

But weirdly, once I’d made the decision that I was going to give myself a year (psychologically I needed a time frame) to concentrate completely on getting to the bottom of my migraines and chronic neck pain and spasms, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. And a couple of months later this blog, Migraine Monologues was born!

This was in June 2011.

So why am I boring you with this tale of woe? Well, yesterday the mighty Migraine Trust unveiled results of a survey of migraine in the work place. What I find scary is that prejudice against migraineurs is worse now than when a similar survey was conducted in 2006!!  Why is this? How can we stop this?!

I know I have been very lucky with my work place experiences – but this survey shows I’m clearly in the minority. Since I no longer work in the corporate world I’m much more relaxed about telling people I suffer with migraines. I’ve found creatives are much more sympathetic! Yet, I still have to brace myself a little when I let people know in a work setting.  I am worried what they’ll think of me, but if I don’t make it crystal clear that this is a neurological, health condition that I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be embarrassed about – then how on earth are the misconceptions and prejudices about migraine ever going to diminish? My theory now is that if I’m as clear, concise and as informative as possible about my condition and what I need, then there will be little room for outdated, ignorant assumptions.

The next time I apply for a full time or even part time position – I will be giving my new employers the Employment Advocacy Toolkit that the Migraine Trust launched today. As part of their User Group I got to see an early draft and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had access to this information (both from a legal and supportive angle) when I was working. You can declare migraine as a disability if appropriate – and if you do so then your employer is obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” accordingly. i.e you’re far more protected and your work place environment will be much more comfortable for you.

I do, totally, understand why people will be hesitant to ‘come out’ as it were – there is a stigma attached but if Ian Watmore, former Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and Chief Executive of the Football Association can be open – so can we:

"I always declared to my employers once I knew I had migraine and all were supportive, as were fellow employees when I made it public. Being open about it enabled other employees to feel it was OK to admit to migraine attacks and not feel stigmatised.

I am living proof that it is possible to achieve your personal ambitions at whatever level while suffering from this dreadful condition.” (Taken from Migraine Trust Survey Results)

What to do if migraines are affecting your work?
1. Download the Employment AdvocacyToolkit.
2. Contact the Advocacy and Policy Manager – Hannah Verghese for further advice. This is a FREE service. You can also email Hannah at or call 020 7631 6973
3. Remember that it is often easier to address the issues 'head' on - getting signed off work for a period of time by your GP might be the right option for you to give you time to try new treatments etc. Communication is key.

Remember you’re not alone! 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Jordin 'Sparks' interest in Migraine with Excedrin - & courts controversy

Jordin Sparks, the youngest winner of American Idol (the American version of X-Factor) has bravely put her name behind an over the counter migraine medication. Somehow it just seems slightly cooler than if, say, Rylan was to do the same thing. However, it is rumoured that another of this years X Factor contestants, Carolynne Poole, has struggled with migraines. Migraleve take note...

But back to Sparks. Last week Excedrin Migraine launched a huge campaign, including a new website with a Migraine Trigger App that you can even buy on i-Tunes. I haven't had a chance to check out the website fully but I applaud their efforts in getting migraine awareness out into the world, specifically the idea that we need to track our own individual triggers.

I also applaud Jordin Sparks for having the guts to own up, publicly, to suffering with migraines. Many celebrities refuse to do so believing that their careers and reputation will suffer. I understand this fear but the more of us (do you like how I lump myself with the celebs) talk openly about migraine the less taboo it will become. As I've written before, I'm pretty sure no-one would dare tell Serena Williams that having migraines makes you a wimpy, neurotic, hypochondriac who will never achieve anything with your life.

Which brings me to one negative aspect of the Excedrin Migraine campaign. This was brought to my attention by one of my favourite migraine bloggers, The Daily Headache. Kerry pointed out that the Excedrin advert featured the "fact" that:

 "Two-thirds of women would give up shopping at their favorite store for a year to stop their migraine attacks"

I'm not even going to bother talking about why this is so stupid, and once again perpetuates the myth that the only people who get migraines are women who clearly have nothing else to do but shop, as Kerry did a fabulous job in her post. She even launched a Twitter revolution and Excedrin ended up changing the 'fact'! Go Kerry!

On the whole, though, this Excedrin campaign is a step in the right direction and it's time that here, in the UK, an equally sparkly star (did you like what I did there?) spoke out like Sparks is doing. Below is a video of her talking about the migraine trigger app. Just imagine if Gary Barlow became the spokesperson for Imigran Recovery.....

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

“My Bra Is Giving Me A Migraine”

Hello, boys. I thought that would get your attention.

I must confess my bra is not currently giving me a migraine and the bra in question, in fact, belongs to a friend. Let us call this friend Joan.

Let us also change to the past tense.

Last month after a long day at work, Joan made a pit stop at Rigby & Peller (lingerie sellers to The Queen) to stock up on some much needed undergarments. Now Joan and I can both be described as voluptuous vixens with vast valleys of cleavage, so not for us the silly triangles of flimsy cloth held together with dental floss. No, we need under-wiring and reinforcement. This is where Rigby & Peller comes in, they make beautiful lingerie for real women, corsets the likes of which Dita Von Tess would be proud. And yes I bet her Majesty, The Queen, rocks some snazzy matching ensembles. 

Doesn't Joan look slightly different/familiar???
What does all this have to do with a migraine? Well, Joan had joyfully purchased two fabulous braziers (really quite beautiful) and decided to wear one on the train journey home to the Cotswolds (where she lived with her brood.) Unfortunately, she had been attended by a new, over zealous saleswoman/fitter. This young saleswoman decided to hoik up the straps, and pin Joan in so tightly she could barely breath the whole journey home. She also felt she owed it to her new, beautiful bra to sit upright; in a Grace Kelly fashion. To be honest I’m quite surprised her Madona-esq conical cleavage didn’t blind passing commuters.

Before Joan’s train had even pulled into the station, her neck and shoulders were a fiery furnace, and a steel band of pain was wrapping itself around her head. It was then I got the (now infamous) text: “my bra is giving me a migraine.” I rang Joan immediately and told her to take off the offending item at once! Obviously not in front of fellow passengers. (Don’t get too excited, she didn’t strip on the train.) You see she wasn’t used to such forced, upright posture, nor was she used to having thick bra straps digging into her shoulder muscles. Remember, these bras are well made. I like to imagine she’d also been jutting out her chin to complete the look. All combined Joan had been holding herself, mainly due to an ill fitted bra, in an awkward position for about 1.5 hours. Even Gypsy Rose Lee wouldn’t have had the abs and back muscles to hold a pose for that long.

Once safely home and unhooked, I told Joan to apply heat and her TENS unit. She also took her prescribed ZOMIG (triptan) and luckily the migraine wasn’t too bad.

What can we learn from this saga of the bra and the migraine? Well, bad posture, awkwardly held positions can (for some) trigger migraines and certain headaches (such as Tension Type Headaches and Cervicogenic Headaches.) Joan is not alone, the Daily Mail recently reported on this very issue! The headline was "Why your bra could be a pain in the neck" Slouching can also trigger headaches, so if you have to sit at a computer for a long time make sure you have the correct ergonomic set up (see image below), including the right bra. Obviously. I want to make it crystal clear that I still buy all my bras from Rigby & Peller (and Victoria Secret's because, well, they have my initials on!) as they are, usually, the best fitted and made. Joan was just unlucky that day with a new, inexperienced, fitter.
Yoga, Alexander Technique and Pilates can all help with gentle strengthening and posture (if you don’t have an acute injury in which case you should probably see a Physiotherapist or Osteopath etc.)

You’ll be pleased to hear that Joan re-adjusted the straps on her bra, is working on her posture, and is now living happily ever after with her Rigby & Peller purchase. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

"Study Connects Migraine With Celiac & Irritable Bowel"

Do forgive me for talking about such indelicate matters so early on a Friday morn - but alas the stomach and migraine is, well, a pain in the butt. Just yesterday I had another of my giving birth-esq stomach spasms that required my poor mother to administer wet flannels and mugs of hot peppermint water while I groaned on the loo. This reminds me that I really must talk to the Queen about recommending mother for the New Years honours list. 

I was also reminded that I a) need to have my follow-up visit with the dietician who put me on a clever diet that is meant to help with these spasms (which I have obviously been forgetting to follow) and b) write the blog post that tells you all about this clever diet. It's amazing the thoughts one has whilst in the bathroom. 

Appropriately, this week the migraine advocate and educator extrodinaire Teri Robert posted a link to a new US study  that confirmed what apparently we in Europe proved long ago: that there is a known prevalence between those who have celiac disease/and or irritable bowel and migraine. The results are quite astounding:

Study results:

(GS = gluten sensitivity)

Chronic headaches were reported by
  • 30% of celiac disease group,
  • 56% of the GS group, and
  • 23% of IBD group. 
  • Compared with 14% of control subjects.
There was a significantly higher prevalence of Migraine by ID-Migraine criteria:
  • 40% in the celiac disease group,
  • 21% in the GS group, and
  • 14% in the IBD group,
  • Compared with 6% in the control group.
When rating the impact of Migraine:
  • 72% of participants in the celiac disease group graded their Migraines as severe;
  • 60% of those with GS graded theirs as severe;
  • 30% of the IBD group graded theirs as severe; and
  • 50% of the control group with Migraines graded theirs as severe.
  • There was o correlation between years following a gluten-free diet and Migraine severity.
Although these results may come as no surprise to a lot of migraine patients - they suggest that migraine specialists and neurologists should make screening for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity a routine part of initial investigations. I was astounded to realise that the first time I was ever officially tested myself, was last summer by a Gastroentorologist. He was the first Doctor, after 13 years, who had ever suggested this as a possible trigger, despite me always mentioning my delightful stomach spasms. Though he did say that they were, most likely, a result of gastric stasis that occurs during (and they're discovering outside) migraine. In the end my results came back negative but he still referred me onto a dietician, much to my chagrin. And I'll tell you all about that meeting in another exciting blog post. 

But for now, if you still can't pin point your main trigger it really is worth looking into whether or not you might have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. I know a few migraineurs who have cut out gluten from their diet with incredibly positive results. It hasn't eliminated all of their migraines but cut out a large chunk - which is something I know many of us would wish for. 

Study Links & Further Info:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Guest Blog Post! Hypnotherapy For Migraine; Not What You'd Expect.

When I lived in New York my Writing Mentor suggested I tried Hypnotherapy. Not because of my migraines, I must admit, but because she said "Us neurotic people need something to help us unwind."  I rolled my eyes, as obviously I'm totally calm and collected at all times, but went along as I'd heard that it can be useful for pain; specifically for those suffering with migraine. It was not at all what I was expecting. The fabulous Fiona Russell, who can be seen here talking about the impact migraine has had on her life, also decided to give it a go. Below she recounts her experiences.....

The word hypnotherapy tends to conjure up images of people in a trance, suddenly dancing around the stage pretending to be chickens as soon as the hypnotist clicks his all powerful fingers. And for those familiar to this blog, us migraine sufferers are willing to try anything that may ease our pain, even if we are made to look silly. However, the fact that it was the trusted National Migraine Centre offering these hypnotherapy classes and the word ended in ‘therapy’ and not ‘tism’ led me to believe that chickens would hopefully not be involved.

I was having 5 group hypnotherapy sessions with Patrick Browning ( and we were being taught different self-hypnosis techniques. I think the word hypnosis may scare some people but you should think of them as relaxation or de-stress techniques. During the first session, Patrick put us into trance. I sat there, listening to Patrick’s voice, feeling a little skeptical, but the music and his tone of voice were so soothing and calming that I couldn’t help but unwind.  Very soon I was feeling like I was about to fall asleep. My limbs felt very heavy and when Patrick made a suggestion that we lift our arms, I was unable to. This is apparently called ‘limb catalepsy’ and if you’ve reached this state you know you are in trance. I felt extremely relaxed at this point and it was definitely a very pleasant feeling. I had come into the session with a migraine ‘hangover’ and after we’d been brought out of trance (by simply counting backwards from 10) I felt slightly better. Patrick then taught us how to take ourselves into this trance. Fortunately, he gave us CDs to help because listening to his super relaxing voice did make self hypnosis far easier, though I have just about mastered it by myself now. When you are in trance you can imagine yourself in a special place and give yourself positive suggestions. Though to be honest, I’ve just been using it as a helpful way to fall asleep at night after a migraine has wrecked my sleep pattern.

Patrick was also teaching us various other self-help techniques, with the hope that we would find at least one that would benefit us, as everyone has slightly different needs and everyone’s migraines are different. Some of the techniques were focused on how to reduce stress and worry, common migraine triggers. I don’t think I’m a particularly stressful person but I do get excited easily, normally when I have the chance to go out and socialize with people that aren’t my parents, what with being in my 30s and living at home. Unfortunately, I feel over excitement can trigger a migraine but Patrick said that some of the techniques for reducing stress can also work the same for excitement. Bit depressing that I have to lower my excitement levels but hey, if it stops a migraine, I guess it’s worth it.

We learnt the dissociation technique so we could dissociate from our body and the pain we were feeling. Hell, yeah, this would be super useful. Bye, bye migraine. I’ll just float above my head for 24 hours. During the session with Patrick, I didn’t believe anything would actually happen. Suddenly, I then had the strangest feeling where even though I knew I was sitting in a chair, I could not tell if I was upright or horizontal. I kid you not. My ‘awareness’ was floating about 2 foot away from my body but I could not work out where in space my actual body was. It was as if my spatial compass had gone awry and it was a bit scary and weird, so rather than just ‘go with it’ I did try and get back inside my own head. But now I know what it feels like I probably would be more relaxed next time. Unfortunately since then I’ve not managed to dissociate by myself, but all these techniques do need lots of practice.

In our last session we learnt the Symptom Imagery technique. Patrick took us into trance and then asked us to envisage that our migraine symptoms were an actual entity. He told us to just focus on the first thing that popped into our consciousness. I was starting to get a migraine at this point so my head was feeling very heavy. Thus, the first thing that I thought of that illustrated my migraine was the character, Kenny from South Park. Yes, the kid in the huge orange parka that gets killed off every episode. I’m not even a South Park fan, I can’t even remember the last time I saw an episode. I think it was just because his head looks huge, out of proportion and heavy which is what mine felt like at the time. Patrick then said in his lovely dreamy voice, words to the effect of,
‘now you can see your symptom, start a conversation with them and negotiate possible changes to make things better in the future’
Ah, hmmm this could be tricky. Kenny has a parka hood covering his mouth making his speech so muffled that it is incomprehensible. Any dialogue, let alone some sort of beneficial bargaining tête-à-tête, was just not going to work. As I’m writing this, it has come to me plain as day that what I should have imagined, is to have killed off Kenny i.e my migraine and exclaimed loudly
‘oh my God! They killed Kenny…the bastards’ and that would have stopped my migraine in its tracks. Unfortunately, my migraine was clouding my thinking so all I did for the rest of the trance was just look helplessly at Kenny. We had a pleasant time, it was quite relaxing, but it didn’t really help me feel better. Hmmmm I think I need to work on my symptom imagery.

Overall, I would recommend trying hypnotherapy. It may not be to everyone’s taste and obviously, as with all these treatments it is no instant migraine cure. However, with a bit of practice, most members of the group I was in found self hypnosis helped them to relax. This can only be a good thing. The more techniques we have at our disposal to ease our pain or distract us during the bad times, the better, I say.

Fiona is a Research Scientist specialising in Pain. How is that for irony? But her research focuses more on arthritic joint pain than migraines. She's about to start part-time research work in January at King's College London. She has had migraines for 8 years.

For more information about the National Migraine Centre check out their website or even better, give them a call and make an appointment!

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