It’s easy to take something like your health for granted, especially when you haven’t had to deal with many issues in the past. It’s also just as easy to ignore your health and let the day to day hustle and bustle take over your life, with no time to pay attention to yourself. I never thought that person would be me, but a few years ago, I had to start paying attention and it can be incredibly confusing and frustrating.
To start, I have always been prone to migraines. I can remember being in severe pain as far back as the first grade, when my teacher would blast the heat in the classroom. I came home numerous times feeling dizzy, nauseous, and sensitive to the fluorescent lights. I also remember one afternoon in high school, my head was hurting throughout the day, but the pain got suddenly worse when I was getting ready to go home. My locker was a tall, skinny one, and I had to stoop down to put in my books. I have a very vivid memory of bending down and feeling my heartbeat in my temples and in my eyes. That throbbing pain stayed with me the whole bus ride home, along with nausea and light sensitivity. I can also remember coming home from a school trip on a bus. Besides the usual bout of motion sickness, a chocolate brownie triggered what I now know was a migraine. Other times it’s been salty foods with MSG, sometimes hot fudge (I KNOW, sad times).
Fast forward: when I was 18, I began taking the birth control pill to try and regulate my period. It worked well and I continued to treat migraines with over the counter medication as I needed it. I took the pill for about five years and at some point, I started feeling like I was in constant stomach pain with indigestion. By then, I had just completed graduate school and at the same time had started a new job–my first out of college. So you can say my stress level was pretty high. In addition, my prescription coverage changed. In order to use my insurance and not pay full retail price, I had to use the company’s home delivery service. However, the prescription insurance company also began sending me the generic version of the birth control pill I was taking. I immediately began to feel a difference in my overall health, but did not yet put the pieces together. My gynecologist told me that it was the same exact formula, so there should be no difference. I still wasn’t buying it but at the time, I didn’t want to stop taking the pill.
In the meantime, for a few menstrual cycles in a row, I began to experience severe abdominal pain. It would last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, and would ease when I took ibuprofen. At the time, I just figured they were severe cramps. The last time this happened though, I was in excruciating pain for about 12 hours and could not stop vomiting, even though I was not eating and barely drinking. My mom took me to an urgent care center, and I was told I had a stomach bug (gee thanks). Eventually the pain eased but I felt as though something wasn’t right. I went back to my gynecologist and they performed ultrasounds to see if there were any cysts or if it was my gallbladder. I was told that there could have been a cyst that burst but there was really no way to tell at the time of the test. So I left pretty confused and annoyed. At the doctor’s recommendation, I went to a gastroenterologist and after an endoscopy, discovered that my stomach lining was inflamed, so I began taking medication. Slowly, and combined with cutting down on coffee, certain foods, and managing stress, I began to feel much better. Eventually, I was able to stop taking that medication and was able to manage it on my own. However, the migraines were still causing severe episodes of pain.
I was determined to figure this out and finally get to the bottom of this. For years, I went through the fall and spring seasons thinking I had severe allergies. I did suffer from sinus pressure and the sniffles. After going on and off various allergy medications and visiting two allergists, the second finally suggested a headache specialist since he thought the problem was not allergies (I only had minor allergy symptoms) but the headaches themselves. After a consultation, I was indeed diagnosed with migraine and started to keep a headache diary and pay more attention to nearly everything. What I ate, what I drank, my sleep patterns, moods, and stress levels. Around the same time that I began seeing the headache specialist, I decided to take myself off the birth control pill, as I truly felt it was making me even more sick because what I then began to realize was that beside food triggers, migraines followed a pattern around my menstrual cycle and over time had gotten much worse and more frequent. Right off the bat, the doctor recommended I stop taking allergy medications with decongestant (Claritin D is no good for migraines!), some vitamin supplements, and prescription migraine medicine. It took a few tries, but I finally found the medication and supplement combination that worked best for me.
Now almost two years later, I now have my migraines under control, my stomach is still feeling better (as long as I don’t over do it on the coffee!), and overall I am feeling so much healthier. I have not gone back on the pill and I personally think I am better off without it given the issues it caused me in the past. I had always been pretty active, but over the past year, I have been more committed to exercising and that has made a world of difference as well. I still need to maintain routines (taking supplements, treating the migraines I do inevitably get every month, watching what types of food I eat), but now that I know what works for me, it is so much easier.
You are the only one who knows your body and if you feel like something is not right, trust your gut and keep going until you get the answers you need and start to feel better. Going to doctor after doctor, filling out forms, making appointments can be very frustrating, but it’s not worth ignoring your health.