First of all, I’m so happy that you all are interested to hear about this! Though I do consider my blog to primarily be a food blog, I am more than happy to take requests for these “musing-style” posts and love to get your input on what you most want to read about!
That being said, it took me awhile to write this particular post, about my journey to eastern medicine, because it’s pretty personal. I want to first say that I am obviously (!!) not a doctor and do not intend to give anyone any sort of medical advice. The information you’ll read about in this post is just my personal story and what has worked for me. What works for me might not work for you! You should definitely see a doctor before switching up your medical plan.
I’ve suffered from migraines for the past 10 years. Both my grandmother and my mother get awful headaches, too, and my migraines began when I was in high school. At the time, I was only seventeen and quick to rush to the doctor when I had my first bad headache. My doctor immediately prescribed me prescription migraine medicine and that seemed to take care of it. My doctor also told me I should keep a headache journal of everything I was eating and drinking so I could find common triggers such as caffeine, meat or alcohol. At the time, I was also suffering from IBS and in an effort to not be in pain anymore, I cut out red meat, dairy and caffeine (I never drank in high school so I booze wasn’t an issue). The headaches kept coming.
Flash forward three years and I still suffered from bi-monthly migraines. On a break from college I came home and met with a neurologist to get an MRI and discuss why these headaches were happening so often. My tests came back fine and he switched me to a new painkiller, one that I hated to take because although they got rid of my migraines, they made me feel incredibly sick for the rest of the day. I started doing yoga to manage my stress levels and found that triangle pose (along with many other postures) actually helped my head feel better when I started to feel a migraine coming on. At this time, I became increasingly interested in a healthy holistic lifestyle and started practicing yoga 4-5x a week and eating a primarily vegetarian diet. My migraines pretty much disappeared for about three years and I thought I had “cured myself”.
Then, flash forward to last fall. I hadn’t had a migraine in about six months and suddenly out of the blue, got a horrible one. Just like that, my migraines came back and started to increase in both severity and frequency. Soon, I was getting two a week and practically living off my meds and black coffee. Keep in mind that this was only a few months ago! After continued suffering followed by unintentional weight loss, I went to see a doctor here because whatever I was doing was definitely not working anymore. So, I went through all the motions of getting all my blood work done, got tested for every allergy under the sun and tried a new prescription. Still, nothing worked. My migraines ruined my days and kept me from doing stuff I love like hiking, yoga and being active outside.
I had always heard about acupuncture (specifically from Caitlin!) but thought it could never work for me. Though I hated to admit it, I enjoyed the “quick fix” that the migraine pills gave me and thought my pain was too much for any “holistic doctor” to handle. But still…I was desperate. I was tired of paying co-pays at the doctor’s office and getting needles stuck in my arm only to find that I was perfectly fine. So, even though it was incredibly pricey, I committed to five acupuncture sessions to see if it helped.
Immediately after my first session, I got a migraine. I was so bummed out because I really wanted this to work. But when I told my acupuncturist, she wasn’t disheartened…instead we just talked about different aspects of my life and how emotions are tied strongly to physical ailments. She told me that sometimes when the body experiences a true shock to it’s system (like a tragic, unexpected death) it can cause everything to go unbalanced. I believe that’s what happened to me when my brother passed away two years ago. Up until the day he passed away, I was fine and had my headaches totally under control…but then when I got the call that changed my life it shifted everything. When you couple that with moving across the country, starting a new job and making friends from scratch, it does a number on your emotions.
Even though I thought I was balanced and healthy, I still was dealing with the aftermath of intense grief and because I’m not really one to “talk” about my emotions that much (instead I hid everything deep inside), the feelings had to come out somewhere…so they manifested in the form of migraines.
Make any sense?
We all know that stress makes you sick and in my case, my pent-up grief made me sick. Through talking and Chinese herbs to balance out my “yin”, we slowly got my body back in balance. Because when your body and emotions are balanced, your health reflects it.
I’ve seen my acupuncturist about five times now over the course of a month and a half and have only had one migraine since starting with her. I consider going from two headaches a week to one a month a small victory, don’t you? Of course I would rather never have any, but the fact that my body is starting to heal itself is a very good sign. I’ve learned that you can’t just bury your emotions—they will come out one way or another! I’ve also learned that even though pills (prescription migraine pills/tylonel/advil) may put a cap on your pain, they really are just a quick fix—a band-aid over a bigger problem. Eastern medicine offers a proactive solution to getting to and treating the root of the problem so that you don’t have pain you need to cover up with a band-aid.
All of this isn’t to say I don’t have respect for Western doctors—you better believe I’m thankful for doctors and hospitals (helloooo grey’s anatomy!). I just think that as a whole, America is a very over-medicated nation and often times if we just take the time to find the root of the problem, we can find a real solution…not just a temporary fix.
Currently, I feel better than I ever have in my entire life. I just feel more “balanced”. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but overall I feel happier and healthier since starting acupuncture. I just feel like my normal old self again—not someone who is worried everyday about getting a migraine.
If you suffer from migraines, I’m so sorry and totally feel your pain. I feel like it really takes another migraine sufferer to know the extent of the pain that I’m talking about. Pain so bad that all you can do is lay on the couch with an eye mask on and moan all day. I encourage other migraine sufferers to really take a look at their lives though and think about a) when you started to get the headaches and b) what changed in your life around the same time the headaches started. Does your life feel unbalanced at all? Are you in good health and consume a healthy diet? There are many, many factors to consider and unfortunately, not one easy fix for all.
Whew! That was a long one. Is anyone still reading this thing? Tomorrow I’ll give you a brownie. Promise.