The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as; "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage". In particular, they strongly supported the clear link to biological, psychological, and social factors as included in the accompanying notes, better known as Bio-Psycho-Social.
Being biological organisms, all humans feel pain. Some of us in more acute ways *usually comes on suddenly and is caused by something specific. Others more chronically *usually pain is regarded as chronic when it lasts or recurs for more than 3 to 6 months. Some people are kind of in between.
For me I feel I align with the ‘in-betweeness’ of acute and chronic. My pain is Hormonal Migraine attack, which, at its base level can leave me nauseous with a dull tight sensation around the head and neck, squinty eyes and lack of concentration. At its it worst, it can be the pervious PLUS severe pain lasting from 24 hours to 5 days with a variance in the middle that may still allow me to function on some level. There can also be vomiting to make it really fun.
While I have wonderful client’s that are themselves coping with pain, I cannot attest to others pain journeys, but I can describe mine and how I manage it, which may help someone else out there.
MY WARNING SIGNS
When I was younger I used to experience the classic ‘Aura’ with pain that would last maybe 1 – 1.5 hours then severe tiredness. Ah the good old days. These would typically occur from my teens well in to my late 20’s. I recall my first icky one about 4 days after my daughter was born. Heck I was 22, came home from hospital straight back in to gym workouts. Perhaps not the smartest idea. That one was scary. Ataxia was also very common with my migraine attacks during my 20’s. Ataxia is a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements. In other words my brain would want to speak but the signal would get lost somewhere in the ether and I couldn’t get any words out. Yes, this scared the absolute crap out of me when it first happened.
Another early attack symptom was disassociation. I remember having this one so badly as a late teen, it lasted over a week. Like I was living inside of a dream state. The things we blow off when we’re young and invincible huh.
As I got older , from my 30’s to near 50, things shifted. My key warning signs at least 48 - 24 hours prior to an attack now are; Hyperactivity. Yup, if I all of a sudden put Spotify on and dance around the house singing at the top of my voice or smash into a huge intensity workout for 2 hours with energy to burn afterwards, it’s a light bulb ‘warning Will Robinson’ moment.
My appetite can increase. Typically hour’s before. As my migraines usually hit me around 2am – 5am, if I can’t get my fill of carbs at dinner then that’s also a big warning. Like my body is gearing up for Battle Mode. I can also crave lemons with salt. Interesting.
Sense of smell heightens and sensitivity to noise. Absolutely off the chart bloodhound sense of smell and sound. This one also hangs around a little while afterwards.
I no longer get the aura (I wish I did), its just a massive smack of intense pain. Ataxia is also no longer a part of them, however, I can be jumbled up in my words for a couple of days afterwards, particularly with writing and spelling or describing.
During an attack the best that can be done is a dark quiet space, no chatter, no people, cold face cloth, bucket.
Laying down for hours on end is ANYTHING BUT restful, 24 to 36 hours in bed or on the lounge leaves me feeling like I am in a living rigor mortis, if you’re a sci-fi fan, think about the ‘Edgar Suit’. *MIB. I sometimes giggle to myself at how I must look as I hobble to the bathroom.
Then there is the hangover. Aptly named, because as you emerge from the migraine fog your tongue is fury and weirdly I get this sweetness in my mouth. Food can taste like garbage. Bright lights channel Golem. Any noise or deep discussions are difficult to translate into any kind of sense. I just described the noise of a gas stove to my husband as; ‘What’s that shhhhhh noise?” WTF. And all I want to eat is hot chips and salt.
AGING AND HORMONES
Two of my best friends right now. I am just shy of 48. Edging in to peri-menopause with the tell-tale ‘missed cycle’, ‘late cycle’, ‘don’t talk to me cycle’. So predicting migraine attacks are becoming a little trickier. I can go weeks without one, even right through a cycle with just a niggle and then for whatever reason, my stuff shifts and I get hit with an attack like War of the Worlds.
MY MANAGEMENT (my for me)
That is the key word. Management. Not being afraid to do what I love to do on a day to day basis. Not being held to ransom by the ‘next attack’. Knowing my signals that are unique to my body. Really taking the time to listen to those abnormal rushes of energy of snaps of bright light in front of my eyes (that are literally that, snap and then gone, like when you look at the sun to long).
Exercising is a big part of management for me. Hello I teach Pilates for a living. I am enamoured by the body and brain and how it all functions as a whole. I have a new love for lifting weights mixed with my Pilates practice.
Diet. Not what you think. I am conscious of not consuming stuff that could lead me to an attack; any kind of processed or overly refined food, alcohol, orange juice. No I DON’T drink alcohol.
Water intake is a big one. Aim 2.5L per day, reality….1.75L per day. I work hard to drink more water. And it’s warm water, sometimes with fresh lemon juice (fyi Lemon is great for alkalizing the body).
Also 'ITS OK TO NOT BE OK'. I learned a long time ago to stop adding to my stress and angst by feeling guilty or apologising when I have an attack that disrupts MY life.
There is always something new to learn about how the body and mind respond to pain. Simple little techniques we can learn to help give ourselves some relief. Like pressure point techniques, lymph massage points, fascia release. And as an aside. If that’s your thing as well check out these Instagram pages @stopchasingpain (Dr Perry Nickleson) and @hannahmoves (Nick Hannah) I also like the practicality of @roydianchan
So that’s my pain journey, in a very compact outline, no shading here. I guess the underlying point is; human’s experience pain on many different levels. It what we chose to do with it, how we chose to manage it and not let it manage us.
“The endless search for the next ‘Quick Fix” of a health related issue is like a kid on the hunt for their next favourite toy. What health related issues need is persistent practice.”