I still remember when my very first migraine hit me
I remember it like today, very vividly, laying on the bottom bunk bed in this Austrian hostel my school class was staying in for our ski week, way back, when I was 12 years old.
Read on or watch the video to find out what happened…
There were some very important lessons for me in that experience, but I would only find out about them much later.
I remember my school mate Inga taking care of me, just being there with me, while all the others were having the huge final party in the dining room at the other end of the building. I could hear them and was upset that I could not be with them, but more upsetting was this terrible pain in my head and this nausea which caused me to have to lay completely still. I had no idea what it was and was quite worried that something horrible was happening to me. Well, in a way, it was. It was my first migraine attack as I should understand only years later. Somehow I did not make this connection straight away. Well, with 12 years I didn’t really know that such a thing existed.
On that day I had just tried to cope with everything coming me way and so it continued in the evening. I had to cope with an unknown pain and with feeling the usual outsider.
That feeling of being the outsider had accompanied me that whole day. It was day 6 of our week in the mountains and all week long I had had to overcome my fears.
Being quite a fearful child I had not wanted to go skiing down slopes at all, I had tried to get the option to go cross country skiing instead, but it turned out that it was not an option in that area, so I had to go along with everybody else.
I’d done my best, trying all week to fit in, learning in the absolute beginners course how to do the plough to come safely down some very gentle beginners slope just behind our hostel. It was kind of okay, not too frightening, since it was not high up. There was just a few of us in the beginners course, all the others were rushing eagerly to the lifts every morning, to take them high up into the mountains, so they could race down again and again.
Paradise for them, horror for me.
My paradise would have been to curl up with a book and look out to the mountains through the windows. But that was not allowed of course. I had to participate. Good girl that I was, always obeying, I did as I was told.
And so I did on that last day, where we were to walk a mile or so to another lift that would bring us up onto the highest mountain there. I remember sitting in that lift and feeling so scared when it took us higher and higher and deep clefts were far far underneath our dangling feet with the skis on. I remember that horrifying moment when I had to get off that lift, on that white icy peak and feeling completely lost and tense by fear.
I was one of the last coming up and all the others were already gathered, so eager to head for the steep slopes waiting for us. Me, I could not imagine going down those slopes at all. I was wondering if there was another way to get down again. I could walk, couldn’t I?
But of course that was not possible, I was not allowed to leave the group and had to comply.
Thing is that I don’t remember how strongly I expressed my total fear and horror. Did I express it at all? Did I tell one of the teachers? Did I tell them how afraid I was? To be honest I think I didn’t, because I needed to be the good girl. So I kept my fear inside, maybe a few of the closer school mates knew, but to the outside the only thing they could see was that I was always hanging behind, not wanting to start skiing down that really steep first slope.
Of course at one point I could not hold it off any longer and had to start curving my way down in the plough mode I had learned. Everybody else was already standing at the foot of that slope looking up and waiting for me.
I started to go into plough modus, points of the skis inwards, heels outward, making a nice V that would allow me to go slow, slalom in slow mode. Except all of a sudden I had that irrational notion that I would go fast in that very moment between one turn and the next, when my body would face directly the slope.
Not sure why, but from then I panicked
I panicked and I was unable to do that plough mode anymore. The slope was too steep, this was new for me, I was all alone up there at that point, nobody there to talk me through it, make me reason again.
So I did the only thing that I thought could save me: I went sideways and slid down like that, snail slow, driving my school mates really mad at me for taking up all their valuable skiing time and of course I imagined that they were all laughing about me and probably they did.
But at that moment I did not care about that, I was deeply frightened and only wanted to get off this scary mountain.
The rest of the way downhill is a blur, I think the slopes were not that steep anymore after that first bit, so I think I was able to ski down in a more appropriate way after that. But what I remember is that pounding pain in my head when we were walking back from the lift to the hostel. I felt so sick and the only thing I wanted was to lay down and be still.
That’s why you saw me laying down in my bunk bed at the start of this story. With my first migraine and many more to follow in the course of the 28 years after that…
Why am I telling you this story?
Well, what do you think is the reason behind the onset of my first migraine? Reading this story one could think it was caused by extreme stress, right?
From a first view I would agree here and say that it has been at least triggered by stress. But how do we explain then that I was able to almost completely eliminate my migraine when I changed the food I ate in 2007?
So you see, the causes are intricate. In that time, 12 years old, I was already full swing in my transformation to a woman and my body was trying to keep up with all the hormonal changes. I think my body had been under stress from the age of 9, when I grew 18 centimeters in one year. At least that fast growth had brought me the benefit of outgrowing my overweight self into a finally thinner version of myself and I found myself suddenly the tallest in class but also the first one with her period. Make that physical stress paired with the emotional stress of being the odd one out again…
For all the years until 2007 I thought I got my migraines because of stress.
It often set in on Saturday morning, so I assumed that the stress at work during the week was now taking its toll on the first day I could relax.
In 2007 I still had that same stress at work, but in order to lose weight I changed a few very fundamental things to what I ate. And after a few weeks I was surprised to notice that I had had no migraine for a while or only very rarely in comparison to the almost weekly appearance before that.
The things I eliminated from my diet were the very things I had loved and eaten a lot of since my childhood. Comfort foods. Bread and pasta and cookies and cake. Sugary stuff: chocolate, anything warm with sugar & cinnamon, like pancakes, semolina, rice pudding. I could go deep here about the emotional reasons for a little girl and later woman to crave such food, but let’s just leave it a that for this time. What I wanted to show with this is that from my point of view today, with my nutritional knowledge and experience, I had put also my body under stress for all these years. It did not like to be filled up with gluten and sugar and lots of simple carbs. It does not mind a little bit of that, but the daily load of those ingredients was too much.
Back when I was 12 years old the physical stress combined with the emotional stress triggered my first migraine attack, because my body could not keep up against it any longer.
When in 2007 I took out the physical stress caused by the wrong food, my body was able to cope with emotional stress without too much disruption.
Because our bodies are little powerhouses, they are miracles, they are resilient and they cope with a lot of things for a long time. Until it gets too much. Then they try to make us aware. Through pain, through disease, through something that is supposed to make us alert, to listen to our bodies and find out what they need, what we have to change.
So in hindsight, I learned a lot from my very first migraine. I learned that stress for sure did have an impact on me. But I only learned about the other part, the food related part, much later. Because I did not know that there could be a connection, that I had to listen deeper. Now I know and it took me only 30 years to find this out! That’s not what I want for others to happen. I don’t want anybody having to waste that much time of their one precious life!
So that’s what I help my clients with!
I teach them how to listen deeply to their bodies and their mind and soul so that they can find out what they need to change in order to free themselves from migraines and headaches and get their life back.
That’s why in my praxis as a Health Coach and Headache & Migraine Expert I work on stress reduction on all levels and take a very individualized approach for each client as each has their unique needs.
On the physical side we have a look at nutrition and I teach my clients small step by step changes that don’t make them feel deprived.
On the emotional side we investigate their general stress levels and what causes the stress. Then we define easy steps for them to diminish the stress and work on self care and confidence.
So what is your very first migraine story?
Did you get any aha moments, connecting the dots with your own migraine history? Maybe, like I used to, you thought it was stress that caused your migraines? Or maybe you thought it got triggered by red wine or the piece of chocolate or that cheese you ate at dinner? While for some people there might be a distinct set of single trigger foods, my experience has shown me that most migraine sufferers will be able to eat those again once they clean their diet from inflammatory foods like simple carbs and once they also take care of their emotional stress factors.
If you are intrigued to connect the dots for yourself as well, I can offer you my free guide in which I provide 5 steps from my toolkit for headache and migraine free living. One of these steps is about the topic of introspection which we touched on a little bit in this article, of doing your own detective work around the causes for your headache or migraine. If you want to check it out, you can sign up for it here.
Or if you are ready to take a deep dive and really get to the bottom of your migraine, book a free strategy session with me. You will be astonished how great you can actually feel again!