Migraines have been a part of Susanna’s life since she was a teenager. She learned to deal with headache attacks that sometimes lasted for days, preventing her from leaving her house. A dietitian and therapy changed everything.
“I had my first migraine attack two months after my first period. I was thirteen and suddenly felt persistent stabbing pains in my head in class. I felt sick and threw up in my mentor’s room. The school doctor blamed it on flu: it would go away on its own. From that moment on, I got a severe migraine attack every time I got my period. The headache felt like my head was between a vice that was being tightened and tightened. Especially on the right side of my head.
The first year I got a migraine every month and an attack lasted two hours. After a day of rest I was able to function reasonably well again. But soon all kinds of complaints arose. During an attack I completely lost sight on my right side, I had difficulty getting my words out and I had difficulty withstanding strong smells and sounds. It was scary, especially the loss of face. I lay on the bed in my darkened bedroom for hours while waiting for the attack to end.
Stress and uncertainty
The GP linked my attacks to my menstrual cycle: they almost always fell within that period. Her message was that it would bother me for the rest of my life. I took medication, but it helped only a little. The most annoying thing was the stress it caused me. I couldn’t go to school, so I was looked at askance by classmates. Countless times I was offered an aspirin with the message ‘that I shouldn’t act like that’. If only it were that simple, I thought. When an attack came, I was forced to cancel all my appointments and chores. Sports, work, going to the movies, having dinner with a friend, going to concerts or a birthday: it was suddenly no longer possible at such a moment. An attack happened from one moment to the next, which made me very insecure.
I learned to deal with the idea that I would always have migraines. With the migraines also came periods of depression, but fortunately I had wonderful people around me who supported me. In the meantime, I tried to live a normal life as much as possible. During my studies I drank a lot and went out often, I had boyfriends and did everything a normal twenty-something did. If I had another attack and my life came to a standstill, I would go to my parents to recover. That’s how I did it for years, until seven years ago.
Everything changed when – how cliché – I fell in love with my physiotherapist. I was now a regular customer at the hospital’s special headache clinic, where I was treated for my neck complaints by a very nice doctor. Kevin was the first to suggest seeing a psychologist. That had never occurred to me. I had learned to live with my migraines, but had never dealt with the stress and panic attacks that came with them. Surely I wasn’t a poser? Talking about it with a professional and a peer group was a first step towards mild recovery.
From his profession, Kevin is always concerned with healthy food. Together with a dietician, we drew up a plan to rigorously change my diet. I was banned from caffeine and had to give up my three cups of coffee in the morning. All soft drinks, sweets and sugary products also went out. The hardest thing for me was to give up alcohol completely. I did enjoy wine, and it took me a year to get rid of it completely. In addition to healthy eating, without sugar and meat, I have built up a strict sleep rhythm. The lights go out every evening at half past ten. I get up promptly at half past six. All to quell the migraines.
During this process I started to look into nutrition in combination with headaches and migraines. For example, I discovered that there are certain foods that can trigger an attack, such as flavor enhancers, salt, sweeteners and sulphites, which are found in wine. There are also vegetables that trigger migraines, so I can’t eat everything anymore. It’s still a quest and that’s why I keep track of everything in a food diary. As I get older, my hormone balance also changes. I have the feeling that this also makes the attacks less intense. At first I had two attacks a month, now I only have four or five a year. With a strict regime of a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and tea, sufficient sleep and walking for at least half an hour every day, I now seem to have it somewhat under control and I hope that the attacks will become even less frequent.
My life is very structured now. I also started working one day less to have as little stress as possible. I feel a thousand times better than I did a few years ago and never want to go back to a life where I spent half the time in a dark room. I can kick myself for accepting for so long that my migraines were just part of me. I only looked one way for healing: rest and medicine. Because I have completely turned my life around, I can now live without pain.”