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Five years after my first migraine, I found the cure.
This is the story of how I cured my migraines, and kept them away for good.
(And hopefully how you can cure your migraines too. Though I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Please make your own decisions.)
I remember the first time I got a migraine.
It wasn’t a headache one, just the visual aura part. I was pregnant with my daughter, my first child, and getting ready to go to my nanny job. My vision was… weird. There were spots around the edges, but it was mostly okay.
But then it wasn’t. The spots closed in, and while I could still sort of see, I couldn’t see in any functional way. I couldn’t read anything, couldn’t exactly tell where items were, and certainly couldn’t drive. I fumbled for my phone and called the nurse’s line.
She told me that sometimes in pregnancy, this happens, and that it would go away in a bit.
Then I called my “mom boss” – the mother I nannied for. I told her I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t see, and she reassured me that she’d be fine without me that day.
It’s scary to lose your vision, even temporarily.
And then, to have it happen again. And again.
Since then, I had visual aural migraines periodically. I was told it was “a hormonal thing.” That it was just part of having had kids.
But that didn’t feel right.
I don’t think it’s ever NORMAL for our bodies to just … not function.
Still, I put up with the visual auras, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. Thankfully, they were rarely accompanied by a headache, so as far as migraines go, they were tolerable. Though inconvenient.
Until one day, when everything became terrifying.
My family was temporarily living in Pensacola, Florida, while my husband completed some training en route to our new home in Maryland.
I had taken my kids to a book store maybe 20 minutes from the condo where we were staying, to enjoy a story hour. After the story, the kids looked at books, and I chatted with another mom.
While we talked, the spots appeared in my peripheral vision. Annoying, inconvenient, but I was sure they’d go away. They always did. I’d just wait it out before driving back to the condo with the kids.
But then, my left arm tingled, as if it were falling asleep. I rubbed it to wake it up.
It got worse, not better.
The tingling spread. My left leg began to tingle and feel numb, all the way down to my toes. Then, I felt it in my the left side of my bottom. I stood up and walked around, trying to wake up my “sleeping” body parts.
The tingling only got worse.
I went to the restroom, both kids in tow, and when I came out, the left side of my face was tingling too.
Even into the left side of my throat, my tongue, my scalp…until the entire left half of my body felt foreign, numb, asleep, and finally paralyzed.
As things progressed and I became more and more frightened, I had enlisted the help of an employee in the shop. I told her what was going on, and she helped me keep an eye on the kids.
I texted my friend Joni, who is a nurse, and she said I needed to get to the hospital to be sure I wasn’t having a stroke.
So I texted my husband, and told him to meet us at the hospital emergency room.
When I felt safe to drive again, I loaded the kids into the car and went to the ER. My husband arrived once I had been through the intake process, and we waited together. For hours. Finally, I was seen, and told that I had a “complex migraine.”
My potassium level was low, so they gave me oral potassium to take, and then sent me on my way with the unfortunate prognosis of, “now that you’ve had one, you’re likely to have more,” and a referral to a local neurologist, which was unhelpful since we were leaving in a few weeks anyway.
That November was the worst month of my life. Nearly every night, I was awakened by my left half slowly becoming numb, then paralyzed, the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced, and exhaustion, pain, and sickness in the several-days-long recovery from each event. The “migraine hangovers” often ran right into another migraine.
I figured out that what I was experiencing were hemiplegic migraines, and along with the one-side paralysis, I couldn’t speak, write, or type during the peaks, often for up to two hours.
The migraines caused me to need to use the bathroom, but I couldn’t get myself TO the bathroom on my own, and could barely communicate with my husband. Sometimes all I could do was look toward the bathroom and make a guttural sound. My husband figured out what I needed, and would help me to the toilet.
I love life, but for once, I could understand wanting to commit suicide. I would never do it, but I was terrified of dying, and wanting to die all at the same time. If I died, the pain would be gone, the fear would be over.
The reason I’m telling you all of this is because I cannot stand when people try to give migraine advice when all they’ve had is a headache. And often, a regular headache or even a “splitting headache.” I understand that migraines are NOT “just a headache” or even a “really bad headache.” They’re a completely different category.
They’re completely abnormal, often terrifying, painful, lingering neurological events.
Trying everything I could…
I googled everything I could think to search for. I asked people on twitter and facebook for advice. I read research papers and blog posts…
I can’t even remember everything I tried.
My husband made some rice socks for me, because heat felt good on my neck during the hemiplegic episodes – it was one of the only things that helped my anxiety during them. I was taking vitamins, fermented cod liver oil, watching my diet and keeping it clean, visiting a local chiropractor, trying to figure out what could be triggering my new and terrifying hemiplegic migraines.
I read some people’s experiences about the ocean causing migraines for them, and low pressure systems or rain causing them. Well, we were in a condo ON the beach, and it was the rainy season. I have wanted to live on the beach for ages though. I love the beach. I want us to retire to the beach. I didn’t want the beach to cause migraines for me… god, I hoped it wasn’t the beach.
Then there was stress. I felt good in general (well, until the migraines happened), but objectively, we were in a stressful situation. In the middle of a months-long cross-country move, with two small children. There was stress. I wanted to be in our new home, even though the journey was exciting… I wanted to set up our new “home base” and be settled.
I bought new supplements… calcium-magnesium tablets, B6, and CoQ10… I was popping supplements left and right, trying to ward off the migraines. But they kept coming. I was exhausted, and terrified of going to sleep, since the migraines happened at night almost every time.
So I started taking Benadryl to try to help me sleep. Sometimes it felt like it helped, but it was probably mostly useless.
Maybe it was the beach. Or the low pressure weather systems. Or the stress. But when we left Pensacola and traveled north, things got a lot better. I had fewer migraines, and I started being able to sleep again.
But they still came, and I was knocked out for days when the hemiplegic migraines struck. You can read about migraines lasting for 2-3 hours, but really, it can be much longer, and the after-effects stick with you for up to a week or so.
Lying awake, anxious, in bed one night, I came across a TEDx talk by Dr. Terry Wahls, who halted her multiple sclerosis progression with diet.
I was floored… and though I don’t have MS, I thought “brain stuff is brain stuff” and immediately ordered Dr. Wahl’s book, The Wahls Protocol.
I started making smoothies in the mornings to get extra fruits and veggies into my diet – I’ve always eaten plenty of produce, but not nearly to the level required in the Wahls Protocol. I remained cautious of suspected trigger foods, and kept taking the supplements I thought would help.
And things seemed good for a while. I felt pretty normal.
Months went by…
And then I didn’t. Feel normal… anymore.
I wasn’t having full-blown migraine events, most of the time. But for a month or two, I had nearly constant tingling / partly numb sensations and weakness in my left side. It was enough to really frighten me, but not enough to render me incapacitated.
It did cause some major anxiety though, and before I knew it, I could barely sleep at night, worried the attacks would come back. Re-living November in my mind.
I started taking Benadryl again, to help me sleep. I used essential oils to try to relax before bed.
And, finally, I got a referral to a neurologist to do MRIs with and without contrast, to look for tumors and MS. I was so nervous. I wanted an answer, but I didn’t want THAT to be the answer.
The doctors weighed in on my migraines.
The neurologist said my brain was “beautiful.” Nothing wrong. No tumor. No MS. Thank goodness.
But there was still stuff going on… My regular doctor shrugged it off somewhat. He didn’t feel the overwhelming need to get to the bottom of my migraines and their cause the way I did. He just prescribed some drugs, and sent me on my way.
Treximet (sumatriptan/naproxen sodium) for the migraines, and I think Reglan for nausea. And Xanax for the anxiety that wouldn’t let me sleep.
Except… “TREXIMET® is not used to treat other types of headaches such as hemiplegic or basilar migraines.” And hemiplegic is the type I had. So, what was the doctor thinking there??
And Xanax is so easy to become dependent on. Even without an “addictive personality,” physical dependence happens quickly with Xanax. And I didn’t want to go there. Withdrawal is hell. Read any of the message boards about Benzo withdrawal and you’ll see… it’s not something anyone would ever want to go through.
So I cautiously took the tiny dose of Xanax, only 3 or 4 nights that first week, skipping nights. It was amazing. I fell asleep like nothing had ever been wrong. And getting some rest did help. I could tell the stress had been building and causing my other symptoms to be worse.
A couple of times, the visual aura came back, along with the tingling, and I did take the Treximet as prescribed, but I couldn’t tell if it worked or if the visual aura would have gone away anyway… I still felt the exhaustion after those episodes.
The missing piece
I wish I could tell you exactly what I had been reading, what pieces fit together and where the big flashing arrow came from… but all signs pointed to …
And the fact that calcium-magnesium supplements are kind of dumb, if you have a magnesium deficiency. Because calcium kind of cancels out the magnesium. Yes, they need to be balanced in your body, but if they’re already imbalanced (low magnesium), you probably don’t want to take a balanced supplement.
When I saw my doctor, pre-neurologist, he did a full blood workup, and everything looked normal, except for slightly low potassium, and borderline high calcium. He said “it’s fine.” But calcium and magnesium are like a see-saw… if one is high, the other is probably low.
(And magnesium blood tests are basically useless due to how magnesium is stored and used in the body… maybe 1% of total magnesium is in the blood, so a deficiency wouldn’t show up on a basic blood panel.)
So I decided to try a magnesium supplement again. Not tablets. Something else.
MANY of my Twitter friends came out of the woodwork at that point to tell me that this magnesium drink (the one without calcium added) had helped them SO much with anxiety, migraines, and more.
And the first time I tried it, I shit you not, it felt like the Xanax. My entire body felt relief from my tension, nearly instantly. I took a shower after chugging my 2 teaspoons of magnesium dissolved in water, and the shower felt like heaven. I slept so well…
From then on, I would mix 2 tablespoons of the powder into about a quart of water, and keep it in the fridge to sip throughout the next few days (it would last me 2-3 days). The tingling went away. I started sleeping better again.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was clearly the missing piece. If I ate too much dairy over a couple of days, sometimes the tingling would come back, or I’d get a visual aura, but if I responded quickly by drinking a bunch of the magnesium, I could usually fend off the horrible progression into migraine.
But I needed more.
The thing about oral magnesium supplements though, is that if you take too much of it, you end up with diarrhea. It’s good because you can’t overdose, really, but it’s bad because sometimes you actually do need more than you can absorb through your digestive system.
Amazingly, you can absorb magnesium easily through your skin. You know how athletes are always taking epsom salt baths for sore muscles? Yeah, that’s what’s happening there.
But even better than epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is magnesium chloride… which is much more easily absorbed through the skin and used in our cells.
I read everything I could find about magnesium. Online stuff, and also the book Transdermal Magnesium Therapy,
And since I’ve already kept you this long, I’ll get to the point, and what I hope will help you the way it’s helped me.
Transdermal magnesium is the shit.
If I do well keeping up with it, I don’t have any migraine symptoms at all. But if I slack on it, and start to get tingly weirdness in my left side or a visual aura or a headache, I can stop it before it advances too far.
For maintaining adequate magnesium levels:
Take magnesium baths:
Dissolve in warm bath water:
- 2 cups magnesium chloride flakes
- 1 cup baking soda
- (optional) a pinch of Borax (boric acid helps the magnesium get into cells)
Soak at least 20 minutes.
Magnesium foot soaks:
Dissolve in warm water:
Soak your feet at least 20 minutes.
Buy magnesium oil, or make your own by dissolving 1/4 cup magnesium chloride flakes into 1/4 cup of hot distilled water (it’s not actually oil but it feels oily). Put into a spray bottle, and spray on the skin (arms and legs are great because they have a lot of surface area for absorption).
Magnesium oil is not my favorite because it feels a bit slimy and can itch, too. If you don’t like the way it feels, leave it on for 20 minutes and then you can wipe off the residue with a wash cloth and/or apply lotion.
Invented by Hemant Trivedi in the Magnesium Advocacy Group on facebook, this is basically about a 1:1 ratio of magnesium chloride flakes and vodka. Although I’ve found the vodka can actually handle more than that amount of magnesium, so I make mine stronger.
You use it exactly the same way as magnesium oil, spraying on arms and legs for maintenance, but it doesn’t have the slimy feel (since the vodka evaporates so quickly), and doesn’t cause most people to itch the way the oil does.
But even better than that, it seems to be absorbed much faster and more completely, so relief can be almost instantaneous. If I start to get a visual aura, I spray mag-a-hol on my neck and rub some into my temples and forehead, and within minutes, the aura is gone.
Magnesium is how I cured my migraines, and how I’ve kept them away, and continue to keep them away, for good.
With magnesium supplementation, I do need to keep an eye on my other electrolytes and make sure I try to keep things in balance… I never supplement calcium since I’m quite sure I get plenty through the food that I eat.
If I get any leg cramps at night (I don’t normally, but I did when I was pregnant) despite supplementing with magnesium transdermally, what helped me get rid of them quickly was drinking coconut water (for potassium) and taking a pinch of pink salt under my tongue a few times a day. The next night? No cramps. Magic.
For the record? I think I took the Treximet twice, the Reglan never, and the Xanax fewer than 10 times before finding magnesium and never turning back. I disposed of the drugs properly, and haven’t needed to see another doctor about my migraines for any reason.
Now it’s your turn.
You’ll have to figure out what works for you, to keep things in balance in your body. But hopefully this blog post has given you a good start.
And I hope you’ll let me know if you find yourself, like me, migraine-free and loving life.
Products I use to stay migraine free, mentioned in this post: