Surviving the migraine hangover

Visual Aura Migraines: A Survival Guide

I turned the car into the grocery store parking lot, just as a dark cloud rolled in. Or so I thought.

The day had been cloudy, on and off, with Calgary’s April snowstorm having just happened. (Yep, every April we get a day of heavy snow. Spring snowstorms bring May flowers in Alberta, Canada). Dark, snow-heavy clouds still hovered and threatened to bring us more stormy weather.

I needed a few things from the grocery store and felt great, despite the weather. It was even starting to clear up- skies were blue and the dark clouds were far away on the horizon. Which is why, as I turned the car into the grocery store’s lot, I thought it strange that a sudden dark cloud should appear.

At the four-way stop, I turned my head to take a look, but could see only blackness on my right hand side- an abyss. When I looked forward once more, there were the tell-tale spots of light clouding my vision.

I was being hit, (oddly) with no warning, with a visual aura migraine.

I quickly parked in the first available spot, glad I wasn’t having to pull over on the highway. My vision got increasingly smaller. Soon, I only had a spotty rectangle with which to see through. I sent a quick text to my husband that I would be home later, with Siri’s help. Avoiding screens of any kind is key at this point during a migraine, as it causes searing pain and worsening vision.

The rectangle of vision wasn’t clear, with dark and light spots of light moving around, like visual static. The rectangle of vision didn’t move with my eyes- staying fixed in the middle. If I looked up or down, black. If I looked right or left, also black. If I looked basically straight ahead, I could strain and see through the static.

It was enough.

I knew I had a few minutes to get inside and use my strategies to keep it the migraine at bay. Leaving it longer could mean no vision at all and it could possibly last hours. I needed to use my tiny rectangle of sight to get in the store and use my migraine help list – and fast.

There are a few things that help me, personally, if I can get to them fast enough. If I didn’t, I would just have to nap in my car and hope that it passed in time to get home for dinner.

Running inside Safeway, I ticked off my migraine help list:

My Strategies for Helping a Visual Aura Migraine:

  1. Caffeine! A heavy and instant dose of caffeine usually helps. The sooner I can get it, the better. Even though this migraine had come on faster and stronger than ones in the past, I thought it was worth a shot. (Hahaha, like espresso shot- get it?). Safeway has Starbucks inside of them. Dashing over, I asked for a triple espresso and handed the lady my card in an increasingly tiny sightline. I took the espresso in one gulp and sat at one of the tables. The espresso didn’t cure it, but the spots got a little bit tinier and the rectangle quit getting smaller. Plus, I didn’t feel as if I was going to throw up immediately, anymore. I could function well enough to go to step 2.
  2. Food and Water. A lot of the time, one of the causes of this type of migraine is a pressure change in the atmosphere, due to weather, paired with a drop in blood sugar. It’s the difference between a “regular” migraine and one where I lose my vision. Thankfully, I had been in this Safeway a lot and knew exactly where things were. I needed a food that wasn’t high in sugar or additives and had enough protein to satisfy. Sometimes, produce or nuts help. This time, I chose a coconut cream Larabar- it has less sugar and more protein than their other kinds and than other brands. And no additives! Any additives would only add to my pain. I could get to the shelf with barely any sight and ring it in at self-checkout by feel. I also grabbed a Happy Planet green juice, since it would help hydrate me but give me nutrients- it had helped me in the past. I took them to the bench by the entrance and downed both as quickly as possible. I told Siri to set a timer for ten minutes and waited. Normally, if it would work, that’s how long I needed to find out.
  3. Non-prescription pain relief. The last thing I try is medicine. In trying to repair my gut villi, I tend to avoid taking anything if I can help it, as it’s hard on your gut. I’ve actually been relying on CBD oil for pain relief instead, as it isn’t as hard on the villi- or so they say. But, without any CBD oil on hand…. when weighing the pros and cons it was either take something or be blind for a few hours and in extreme pain. I choose medicine! After the ten minute timer went off, I could see a teensy bit better, but not well enough to drive. Stumbling and frowning, I made my way to the pharmacy section and grabbed an orange box. I could make out “Mot” and knew it was the Motrin I was looking for. Although I couldn’t read the box for dosage or strength, I knew it would help. Buying it, I ripped it open immediately and took one. Twenty minutes later, I took one more and waited another twenty minutes. I’m so lucky that I don’t need a prescription, yet, and can use drugstore meds. Motrin seems to help me the most. Others swear by Tylenol, Advil or even Cold and Sinus meds. When the time was up, the blackness had receded almost completely and there were less spots! Hallelujah. I was still nauseated, but felt well enough to grab the four things on my shopping list. I did and went to my car, waiting ten more minutes to make sure the danger had passed. When it did, I was able to drive home safely. Phew!

A visual aura migraine can be both terrifying and dangerous. This was my first one in over a year. I’ve been so careful and have found ways to avoid getting them.

Preventative Strategies to Avoid Visual Aura Migraines:

  1. Diet. After a friend told me her husband had quit having visual aura migraines once he quit gluten, I decided to take a look at my own diet. My theory was that this type of migraine could be a body’s way of signaling distress. Since I had already cut gluten years ago, being Celiac, I was soon cutting out other foods that made me feel unsettled. Through the process of elimination, I found that dairy and sugar brought on visual aura migraines, when paired with weather changes. I cut them out completely and when massive weather changes caused the air pressure to shift dramatically, I would experience headaches or mild migraines. If I added them back in, wondering if it was the cause, I would get a visual aura migraine 100% of the time. This week, I ate a bit of sugary food (homemade but with added white or brown sugar) and I added some dairy back in. The dairy was eaten daily for five days and included: yogurt, feta cheese, and a teensy bit of ricotta. Definitely going to cut them out for awhile and severely limit their intake once they’re added back into my diet- if I add them back in.
  2. Low Blood Sugar. “Hmm,” I thought, before I left for the store, “I feel a bit hungry”. That ended up being a nail in the coffin. It was 3:30 pm and felt too late to snack, but maybe I should have shoved a handful of almonds in my mouth. I have found that intermittent fasting between supper at 6pm and breakfast at 9:30-10 am has done wonders for my digestion and BMs, giving my gut the break it needs to process what I’ve eaten during the day. It gets to rest while I sleep, so to speak. I have experienced less bloating, cramping and my IBS symptoms have become non-existent. HOWEVER- if I get too hungry during the day, it goes right to my head, especially if there’s been a big or sudden weather change. Normally, I can eat a late breakfast, a late lunch and MAYBE a light snack at 2:30pm if I need it, with an early supper and then nothing afterward. This is my body at its happiest. But, when the weather goes from sunny and plus 10 Celsius to minus 4 Celsius and snowing in less than a day, my body feels the change and goes into stress mode, needing more calories. Staying in touch with that can save me a lot of misery.
  3. Sleep and Stress Levels Aka Basic Self-Care. Not getting enough quality sleep, which I haven’t lately, and experiencing more stress which causes tightness, naturally causes more tension and contributes to headaches. I have been getting ready for my first craft market which means constant to-do lists floating around in my brain and a lot of unknowns. Everyone loves unknowns, right? Ugh. On top of that, we are working with a wonderful company to do a basement renovation. No matter how great the company, it’s stressful and there is a lot of supervising and decision making. It’s also a lot for this INFJ (Heavy on the I for Introverted) to have people (virtually strangers) around all the time. All of it adds to the stress and probably contributed to my visual aura nightmare. There was a lot of deep breathing going on while I waited it out in the grocery store.
  4. Stretching. Stretching it out goes a long way. The tension in my shoulders, neck, and back are probably from the nature of my work. I’m either hunched over a keyboard, a camera, or crochet all day, every day. This can cause headaches, as we know, and make migraines worse. I do a lot of simple yoga stretches to help work out those spots. My fave is downward dog to cat-cow pose to child’s pose. Sometimes, I stick the fish pose in there.

Today, I am dealing with the aftermath of the migraine. This feels like a hangover. My stomach is upset, my head is buzzy, and noise and light bother me; just like a hangover! I’m drinking a lot of herbal tea, lemon water and eating a lot of protein. My eyes have huge bags under them, my face is puffy and I’m achy- I imagine this is how it feels to be hit by a truck.

It may take a couple of days to get over this one. I have learned my lesson and will avoid the foods that bug me, be more aware of weather changes and more mindful of my stress levels.

No one knows what causes migraines, definitively, so everyone’s experience is different. What helps you fight a migraine?

I mentioned I’m an INFJ personality type in this post. Find out what that is, HERE.

I checked Pinterest and found a great infographic on yoga poses that may help migraine sufferers. You can find that HERE, or follow my board “Yoga Love”.

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