Patient Blogs | Migraine
How I Celebrate the Holidays With Migraine
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Migraine management requires walking a fine line. Discipline and routines are my close personal friends in my quest to avoid triggers. I follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid glaring lights, stay away from strong fragrances, and eat three meals a day within my acceptable eating time frames.

My diligence in maintaining the rules for keeping my migraines at bay works well for me, until the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas mean I’ll have to jump or trip over a few extra hurdles.

Adhering to my typical sleeping pattern isn’t difficult to accomplish in my 50s. Holiday parties at my age don’t last into the wee hours of the night. Sticking to other migraine management techniques aren’t so simple.

Sights of the season provide migraine challenges for me. Flashing Christmas tree lights are a no-no. The flashing lights on my in-laws’ tree had a non-flashing option, and for many years they were nice enough to exercise that option for our Christmas celebrations.

Holiday fragrances are another problem. They include simulated spice and pine smells, just to name a couple. The key word is simulated. I’m fine standing in the middle of an alpine forest breathing in nature’s version of pine trees. I’m also fine surrounding myself with the delicious smell of real cinnamon and spice baking in the kitchen. But there’s something about the chemical composition of candles, scented greenery, etc. It is a major trigger for me. I don’t know what the chemical is, but such strong fragrances turn me into a holiday mouth breather.

At the risk of inciting a debate of baffling proportions, I have to say wearing a face mask is helpful for blocking not only the transmission of illness but also odors. I walk down store aisles during the holiday season confidently protected from germs and a migraine trigger. Judge me if you must.

And then there’s my change in eating patterns trigger. For decades I have lived at the mercy of the family members hosting the holiday meal. Even though I’ve explained numerous times that eating late is a major trigger for me, cooperation is a never-ending battle. I want loved ones to care enough to help me, but I must take care of myself.

One year, the meal was going to be so far past my window of opportunity I was left with no choice but to go to a drive-through, fast-food restaurant for my holiday feast. It was weird for family to watch me eat a chicken sandwich and fries. It was also weird for me to then sit there and watch them eat their holiday meal, but I had to do what I had to do.

My actions must have conveyed the message because the situation was never that bad again. Actions speak louder than words sometimes. From then on, my contribution to family meals was usually an appetizer that travels well. Just in case time slips too close to the danger zone for me.

After two decades of being relegated to cheese balls and relish trays, the hosting torch has been handed off to me. Exposure to festive decorations and the smells of the season are more my choice than ever before. Being the designated host for holiday gatherings is such a relief to my migraine life, a reward earned through pain and patience.

At least now I get to decide which trigger exposures are worth the risk to me. If the holidays trigger a migraine for me these days, it’s probably the result of overeating. Even I can’t walk the fine line of discipline all the time.

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Tammy Hader

Tammy Hader

Diagnosed since 1986

Tammy Hader has been a migraine warrior for over 5 decades. A staunch proponent of migraine management, she has developed the knowledge base to help her navigate relationships, an accounting career, and many lifecycle changes. Hader lives with her husband and cat in southcentral Kansas and enjoys writing, cooking, hiking, and football season. Follow her on Twitter, Medium and Bizcatalyst360.

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