For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with headaches. Excruciating, debilitating “oh, my God someone kill me now so the pain will be over” headaches. When I was a kid, I’d go to the doctor and they could never, ever figure out what caused them and would give me a prescription for something stronger than over the counter Tylenol and send me on my way.
As I got older, the headaches became something that I tolerated or got used to. You would be amazed at the amount of pain that you can adapt to when you have to. By the time I got to college, headaches were the norm and ibuprofen was a great friend of mine. However, after some time and some extreme circumstances that aggravated all the work I had done to get to the point I had, those headaches came back worse than before.
They turned into migraines: and after almost 10 years of agony, a few blackouts, and a bunch of misleading information later I finally got answers that made sense and unfortunately they force me to be overly cautious of my running.
Let me start by explaining to you what my migraines are like. If you have never experienced one before, then you won’t understand the special kind of hell that someone goes through with one. A migraine is a disease really, and when one onsets it’s typically a throbbing pain on one specific side of the head that can last for hours sometimes days. In my case, it lasted upwards of 7 – 9 days at it’s longest and 5 days at it’s shortest. Migraines can affect your vision, your hearing, your speech, pretty much everything. Migraines can go away for a few hours and then come back; days too. These things are evil, painful things and are not something that should be taken lightly.
Living with migraines was hell. I went to my general practitioner and she prescribed me Imatrex, a triptan, to fight them as they came. During that time, I developed a very high tolerance of pain as well which you would think would be stellar but in reality is actually kind of dangerous. Someone with this kind of pain should not be able to edit an evening newscast, surrounded by monitors, wearing only sunglasses to prevent any visual triggers. I did.
When I first started seeing Dr. Doty for my migraines in February 2011, we changed up my emergency medications immediately. I actually went into her office with a migraine. I was on Imatrex, but I was getting so many screwed up side effects from it and it was taking forever to work that I wasn’t happy with it so we went to Maxalt. This stuff is a life saver. It’s a melt away tab that I put in my mouth when my migraines come on, and within 20 minutes it’s gone. Sometimes I have to do 2 doses, but for the most part one works. I can’t even begin to explain the relief it is to have something that works.
Then after almost 8 months of trial and error, testing and lots of prayer that it was not seizures…we figured out that my migraines were neurological in cause. There isn’t much we can do to prevent that, so we decided to try a drug called Topamax. It’s not exactly made for migraines, it’s made for seizures…but wouldn’t you know it, the drug helps prevent migraines too. It took a while for me to adjust to the drug when I started to take it because there is a long list of side effects to it. And wouldn’t you know it, I got each and every one.
Tingling in the hands and feet? Got it. And it’s annoying.
Change in taste, namely in wine and carbonated beverages? Got it. And it sucks for the soda. Love it for the wine.
The inability to regulate your body temperature? Got it.
Decreased sweating? Got that one too. (makes for AWESOME running in the summer)
Twitchy eye? Yep.
Hair loss? Only when I take the generic.
Forgetting words in everyday conversation and general confusion? All the time.
Now, granted…the only ones I still currently experience is the change in taste, the twitchy eye, the confusion, and the forgetting of words. Anytime I have to up my dose, I get all of the side effects (some not listed as I don’t remember all of them) back again for a good week or three till my body adjusts and things are happy and normal again. I have friends who are on this drug for the same thing and they, along side with my doctor, are FLOORED by the fact that I am still experiencing so many side effects.
But you know what? For the first time in almost 10 years I am going 4-6 weeks between migraines, and when I do get one, it’s only lasting 1-2 days. 3 days tops.
I usually have a migraine a week, and they used to last upwards of 7-9 days. If you do the math, in one month, I spent more days WITH a migraine than WITHOUT. I’ll suffer the side effects to have days without debilitating pain that would leave me unable to function properly, see out of my left eye, speak correctly or hell…stay conscious.
Here’s how this pertains to my running: My last big scare was during my half marathon in December. At about mile 9, a migraine came on so suddenly it almost knocked me over. I was stunned by the intensity of it and was terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. I decided to say screw the time and just focus on crossing the finish line. And I did, I crossed it in 2:42. As soon as I crossed it, I ran straight into Brian’s arms (who was thankfully waiting for me just past the finish line) and damn near collapsed. I couldn’t see, and the roaring in my head was so loud and I started to cry.
I pulled out the Maxalt from my sports bra and handed it to him and begged him to open it. I couldn’t get it open myself; my hands wouldn’t cooperate and I just wanted the damn thing open. Almost an hour after taking it, I was still so screwed up from my migraine that I can’t tell you today what I did that day.
That’s when I realized that I need to really be aware about this with my running. I need to get a Road ID and wear it whenever I run, whether I’m with someone or not because if I get a migraine and black out, they need to know about the Topamax. It’s a category X drug (read: regulated and controlled). I got an iFitness belt that let’s me carry my iPhone with me at all times because if something happens I have it with me and can call for help. I carry a Maxalt with me at all times when I run because you just never know.
When I bitch about my times not being where I want them to be, my sister and my running partner and hell even a few of my other friends who aren’t runners tell me that given what I’m fighting and having to deal with is something that I need to take into consideration. “You have to remember that if you push it too hard like you did in that half, you might give yourself a migraine and then what? You will be out. It’s better to do what you can and take it easy”
I think it’s bull, but I’m doing the best I can with what I got. Every finish I have without a medical tent is a win. Right?