a migraine and an unplanned rest day


Even the word makes me cringe.

I’ve suffered from migraine headaches since I was a teenager.  When they hit me the hardest, I am in so much pain that I can’t see straight.  I’m extremely nauseous and unable to keep any foods or fluids down.  My hands are cold and clammy.  I have no energy.  I can hardly move.

Over the years I’ve learned that certain things definitely trigger my headaches, some of them are things I can control and others I can’t.  As much as I love them, I have come to accept the fact that I cannot drink red wine or eat dark chocolate without risking a major migraine episode.  Hydration is a really important thing for every runner, but especially a runner like me who is prone to migraines.  When I am dehydrated I always get a migraine – I have to be extra careful to rehydrate after a long run otherwise the next day I will surely have a headache.

My headaches are also triggered by those lovely things we call hormones.  There is no question that my hormonal cycle and the occurrence of my migraine headaches coincide like clockwork.  Lucky me, right!?  Every time that I was pregnant, my headaches skyrocketed from occurring on a monthly basis to happening so regularly that it was ridiculous.  When I was pregnant with baby Gus, my headaches were so horrible and frequent that my doctor had to prescribe a medication that would dissolve on my tongue (because if I drank anything it would come right back up) just to calm my stomach so that I could then take a pain medication that would stay in my stomach long enough to actually work.  I was violently ill all too frequently, and it was awful.

Since I’ve had a lot of practice with these headaches, I’ve learned to recognize certain telltale signs of when one is on the way.  Anywhere from a whole day to just hours before my headache hits, I will see spots or trails in my vision (called the “aura” before the migraine).  My nose will get extremely itchy and there will be a strange feeling behind the sockets of my eyes.  It is never good when I notice these things.

A few years ago my doctor prescribed a drug called Immitrex, that I can take as soon as I start to notice the aura.  I don’t know why, but the times I took it I never felt that it worked (frustrating, but true).  I was unable to take it when I was pregnant with Gus and am not able to take it while nursing him now either.  For the past several years, my “kill the headache” routine involves the following:

+ As soon as I notice any symptoms at all, or possible symptoms – kick operation hydration into overdrive.  Drink as much water (and nuun) as I possibly can.

+ Take three Advil, and say a prayer that they stay in my stomach (Tylenol never ever ever ever works for me).  I am really funny about taking medication, but when it comes to my headaches it is simply a necessity.

+ Take a hot shower (as hot as I can possibly stand it) and sit on the shower floor with the lights dim or out if it is daytime.  Breathe deeply and relax as much as possible in the shower.  When I am in the shower my headache completely disappears.  It is amazing how therapeutic the water is with managing my pain.  As soon as I turn the water off, the pain shoots right back into full throttle.

+ After my shower, lie down in my bed with an ice pack over my eyes/forehead.  Try to relax and fall asleep.

If this works, I usually wake up feeling much better, but in a haze.  My sister Jodi (who gets similar headaches – it’s in the genes) and I call it the “headache hangover.”  I feel like I am walking around in a fog for hours and sometimes days after a really bad migraine.  Headaches are no fun.

The tricky thing about this routine though is that as a mom of three who stays home with my kids, I am not able to call in sick when one of these headaches strikes.  I have to manage my pain and deal with feeling awful while caring for my three kids.

Today was one of **those** days.

Caring for an 11 month old is not so easy while you have a migraine.  It is especially not easy when this 11 month old has a cold, is getting four new teeth at one time, and refuses to nap.  Yep.  That was my day today.

he sure is cute though

Gus was a very good sport today.  He sat on the shower floor with me as I let the hot water beat down on my head.  It was the first time I had ever tried to bring him in the shower (I was really unsure how that was going to go), but I honestly think it helped him as much as it helped me.  That steamy steamy-ness cleared his clogged nose and when we were done he was relaxed, happy and ready for a nap.

I cuddled with him for a bit and he fell fast asleep in my arms, so I put him in his crib and then laid down for a little nap of my own.  Thankfully when I woke up my head felt much better, better enough anyway.

Needless to say, today was an unplanned rest day.  When the day began I actually put my running clothes on, thinking I would get 8 treadmill miles hammered out during the baby’s morning nap.  That was SO not going to work out for me.

Things like this happen – life happens – and we have to move forward.  Readjust.  Adapt.  Tomorrow night is track night, Thursday and Friday will be easy run days and then Saturday will be my long run.  I just have to move things around since I took today as a rest day.  My body did not need a run today, it needed rest.

What about you — do you get migraines?  If so, how do you deal with them?  How do you feel when life throws you curve balls and you have to take an unplanned rest day?  Do you roll with it and move things around, or just run less mileage for the week?

13 thoughts on “a migraine and an unplanned rest day

  1. I'm so sorry you had this happen, Jessica. I have gotten two migraines (both as an adult, post-kids). I thought both were pretty awful, but neither was as bad as yours. (The floater/flasher things were my cue, too–I think it might be light and computer screen related for me.)

    Anyway, I hope it's a distant memory tomorrow–and congrats on that huge 5K PR!!

  2. I had an unplanned rest day as well. Life happens.

    I hate that you get these migraines. My mom has a severe reaction to different oils [soybean, sunflower, etc.] and is out for DAYS if she comes in contact with them [food, lotions, even shampoo]. While I haven't experienced a migraine, you have my full sympathy.

    Hot shower/ice pack is my remedy to a bad headache though, and I always get more headaches during pregnancy. I hope you feel better soon, and I'm glad Gus cooperated.

    When I'm not training for a race, I roll with rest days. I tend to put myself into more of a pressure cooker with an actual race on the schedule though… so it basically depends on the day!

  3. I get migraines and have a similar aura. My nose starts itching on my left side and my left eye gets itchy. I also get extremely sick to my stomach. I have to lay down in a dark room and sleep. I totally get the hangover feeling. YUK!
    It is funny, I never had them until I had kids and now I get them a couple of times a year. I am lucky if I call my husband he will usually try to come home right away and help me.
    Here's hoping you feel better by the end of the day. xoxoxo!

  4. Oh, my heart goes out to you. I used to get them all the time when I was younger. Happily I have “outgrown” my migraines once I had my kids. I will still get one or two a year (always related to poor eating/hydration/sleep/stress) which completely shut me down until I can get a full night sleep. Those foggy hangovers are bizarre, used to last 1-2 days for me.
    Yes, running roadblocks are inevitable – they drive me crazy too. They just make me want to push harder once I feel like myself again.
    Glad your headache is turning around!

  5. I think that being sick/not feeling well as a mother is one of the hardest things. All I want to do is curl up in bed and pull the covers over my head but I can't because there are two little boys staring at me from the edge of the bed who want to play and hang out. So I get up and we manage. It IS a good thing that they are cute 🙂

    I have a hard time sometimes when something doesn't go according to plan. But, I'm learning to be more flexible and adaptable. I move things around, adjust my workouts and try to look at the whole week vs. just that one missed day. Funny thing is that I've been learning this more from surfing than from running, yoga, spinning or anything else that I do.

  6. Aw, I hope today was better! I get migraines, too, but mine are significantly better when I'm pregnant or nursing. I'll have to try the shower next time.

    Sometime I'd love to hear how you make it through a long run on the treadmill. Do you set up hills, intervals, or just set it and forget it? I'm done after twenty minutes (and I'm slowwww, so that's not a very long run). Somehow with the turn in the weather I think I'm going to have to learn to be more dedicated/patient.

  7. Oh my gosh, being a mom is the hardest thing in the world—when we need to crawl in bed with the covers over our heads…the world (our kids) do not stop. so sorry, jessica. I do not get migraines but other 'things' have gotten in the way and if I have to take a rest day, I do, and just switch things up. praying you don't run into another migraine for a long time. AWFUL!!

  8. Migraine is one kind of a headache that I really hate so much. It's giving me a very unproductive day. A medicine may cure it but it can go back anytime. Do you know any alternative for treating migraines?

  9. Analgesics can kill migraine pains but there are some headaches that can't be resolved by taking first generation medicines. You can use a higher medicine like ibuprofen perhaps to manage migraines.

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