Setting Priorities for a Migraine-Free Holiday

by Tammy Rome Patient Advocate

Migraine was the one thing I could count on for the holidays. Attacks started on Thanksgiving, continued through Christmas, peaked on New Year’s Day, and didn’t let up until after Valentine’s Day. I thought the attacks were triggered by cold weather. Then one year, I didn’t get sick

Misguided effort

Most years, I went a bit crazy trying to pull off memorable holiday cheer. I flung myself into shopping, baking, and decorating, filling every spare minute preparing for the perfect celebration. I often produced handmade gifts wrapped with elegant precision.

I remembered everyone except myself. Taking time to eat nutritious meals, stay hydrated, or sleep never occurred to me. After all, I was making memories! It wasn’t unusual for me to work nonstop for 24 hours or longer. I survived on soft drinks, potato chips, and cookie dough. I didn’t stop until guests arrived.

That’s when it would hit. Just when all my hard work was about to pay off, a migraine attack would send me running to a dark, quiet room. I spent most holidays in bed, listening to the distant sounds of loved ones enjoying the day. I was making memories all right. My children don’t remember all the preparations. They just remember that I was missing.

A surprising change

I was deep into the second year of graduate school, trying to balance studies, a full-time job, and an internship. The holidays were simple that year. I didn’t have the time or energy to pull off a grand celebration. I couldn’t have done it if I tried. The holiday was filled with firsts.

  • The house wasn’t filled with the aroma of homemade treats.

  • There weren’t any lights on the house.

  • Gifts were store-bought and simply wrapped.

  • I wasn’t sleep deprived.

  • I was well-hydrated.

  • My body was well-nourished.

  • I was healthy and present for the entire celebration.

A valuable lesson

Those holiday migraine attacks were never triggered by cold weather. I triggered them by sacrificing good self-care. I discovered that I’d been stacking my triggers too high. Skipping meals, loading up on caffeine, and pulling all-night gift wrapping and cookie decorating marathons had to go. They are not compatible with migraine. I’d been trying to create the perfect holiday to the detriment of my health.

Holidays at my house are different now. Each year, I ask myself, “How much can I do and still be healthy on the big day?” Nothing is more important than being able to enjoy the day with my family. Everything else is optional. I look for the simplest, healthiest way to make sure that happens.

More reasons to stay healthy

My family has almost doubled in size in the last few years. Both my kids have found their life partners and little Reni deserves some spoiling from her granny. I now have six very good reasons to be migraine-free. They are the priority. I’d rather eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Christmas dinner than spend the day hiding in the dark.

Trying something new

I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been – but that’s no excuse to fall back into old habits. In fact, this year’s holiday plans include new and healthier ways to celebrate.

  • Barbecue brisket will be the main course. The prep time is less than 15 minutes and my house will smell delicious as it slow-roasts all day. Plus, it’s a family favorite, so I won’t get stuck with weeks of leftovers.

  • Potluck side dishes are also on the menu. The kids are grown and perfectly capable of sharing the load.

  • Paper plates and plastic flatware are the new fine china, saving me from standing at the sink for hours.

  • Grandma’s homemade sugar cookies are still on the menu, with a twist. I don’t pull all-nighters to frost dozens of cookies anymore. This year, my family can frost their own cookies. I’ll bake the cookies and supply the frosting and sprinkles. Everyone else can do the rest.

  • Online shopping is a must. I’m even going to order groceries online and have them delivered. My time is too precious to waste standing in line and fighting crowds. My family is more important.

It’s easy to miss important factors affecting migraine when you’re constantly facing attack after attack. At one point, I had a migraine attack that lasted 15 days. Not knowing the risks, I stuck it out until I finally asked my doctor for help. I could easily drown in guilt because of choices I made, but that wouldn’t help at all. Instead, I choose to follow Maya Angelou’s advice, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Tammy Rome
Meet Our Writer
Tammy Rome

Headache disorders counselor and advocate Tammy Rome maintains a private practice specializing in treating clients with Migraine and other headache disorders. She also volunteers as vice chair of the American Headache and Migraine Association and as president of The Cluster Headache Support Group.