Migraines With Aura: How I Keep Them From Overtaking My Life

On Saturday, I had the first “long run” of my New York City Marathon training. I’m taking the next 14 weeks to slowly build a solid base before jumping into more intense marathon mileage in July.

I had a whopping 4 miles on my schedule.

This run should have been easy; a nice confidence boost to kick off 8 months of hard work.

Instead, about 1.5 miles into my run, my vision started to blur. Oh, no, I thought. Please, not now, I begged hopelessly. Then, zigzagging, wavy splotches appeared in my line of sight, resembling what happens when you stare at the sun too long.

Slowly, I developed a scotoma, a black hole of partial vision loss that strikes before I get a full-blown migraine. My run turned into a staggering walk as I tried to make my way back home to my prescription medication without falling into the Hillsborough River or crashing into unsuspecting pedestrians.

I’ve suffered from chronic migraines with aura, sometimes called ocular migraines, since I was 10-years-old. Over the years, I’ve been to countless specialists and have undergone every test imaginable. So far, no one has been able to pinpoint either a cause or a cure, which makes treatment and prevention particularly challenging.

When I tell most people about my migraines, they usually nod in understanding, “Oh, so you get really, really bad headaches?”

I wish the head pain was the only thing I had to deal with. Surprisingly, the hammer-to-the-skull feeling is the least of my problems. It’s the aura that wreaks the most havoc. 

ocular migraine aura

My attacks come on suddenly, with the aura serving as my only warning. Auras sound mystic and magical, but they’re terrible: vision loss, tingling and numbness in the extremities and mouth, slurred or distorted speech, and even the inability to comprehend language or situations are common characteristics.

These stroke-like symptoms leave me debilitated for hours, sometimes days.

I’d be lying if I said migraines haven’t severely affected my life. I’ve gotten them at the worst possible times:

  • at work,
  • during classes in grade school, high school, and college,
  • in the middle of Busch Gardens Theme Park,
  • after a race,
  • in the middle of a race,
  • during a Broadway show,
  • while traveling with my family,
  • I’ve even had to beg a cabbie to drive me home even though I didn’t have cash or credit card when one struck while I was out on a long run in Washington, D.C.

Usually, my migraines happen every couple of months. But, this time last year, I ended up with 3 severe attacks over 2 weeks. The last one came about as I was walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios with my boyfriend and brother during Star Wars Weekend, an event I’d been looking forward to for weeks. I spent the majority of the day in the First Aid Center waiting for the aura to disappear.

Later, when we got into the car to head home, I started to cry out of frustration. In just 2 weeks, I’d missed 2 days of work and now a day at a theme park due to my migraines.

“Why can’t anyone figure out what’s wrong with me, or how to make these stupid migraines stop?” I bawled.

I hated how whiny I sounded.

There are worse things that could happen to a person.

I get that.

But, there’s something about migraines with aura that leave you completely helpless. It’s disconcerting when you feel you’ve lost control over your own body. 

After Saturday’s run and once I’d come out of my migraine coma, I found myself asking questions filled with self-doubt:

  • Should I still travel by myself? What happens if a migraine strikes while I’m wandering around a strange place?
  • Am I really going to be able to train for a marathon in the summer? Are exercise-induced migraines something I’m going to suffer from now since I’ve had so many come on while running?
  • Should I really buy those tickets to that show, that theme park, that event…? What happens if I have to leave halfway through because I get a migraine?

With how unexpectedly a migraine attack can take over the body, it would be easy to stop making plans out of fear. I know I’m not alone in this.

That’s why I’ve tried a ton of different things to help get rid of my migraines. My research led me to a few non-medication-based ways I could try to manage my migraines. Even though I’m still getting attacks, I’ve noticed a decrease in the frequency and duration.

migraines with aura manage

Before I proceed, let me preface this by saying migraine treatment is highly individualized, and I recommend you speak to a doctor you trust before trying any of these things. I AM NOT A DOCTOR.

That said, I wanted to share some of the steps I’ve been taking that I think have helped me:

  1. Magnesium Supplement – I take 200mg of magnesium every other day and have begun incorporating more magnesium into my diet. Magnesium can be hard on your stomach, but I’ve had a lot of luck and no side effects with Doctor’s Best 100% chelated brand.
  2. B-Complex Supplement – Every morning, I take a B-complex supplement that includes Riboflavin, Biotin, B-1, B-5, B-6, and B-12.
  3. CoQ10 Supplement – Each day, I take 200mg of CoQ10. I prefer the gummy version sold at CVS because it’s always Buy 1, Get 1 Free.
  4. Daily Vitamin – Again, I go for the gummies because I’m apparently 5-years-old.
  5. Monitor Hydration – For me, dehydration is a huge trigger for my migraines. I’ve meticulous with my water intake, making sure I’m not getting too much or too little. This is especially important when the temperatures spike.
  6. Incorporate Electrolytes Daily – At least once per day, I make sure to add electrolytes to the water I’m drinking. I do this with Nuun Active Hydration or Smart Water.
  7. Focus On Nutrition – It’s true; when I’m eating healthier I feel better. Even though I’ve never found a direct correlation between what I’m eating and my migraines, it can’t hurt to eat a lot of veggies and fruits while trying to avoid refined sugar. Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Sucralose are triggers for my migraines, so I’ve completely eliminated them from my diet. More and more food companies are sneaking artificial sweeteners into common health-focused products like protein powder, yogurt, and even bread. Make sure to read your ingredients, people! This also means that I need to eat something before I work out. The last few times I’ve gotten a migraine while running, including this past weekend, I was running on empty. Now, I’m going to try to eat something, even if it’s small.
  8. Maintain Regular Sleep Schedule – This pops up on a lot of “Migraine Prevention Lists.” While a sleepless night doesn’t always lead to one of my migraine outbreaks, I’ve been trying hard to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  9. Track The Weather – This might sound crazy, but I’ve noticed extreme changes in pressure have resulted in a migraine. Because of this, I try to keep a close eye on major weather patterns and schedule my plans around them since there’s a higher likelihood of getting a migraine.
  10. HAVE A PLAN – This is the most important tip I have. Even with all these steps, I still get migraines occasionally and randomly. Because of that, I always make sure I have a plan in place. For example, I now always run with my phone and a credit card in case I get stuck far away from home. When I’m traveling alone, I let everyone back home know where I am and make sure I have my hotel address saved in an easy-to-access place on my phone. All my friends and co-workers are aware of my condition so they understand when I have to leave in the middle of the workday or an activity. My mom and I have even discussed getting me a medical bracelet, which is something I think I’ll do before any big solo trips.

Do you have migraines? What treatment plans have worked for you?

The Road To The New York City Marathon

Three weeks ago, I was sprawled on my couch wrapped in blankets and wearing my warmest PJs. Bottles of water and NyQuil were within easy reach. Fuller House played in the background as I shifted between restless sleep and groggy consciousness. The pounding in my head seemed as though it would go on for eternity. I told my also-sick boyfriend that my body ached as though I’d run a marathon (this certainly turned out to be an appropriate thought…).

The flu had knocked me on my ass.

Feeling sorry for myself, I casually checked my email in a futile attempt of distraction. Then I saw it: an unexpected note in my inbox.

New York City Marathon You're In Email

First, I felt shock. Then excitement. Then denial. Then confusion.

I pushed my phone in front of my boyfriend’s face, “WHAT DOES THIS SAY?” I demanded.

“Um, something about a marathon?” He croaked, his voice hoarse from two days of nonstop coughing.

Did I get into the FREAKING NEW YORK CITY MARATHON?!” I gasped, spending at least 85% of my remaining energy for the day.

“I guess so…” then I think he fell back asleep. Or I blocked him and everything else out except for that email on my screen.

I stared down at my phone, reading the email again and again. Suddenly, a million thoughts rushed through my mind: I have to train. For a marathon. Again. I have to run 26.2 miles in November. I’m running one of the most important, one of the best, one of the biggest marathons in the world. I need to go run right now. Wait. I’m sick. Oh, crap. I’m sick. I’m already behind on my training and it hasn’t even started yet! OMG, I’M RUNNING THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON!?!?!?! 

Flu medicine wrecks havoc on your brain power, people, just saying.

That day, between bouts of NyQuil-induced naps, I saw countless friends and bloggers announce whether they’d received the “You’re In” email. Those who got in shared excited Tweets and photos; those who didn’t posted sadder, disappointed notes.

But, I didn’t want to share my news yet. It felt too personal, too big, too scary to make public.

Three years ago, I ran my first marathon in Jacksonville, Florida in 4:12. During my training, I ran several half marathons, hitting a PR of 1:42. My 5K time dropped to 21 minutes without doing much speedwork. Low 8-minute miles were easy, and I felt better if my average pace per mile started with a 7. Some Saturdays, I went out and ran 16 miles because it felt good, I wanted to explore a new area, and needed some time to clear my head.

After the marathon, I ended up with severe bursitis in my hip and it took me almost 18 months to fully recover. The injury destroyed my confidence and, subsequently, my motivation. Running fast has been challenging for me the past couple of years, so I’ve taken to not really training hard for anything, and running more to stay sane and healthy (and to sightsee!) than to achieve any big goals.

The New York City Marathon? That’s a ridiculously big goal.

Empire State Building Manhattan

All the long-distance runners I’ve ever met have this race on their bucket lists. I’ve entered the lottery 4 years in a row, and previously, I had been one of the sad, disappointed runners sharing the “nope, didn’t get in this time” message. I’ve frequently joked that the only way I’d come out of “marathon retirement” is if I got into this race.

Well, now I’m in.

I have a lot of training in my future so that I can cross that glorious finish line in Central Park, and I plan to share most of it here, especially since I have quite a few trips scheduled before race day.

To get ready for November 6, I am taking now through July to build a strong foundation, essentially trying to work my way up to where 10 miles feels “easy.” From there, marathon training will start. In July. In Florida.

Let the fun begin.

Have you run the New York City Marathon before? What tips do you have for first-timers?

5 Day Itinerary for San Francisco and Big Sur

Here’s a confession: I love creating itineraries. It’s a sickness. Trust me, you don’t want to see the “Travel” folder in my Google Drive. So. Many. Itineraries. 

In my past life, I bet I hit it big as the World’s Best Cruise Director because planning is my jam.

Here in my current life, I’ve yet to make a career out of being an Itinerary Planner Extraordinaire.

That doesn’t stop me from searching Google, TripAdvisor, and Pinterest for other people’s itineraries when I’m attempting to come up with my own. I like to see how other travelers grouped together various activities, what places they visited and when, and what they recommend doing.

This puzzle-like process helps me figure out how I can make my trip plan the best it can be.

Type A much?

Digital Itinerary Planning

 

Given my fervor for developing itineraries, I’ve gained quite the reputation among my friends and colleagues for this, er, hobby. When people ask me to share past trip plans with them, it gives me a chance to dig back into past travels, and my itineraries allow me to reflect on memories from past experiences.

This will be my first post in a new series that focuses ONLY on itineraries— no recaps or stories (I’ll link to any that I write about, of course!), just a list of what I did and where I went to help anyone who might be planning a similar trip.

Earlier this month, I traveled to San Francisco with my boyfriend to visit my best friend. Since we’ve both been to SF a couple of times, we weren’t overly concerned with doing all the tourist activities in the city. We spent a lot more time wandering around that I’d do if I were visiting for the first time. But, if you’ve been to San Francisco before, here’s an idea on how to get another look at this beautiful city.

Our 5 Day San Francisco and Big Sur Itinerary

DAY 1: TAMPA > SAN FRANCISCO: LOWER HAIGHT, PRESIDIO, MARINA

  • Arrive SF around 11 AM
  • Lunch at Palmyra Mediterranean Cafe in the Lower Haight
  • Walk to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies of Full House fame
  • Take Uber to the Presidio: LucasFilms Studio & the Yoda Fountain, Palace of Fine Arts
  • Walk to Pier 39 via Fort Mason (this was a bit of a walk, about 2.5 miles;  if you’re not feeling up for a lengthy trek, I recommend catching the free Presidigo shuttle!)
  • Take Uber to Ferry Building Marketplace: my favorites are Blue Bottle Coffee, cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, ice cream from Humphry Slocombe
  • Dinner at Umami Sushi in the Marina
  • Overnight at a friend’s place in the Lower Haight

Palace of Fine Arts Presidio San Francisco

DAY 2: SAN FRANCISCO: 16th AVENUE MOSAIC STAIRS, BAKER BEACH, NORTH BEACH

  • 5 mile run in Golden Gate Park
  • Coffee and breakfast at The Grind on Haight St.
  • Bus from Lower Haight to Moraga St. to see 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
  • Climb all the stairs to Grand View Park (this is an intense climb; I was huffing & puffing by the end!)
  • Take an Uber to Baker Beach near the Presidio
  • Dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach (even though this is an Italian restaurant, I had the best and biggest burger I’ve ever had here)
  • Overnight at a friend’s place in the Lower Haight

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach San Francisco

Grand View Park San Francisco

DAY 3: SF > MONTEREY: PACIFIC GROVE, 17 MILE DRIVE, CARMEL 

  • Breakfast in the Marina District of SF at the adorable Rose’s Cafe
  • Uber to SFO airport to pick up rental car
  • Drive to Airbnb in Pacific Grove (I highly recommend this Airbnb that we stayed in during our trip! It’s perfect for 3-4 adults, is well-decorated with an outdoor patio, and is within walking distance to the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail and the Monterey Aquarium)
  • Do 17 Mile Drive (there’s a $10 entry fee, but it’s so worth it!)
  • Stop in Carmel for dinner at Flying Fish (Please make a reservation and eat here. This is the best seafood I’ve ever had, and I grew up in Florida. I’m still dreaming about the ginger salsa appetizer and almond-encrusted sea bass weeks later!)

DAY 4: BIG SUR 

DAY 5: MONTEREY > SF: MONTEREY AQUARIUM, SANTA CRUZ, SAN FRANCISCO

  • 3 mile run on the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail because I couldn’t get enough of these views the day before
  • Breakfast at First Awakenings near the Monterey Aquarium
  • Monterey Aquarium (our Airbnb came with 2 free passes, which made this a worthwhile 2-hour adventure)
  • Coffee & shopping at Bright Coffee on our way out of Monterey
  • Drive from Monterey to Santa Cruz
  • Late lunch in downtown Santa Cruz
  • Drop rental car off at airport
  • Redeye flight back to Tampa

Monterey Bay Aquarium Jelly Fish

Are San Francisco and Big Sur on your travel bucket list? Have you been before and have recommendations to share in the comments?