Okay okay, that was a pretty click-bait title but if you’re here then I guess it worked?
And, actually, there’s absolutely an element of truth to it, so I don’t feel too guilty for luring you in…
For those of you who don’t know me in real life, or are new around here, you might not know that I’m a long term migraine sufferer. From the age of about 10 I’ve struggled with my head, experiencing intense migraines with side effects of sickness, numbness, paralysis and fainting episodes on a near enough weekly basis, sometimes even for days at a time. I’ve never really narrowed down the trigger to anything specific, but I think a lot of it can be attributed to stress & being overwhelmed or rundown. I’m now 26, so that’s 16 years of consistent pain. Over the years I’ve trialled loads of different options for treatment, from medication including triptans, anti-depressants and herbal medicines to air purifiers and even a gluten free diet. You name it, I’ve tried it. I actually blogged about my health journey back in 2016, so that shows just how long I’ve been battling this beast and to no avail, that is, until recently… when I took up running.
Now I’m well aware that this probably isn’t some miracle cure. I know I’m not magically ‘fixed’ and I’m under no illusions that I’ll never have a migraine again, but what I do know is that since I started exercising regularly, they’ve been significantly better. In fact, I haven’t had a migraine that’s totally floored me for about 3 months now – and that’s pretty major.
I don’t know whether it’s something scientific; the blood pumping around my body, release of toxins, stretching out the tension in my neck and shoulders or whether it’s more psychological – my guess is that it’s a bit of both! But it simply cannot be a coincidence that I started running at the beginning of the year and haven’t had anywhere near as many migraines since the day I got my running shoes on. It’s also worth noting that the migraines I have suffered from have been much more short-lived, I’ve felt stronger and much more able to fight them off.
For context, I’m not running huge distances at all, but what I am doing is keeping to a relatively consistent exercise schedule, aiming to get out and pound the pavement about 3 times a week. Over the past 2-3 months I’ve done the Couch to 5k programme and now I’m more up to speed I am running 5k a couple of times a week, nothing major but it’s more than I ever thought I’d be able to achieve. Particularly in the light of how my physical health has been.
At this point, I need to tell any fellow sufferers that are reading this how annoyed I would have been if I’d read a post like this six months ago. I get it. I’m now that annoying preacher telling you how to live your lives and look after yourselves – don’t worry though, I’ll draw the line at asking you if you’ve drunk enough water today… I know how lonely it can be to feel so ill and be in that much pain and I feel really lucky that I’ve had a good few months, but I also know that when you’re in the throes of a migraine, the last thing you want to do (or feel like you can do) is exercise. I was always too scared of pushing too hard, exacerbating the pain, making myself feel even worse, but looking back now I think that I hid behind that as an excuse. When you have a chronic illness like this, it can sometimes become your brand and even, weirdly, a bit of a comfort blanket. Being known as ‘the one who always has headaches’ meant I could get away without pushing myself or trying anything new, which became the norm for me. However, after my Mum asked if I wanted to do the Race For Life with her this year I just thought ‘why not!’ and took it on as a great challenge and a way to get myself moving. So I’ve built up to it gradually. The couch to 5k programme is perfectly designed to get amateurs walking, then jogging, then eventually running for a full half an hour, so it’s also ideal for migraine sufferers like us to ease into exercise and get moving, whilst not putting our overall health at risk.
For me, the benefits so hugely outweigh any initial fears I had. My mind is so much clearer, it’s unreal. I used to think that it was a real cliche when people said that exercise does as much for your mental health as it does for your physical health, but over the past 6 months I’ve come to realise just how true a statement that is. And in addition, just how closely your mental and physical health are linked.
Since I started moving more I’ve felt so much more at ease in myself and I attribute that to a few different things.
1.Being outside – I was saying to a friend earlier that I feel like I’ve really connected with the outside world recently and I’m getting so much energy from being outside, amongst nature. I know that sounds incredibly twee (and a bit wanky), but it’s true. As someone who works in an office, albeit a very cool one, I am constantly plugged into the technology matrix, so it’s really nice to shut off all devices (besides Nike Run club) and unplug for a bit. It turns out that fresh air really can work wonders and that being ‘at one with nature’ is actually really quite freeing.
2. Taking time for myself – It isn’t something I’d ever really thought about, but carving out 3 evenings in a week for me to focus solely on myself has been really important for me. It’s great to be able to be entirely comfortable in yourself and your body, but this is something that I have struggled with in the past. However, being alone with yourself and your thoughts completely for half an hour-to an hour as you run is really powerful and I’m finding it’s making all the difference to the way I feel in myself. For me, I use it as a time to unwind from the day, or get my mind in check for the day that’s ahead. At the moment, the only thing I can really think about when I’m running is putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the bloody end, so that’s a pretty useful tactic for clearing your mind of all the other noise, if nothing else.
3. Having a goal – From my experience, when you reach your twenties, life can sometimes feel like you’re getting a bit stuck and perhaps not moving forwards. Maybe you’ve settled into a routine with a job/property/relationship/friendship (which is really cool, btw) but I know personally that I’m always craving a goal or something to work towards! Running has become that for me. From week 1 when I could only run for 30 seconds, to this morning when I ran for 40 minutes without stopping, having something to work towards has been really useful for my mental health, which has helped me stay focused and helped to keep my head clear. It’s also no myth that endorphins actually exist – every time I run a little bit further or shave a minute or so off my overall time, I get such a buzz. Little wins like that are so underrated but they’re your body’s natural painkillers and can be so powerful.
Now having said all this, I am not a medical professional – so if you are a migraine sufferer and feel inspired by what I’ve had to say, maybe check out the Migraine Trust, who have some epic advice on managing headaches through exercise. I really just wanted to say my bit – don’t be scared by it, because I know I definitely was, but I honestly feel like it’s changing my life for the better. To begin with, it’ll probably feel impossible, it did for me, but stick with it! It’s amazing how quickly your body can get used to something new. I feel like mine has almost had a bit of a kick up the arse and now slowly, but surely, it’s starting to work like everybody else’s. As I said, I know this isn’t the end of my migraine journey, I’m absolutely convinced they’ll come back, bigger than ever. But I feel so much better equipped to handle them now and, for the first time ever, I feel in control.
I know for some people exercise can be really triggering so I really don’t want this post to come across as trivial, superficial or insensitive. I, also of course, recognise that not everybody is able to exercise, and don’t want anybody to feel erased or isolated from this narrative, but I can only speak from my experience here and I just wanted to share my story. I’d love to hear your own stories about exercise and your health – as always you can comment below or tweet me @lizzihill or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastly, thanks for reading, I know this was a beefy one but it’s really important to me so I hope it’s resonated with some of you!
Turns out… #ThisGirlCan 💪🏼
P.s. if you’ve made it this far and fancy slinging me a few quid for my Race For Life, I’d be forever grateful: