Defeating the Beast: Nausea

Image Description: black felt board spelling out “beating nausea @” with peppermint icebreakers, a peppermint oil roller stick, and bottle of medication to the right of the board.

For years if you asked me what my most troublesome symptom was the answer always revolved around nausea.

Nausea for me has presented in a few ways, but has always been the root of many debilitating instances.

Going all the way back to high school and my time spent waitressing, although pain and the constant hustle and bustle in the restaurant business made my life miserable the wafting scents coming from the kitchen had a habit of doing me in.

I could work through the pain, but getting a whiff of a stronger scent – intensified already by my migraine attack, would stop me absolutely dead in my tracks. This left me often stuck at the bar, sitting and waiting it out.

As the long drives to and from Clemson became routine in college, I was met with another problem with nausea: being so ill-feeling that I couldn’t focus on driving.

This is where my handy breath mint trick came in, I found that popping an icebreaker calmed my nerves and I was able to focus solely on that icebreaker and the road.

Unfortunately, an ice breaker doesn’t mitigate the problem fully.

On and off for years I’d had to eat – and yes they were honestly a portion of my diet at this point – my nausea medication 20-30 minutes before I could consume a meal.

I’ve had experience with two anti-nausea medications: phenergan and zofran.

Phenergan was a bit chalkier of the two, but I relied on it for the longest period of time. It worked quickly and I never experienced side effects from it.

Zofran on the other hand is a minuscule sized pill that worked faster than the phenergan, however I found that it often left me dehydrated.

I switched over to Zofran after an extremely rough patch of constant nausea last fall.

For years, I held some assumptions about my nausea and the causes and they were all very wrong.

I believed that my body messed up in sending the signals to my brain. Since I’d always be nauseous when it was time for a meal, I equated it to simply being hungry.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Defeating nausea didn’t come from a magical pill or excess use of peppermint, but rather digging much deeper into the events surrounding each episode.

On the most basic and consistent level, if I eat breakfast too early or am up and moving about earlier than normal I will struggle to get my food down and spend much of the remainder of the day sick to my stomach.

Here’s some examples:

  • When high-school started at 7:30 AM my sophomore year, I got really sick eating my breakfast before catching the bus around 6:15 AM. I switched to bringing a baggie of food to eat during 3rd period and had no issues.
  • I opted to give a friend a lift to work while his car was having trouble, I had typically been getting up around 9 AM but had to be across town to pick him up around 6:30 AM. I opted to eat breakfast when I got home, but by the time I got home I was sick to my stomach and barely managed to eat the rest of the day.
  • After evacuating for the hurricane last year and making our way to Florida to stay at a friends house, every meal left me feeling horrible. I tried to pinpoint which meals made me feel worse, but nothing added up.
  • After moving into my new apartment, outside contractors had to have access to my apartment incredibly early forcing me to be up, dressed, and fed 2 hours earlier than normal. I had to leave and head to my parents for the day where I laid in bed incredibly sick until noon.

It all comes across as almost unrelated events but looking the hundred of instances where nausea disrupted days and days on end, one thing became incredibly clear: My body has a very specific circadian rhythm that has an negative reaction to change.

That negative reaction? Nausea.

Any time I had a disruption in my routine, no matter how subtle I would be slapped in the face with it.

So correcting it has happened over time, and a lot of it happened naturally.

My first steps included creating a consistent eating schedule:

  • I drink my coffee prior to breakfast and eat about an hour to an hour and half after I’ve woken up, typically 10:00 AM.
  • I eat lunch right at 2:00 PM, sometimes a little earlier if I’ve eaten breakfast prior to 10:00 AM. Typically breakfast and lunch are spaced out by almost 4 hours to the minute.
  • I eat dinner at 6:00 PM and this is usually my largest meal of the day.
  • Around 9:00 PM, I often opt for a snack consisting of macadamia nuts, cranberries, and dark chocolate.

The snack has helped tremendously in reducing any nausea I experience during the night. I used to be under the impression that the frankincense oil I diffused made me nauseous, but it was simply having a very empty stomach.

Eating my meals spaced out every four hours seems to be very optimal for the nausea, but also for my energy levels. Often times once it’s time to eat I tend to get a little drowsy or may have slowly been experiencing an increase in pain, almost always more defined before dinner. After eating, I occasionally feel a lot better.

Aside from food, adjusting my emotional and subconscious reaction to change induced stress has been the final push needed to beat nausea.

On the most basic level, this means I have to really stick to my routine that involves waking up around the same time, eating meals consistently, and allowing my days move with the flow of how I’m feeling.

However, even being disabled and primarily home-bound, life still happens.

I have a bad habit of scheduling doctor’s appointments at my lunchtime. I do it every time because I know that between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM I’m typically feeling my best. I’ve got the best chance of feeling good enough to get to and from my appointment, and it gives me time to prep before and rest afterwards.

To respond to this, I wake up just 10 – 15 minutes earlier, so I’ll eat breakfast a bit ahead of schedule. Then I can eat a quick and smaller lunch an hour or so early knowing I can have a snack when I get home. On other instances I’ll bring my lunch with me and eat at my parents before going to my appointment. This adds to how long I have to be out and about, but really helps keep everything else on track.

If the disruption happens to be more unpredictable, it’s a matter of changing how I react to it. Working to actively remind myself that “x” doesn’t have to negatively impact me or my whole day has been a big mental shift. I used to (past tense being all of a month ago) allow myself to get really anxious about things needing to be done early in the morning such as maintenance. Questioning constantly when they would show up, if I’d be feeling good, would I have been able to get through my morning routine and have eaten breakfast… a constant loop of all the what if’s surrounding the potential event. Putting a stop to the questions is 100% necessary.

This goes even deeper to all areas that can cause stress that are fully out of my realm of control. I had to learn how to step back and evaluate the situation. I’d start with identifying how I was feeling and what the particular event was. Then I’d look at if I could directly have an impact on an outcome today or tomorrow. That answer often being “no” meant I had to allow myself to become separate from the event. I had to let go because I had no control over it.

Controlling nausea actually meant defining consistency, sticking to it, and learning how to peacefully respond to disruptions.

For so long I focused on the environment around me. Wondering if it was the food I ate or a weather system or a particular scent that caused me to be nauseous all the time. As many of you know from previous posts, the nausea has led to many weight issues and a less than healthy relationship with food.

Shifting my focus to underlying reasons not related to migraine is what ultimately made the difference. Of course peppermint this and that helped, but being able to know how to avoid the nausea in the first place is a big win in my book.


Want to read Part Two? I published a follow up piece you can read here discussing a few more ways to help get your nausea under control, even if migraine isn’t the main cause.

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