We’re all familiar with the Glamour-esque What’s in your bag? type blog posts and magazine articles that leave us all questioning what on earth we keep in our purse and why.
Within the migraine community and extending well into the chronic illness and mental health communities, the concept of our toolbox is regularly used to describe what we have available to us for treatment and management of our condition.
In some regards, our toolbox includes a bunch of things we’ve gathered over the years that aid in our comfort.
My toolbox has a few layers to it: tools of habit, tools for treatment, and tools for comfort.
Tools of Habit
This section of my toolbox is one of utmost importance. The items are rather practices and routines that I’ve implemented into my daily life. These are lifestyle changes, some of which are more “tips and tricks” that help me exist with migraine as such a dominant presence.
A Strong Morning Routine
How you start your day defines your day. I start off slow, I stretch, I enjoy my coffee, and I gently embrace my day rather than rushing into it. The moment I wake up, if I sense pain or a lingering heaviness I remind myself that I am okay. I repeat that I will feel good when I get up. This affirmation first thing allows me to start out on a positive note, even if the pain is present, giving my mind a small hope that as I begin to move around the heaviness will dissipate and I will be okay.
As amazing as technology is, especially when it comes to being able to create online connections with people who understand your pain, technology can be even more amazing when you turn it off.
I personally use my phone to track when I sleep, so airplane mode provides the opportunity to track my sleep without remaining connected to society.
The ability to disconnect, and the habit of being disconnected for a portion of the day, plays a huge role in managing stress and maintaining a healthy sleeping pattern. It’s also rather blissful to wake up and not be instantly bombarded with the world.
Allowing myself to check out and check in on my own terms is an incredibly effective way to enforce boundaries.
Reminders For When I’m Forgetful
Brain fog is a bitch. This world is full of so many distractions. When you’re already more prone to zoning out and pushing through the haze, forming habits that keep you on your toes are essential.
My most essential habit is leaving my medication open and out on the counter after I’ve taken it, ESPECIALLY at night. This prevents me from accidentally taking a second dose and reminds me to record the dose I did take.
The other habit I’m forming happens in the kitchen. Anytime I use the oven, I turn on the oven light so that when I inevitably sit down to enjoy my dinner I glance up to see this giant lit up oven, and then am cued to glance at the smaller light indicating that the oven is still on. By adding in the additional step of turning off the obvious oven light, I am reminded to turn off the oven as well.
Consistency and Balance
I eat at the same time everyday. I wake up and go to bed generally at the same time.
If something in my schedule is out of the ordinary, I create a balance for it. If I’m going to the doctor I won’t plan to cook when I get home, instead I rest and take it easy. If I’m going to be up later for a late night football game, I try to nap earlier in the day.
Tools for Treatment
To most peoples surprise, this section of my toolbox is relatively small and not heavily relied on. I like to think that my treatment evolves as I recognize what works and what doesn’t, and my tools that I use to treat migraine are relatively limited lately. However, I will include a snippet of “tools from the past” that you may find useful for your own toolbox.
Abortive + Preventative Medication
I rely on my daily preventative medication – Keppra – to reduce the severity of my migraines. This reduction isn’t one to rave about, but compared to not utilizing the medication, I will rave away.
When it comes to abortive medications, these are not my first line of defense against a migraine attack. Why? Because they simply haven’t worked more than once or twice in the last year. I have both a caffeine based Barbiturate and DHE nasal spray available to take, but typically only use medication once or twice a month, as again, it isn’t effective for me.
Magical Pain Cream
A great friend of mine develops topical creams and sugar scrubs and I’ve been using her pain cream for months now. (you can snag some for yourself here)
I love it because it’s all natural and the ingredients are easily available. I simply massage the cream into my forehead, temples, and neck/shoulders, and it really soothes the pain.
This stuff is my holy grail. I’ve found that diffusing a few drops along with some peppermint oil at night helps me fall asleep. It’s particularly helpful on nights when the pain is unbearable and would typically keep me awake. I prefer the Shea Terra brand, and the Dakara blend over the Kenyan blend.
When it comes to neck tension and upper shoulder tightness, I’ve found that my acupressure mat really helps me manage better than anything, plus I don’t have to leave home. Of course, massage therapy is my preferred relief method, but it hasn’t been available to me lately.
There’s lots of mats available on Amazon, I prefer the options with lotus shaped “nails” and a separate back and neck mat.
Ice packs and Ice cream
Sometimes a cold ice pack on the base of my neck and a frozen face mask are the perfect combo to reduce pain. I use ice packs typically when I have to reduce the pain just enough so I can go somewhere or be social for a brief period. I also find that they can dull the pain just enough to help fall asleep.
I add in ice cream to this category because if the ice packs are providing some relief, a nice bowl of ice cream helps apply the cold on the inside too.
Peppermint roller balls are wonderful options to carry with you. Applying the essential oil to your forehead, temples and neck can have a therapeutic cooling sensation that helps to relieve the pain.
The scent and taste of peppermint I’ve found work to combat nausea and block out other scents that may make your migraine worse.
Other Treatment Tools
These tools have long left my toolbox, but for many they are still fantastic options or new ideas to try out.
- Topical balms/headache specific oil rollers
- Electrical stimulation devices such as Cefaly
- Blue light blocking glasses
- Massage therapy, physical therapy, and acupressure
- Epsom salt baths
- Herbal medications and vitamins/supplements
Tools for Comfort
This aspect of my toolbox is my most important and most regularly utilized. Having daily migraines ranging most days from being limited in function because of pain and symptoms to being in severe bound-to-my-couch, ER level pain, treating migraine is actual second to managing it.
Most of my management comes in the form of finding optimal ways to be comfortable.
Decorative Nap Pillows
There’s the pillows I keep on my couch because they’re the right aesthetic and there’s the pillow I keep next to my couch because its perfect for a nap. It’s a fluffy, white fur pillow that’s longer than a standard throw pillow – making it similar to a bed pillow in length, but softer so I can feel extra comfy while laying down.
I have two, one is a full sized blanket that I keep on my bed – I can’t sleep with cold toes – and the other is a mini sleeping bag for my feet.
It’s a hassle to move blankets around so having the smaller more portable option is great for sitting on my couch/napping on my couch, and travel.
You could argue that this belongs in the “treatment” category, but I personally find no benefit to diffusing oils other than Frankincense, and I simply enjoy the aroma. The nature of migraine means that lighting a candle is out of the question unless it’s unscented. Scent is a powerful tool for relaxation, and essential oils aid in this.
My favorite combo: Peppermint + Rosemary + Lemon
Related: Essential Oil Education and Safety
There’s a variety of hypnosis videos available on YouTube, and I find that sometimes the only option I have in the midst of severe pain is to sit through it and hope for distraction. Hypnosis – and I’ll expand to include guided meditation – typically lasts between 20-40 minutes and serves as a gentle distraction.
Dimly Lit Showers/Baths
Light is a huge obstacle during a migraine attack, but many of us struggle to maintain the levels of personal hygiene we prefer during an attack. I hate going to bed if I haven’t showered.
I’ve found that showering is often times muscle memory when it comes to having the right temperature and washing your hair and face. Having a small night light on gives just enough illumination where I can see objects as shadows, but am not in pain because of the light.
The warmth from a bath or shower can also be therapeutic.
A Few Friends Who Get It
Whether it be people you know in real life, family, or people you’ve found in online support spaces, having a few friends that you can reach out to when you’re in tremendous pain is comforting.
Texts between me and my best friend often look like a series of check ins of “hey, are you dying too” as we’re often in severe pain around the same time.
Even if conversation isn’t continuous, having people who are in the same boat as you there to check in with takes some of the isolation away.
So, what’s in your toolbox?
Surely I didn’t hit on every square inch, as some tools get buried if we don’t use them often and some get forgotten about.
Your toolbox is going to look different than mine. Some toolboxes may be full of coping mechanisms, and reframing techniques – and yes, I too have a box for coping – but what we prioritize in our own toolboxes is rather personal.
PS: if there’s one think I think we should all have in our toolbox, it’s something that makes us smile. A plant, a piece of rose quartz, handmade art, a photograph, something. Through pain, stress, illness, and life we all need something that reminds us to pause and smile.
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