A Personal Story of Hope for People with Migraines

I consider myself to be fiercely resilient, a survivor with a warrior's heart, but as the calendar ticked by this past Fall, and I spent day after day sick in bed, I began to lose hope. I have never lost hope about anything before in my life, and that is exactly why  I am writing this post this morning. The sun is still sleeping, the children have not risen yet, and as I sit cross-legged in the glow of this laptop, I know that this post needs to be composed. At first read it may seem totally out of place. It may seem as though these words have nothing to do with photography, and even less to do with my creative process, but if there is one thing I have learned in 2014, it is that without a well-loved body, spirit and soul, the creative fire simply cannot burn brightly. Before I get to my own personal recipe for wellness, I need to say that this post isn't all there is. If you are feeling drained, unwell, lonely, or burned-out, I want you to know 2015 is all about you in my world. River Story is coming in February, and it will be a raw and naked book that restores hope in the bones of those who hold it. I am also launching a gorgeous e-book called the Soul Sister Circle, re-opening my 1-on-1 mentoring calls, and bringing more women than ever before to the river waters. My classes at The Define School will be rolling out each season, I will be speaking and teaching at Field Trip and WPPI, annnd have a very special, very intimate, retreat in the works just for creative Mamas.

I have been very open and vulnerable about my personal health struggle. The day I collapsed  I poured my heart out on my blog, and my instagram feed has long been a place of pure honesty and vulnerability. When the migraine storm slammed into my shores, I didn't keep it secret. It was such a dark place filled with paralysis, vomiting, confusion, depersonalization, and pain. There were three days when I couldn't recognize my children's faces right away, and that, for me, was the worst of the worst of the worst. To say I was terrified is the understatement of my lifetime. I shared because I wanted to remain connected to the world going on outside of my window. Like those people in the movies who get stranded on deserted islands and make SOS morse code machines out of coconut bark and spare watch batteries, I needed to send out my signal in the hopes of a passing rescue plane circling above. But, most days, I felt as though there was no way out. I thought suffering was going to be my new normal, and I grieved. I could not find a single hope-filled success story.

My prayer is that this little blog post can serve as hope to someone else who is curled up on the floor in the dark, begging the pain, and suffering, to end. My prayer is that in some way, you will cling to these words like a life raft, and keep your head above water. At my worst, I was having 24 migraines, with auras, a month. There were times when two auras would come the same day, or I was vomiting too hard to keep anything down, so finding a break in the cycle was impossible. I remember one day, my head hanging in a metal bowl, begging for just two hours of no migraine symptoms. My prayer is that you find something here that gives you back your minutes, hours, days.

I swore I wouldn't share about my path to recovery until I had been migraine-free for a full month (I was afraid of jinx-ing it!). I'm sure migraines will be something I walk with my whole life. They might pop up here and there, when too many balloons (triggers) get tied to my basket, and things get carried away. But my last migraine was on November 16th, which means it has been a month, so here I go.

I'm not sure the best way to do this, so I'm just going to list the top 5 things that helped me:

A warning to people looking for an easy way out: you will not find it here. In this whole mess I didn't take a single prescription. Not one. My path to wellness was a complete life change. From the ground up. For me, I made a conscious decision that I would rather go through the discomfort of a metamorphosis, than resign to being a victim of a faceless enemy. I have friends with disabilities that they truly can do nothing to reverse, and I know the difference between their conditions and my migraines, and I'm way too stubborn to ever go down without a thorough fight when there is a glimmer of a chance I can do something about it. I refuse to be a victim to migraines. Refuse. You give me an inch, and I will go a hundred thousand miles.

You will have to read the book yourself. You will have to get off the couch and do yoga. You will have to cook wholesome and beautiful foods. I am sharing my giant rays of hope here, but the rest is entirely up to you.

1.  The Migraine Miracle - My only complaint about this book is the full title because it uses the word "diet." This book is SO much more than a diet book. These pages share so much valuable data and explanations that got me through my worst days. When I am feeling lost, I grab onto new knowledge with all my might, and this book was packed full. I have had migraines for over 20 years, and it wasn't until reading this gem that I fully grasped the concept of triggers and how to gauge my awareness. The basket and balloons illustration alone changed the game for me. I now understand there is not one trigger for anyone, and triggers are entirely cumulative. So, I do everything I can to keep the triggers I can control super duper low, so that if and when I get hit with things I cannot change, my chances of catching a bus to migraine town aren't as high. You MUST get this book. Now. (I even ordered one for Thomas so that he could help me when I was unable to help myself).

2. Yoga for Anxiety and PTSD - I did this program here in Austin for 4 Saturdays, and plan on never stopping. It revolutionized my inner temperature. The first week I went, I threw up twice in the middle of class and could barely sit up, and by the last class, I had sun-kissed cheeks and my swagger was back in my step. The teacher is in the process of creating an online format, and I cannot wait to share that with the whole wide world, BUT, if you can't get to this specific class, I urge you to locate a certified yoga therapist in your hood.

3. Diet: Bone Broth, Paleo and Ayurveda - Just do it. Today. Please. Seriously. I was mortified when I first heard these words uttered to me. I thought Paleo was reserved for weight-lifting gym rats and bone broth was something I would have to choke down with my nose plugged, and forget ayurveda because I couldn't even pronounce it. But there is no doubt in my mind that this way of nourishing myself is the only way for me to eat and drink. Basically, I drink 3-4 cups of chicken bone broth each day, I eat a strict Paleo meal plan, and I only eat and drink foods that are cooked, warm and hot. If I'm craving a pear, I roast it in the oven with a bunch of coconut oil and eat it on top of a cast-iron grilled burger. I made a pinterest board for my favorite recipes here: http://www.pinterest.com/michgardella/nourish/

I am also compiling my favorite recipes into an e-book. When I first began eating this way I was kind of pissed off that there were no super easy recipes and guides for Mothers who also work full time. So I made one myself. In the meantime, that pinterest board is an awesome place to begin. And if that even feels like too much to take in at once, do me a favor. Take a whole organic chicken (yes, the whole thing), take out the bag of organs, throw the chicken in a pot and cover it with water and a splash of vinegar, and boil it for 6 hours. Then, drink the broth. Once you begin to feel better, and regain some of your strength, you can also add carrots and celery and herbs, but for now, just keep it simple and give yourself a huge dose of the good stuff it is begging for. This book, Nourishing Broth, is incredible for when you want to up your broth game.

4. Time out. You need to put youself in time out. Nothing made me feel worse about myself when I was in the middle of the tornado, than seeing the commercials for cold and flu medicine. They showed parents asking their children for days off because they were sick, and then this loud man's voice would shout, "Ha! Moms and Dads don't get sick days! Power through by taking blabla..." You know what? They can seriously go fuck themselves. Stop powering through! Powering through is how you got in this mess! It's time to give your parasympathetic nervous system a chance to shine! Cancel the appointments, draw up a bath, and forgive yourself. I made an automatic reply for my emails and posted everywhere that I was unapologetically taking all the time I needed to do what I needed. I signed my own permission slip. I returned to knitting and meditating, and I turned off my phone for days and days at a time. It feels so good to slow down.

5. Magnesium. I now take epsom salt baths every single day. I'm up to four heaping cupfuls and have my kids on the same. Any wellness plan that tells me to sink into a comforting bath is totally up my alley. This one was a no-brainer for me. A dear friend who has also been through the migraine hell spiral, Joy Prouty, also highly recommends magnesium and vitamin shots. However you can get it in your body, whatever feels accessible to you, go for it.

I cannot have a post without any images, so here are a few iPhone snaps from my instagram feed of some knitting projects I have completed. Knitting has become my mala meditation. With each stitch I repeat a mantra. And then, when I give the pieces to friends and family, my heart swells knowing that as they wear or hold them, they feel the strength and love radiating from the fibers. I sent Lily off to school today wearing her little wool vest, and I know as she skips through the playground and rests her head down for nap, her spirit will be echoing, "I am loved. I am loved. I am loved."

I send you my love, and please know that you can and will get through this. You already are.