Migraine Awareness Week

Those of you who weren’t reading or following my blog in the early days will probably be unaware that I used to do a series of ‘Dates To Note’ posts – if you’re interested they can be found in the menu above. These ran through 2013 into 2014 but I decided that they had run their course and, apart from a few reblogs – and a spoof which I reblogged on April Fool’s Day this year – there haven’t been many more since then. Last year I posted to recognise Migraine Awareness Week  and I thought I’d do it again this year, as it is important to me. It begins today and runs until Saturday, and I hope you see some media coverage – though given everything else that is going on I fear it may get lost in the deluge! This is an expanded version of what I posted last year, so parts of it may seem familiar to you.

I’m sure many of you have experience of migraine, either yourself or with someone close to you. I was first diagnosed when I was 15 – to save you the maths, that was around 50 years ago. Since then I’ve had several migraines a year, apart from one blissful period in my 20s when I went three years without one and foolishly hoped I was somehow ‘cured.’ Not so. And the older I got, the more migraines I had and the longer they seemed to last. Five or six a year wasn’t uncommon, and they lingered for up to three days instead of just the one when they first started.

I hope you follow the link above, which takes you to the Awareness Week page on the Migraine Trust’s website. The Migraine Trust organises this week as a means of educating people about migraine, and their website has a lot of helpful information and links. Their headline statistics are frightening: every day in the UK there are 190,000 migraine attacks. The condition affects one in seven people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. In other words, it is a big issue! They have undertaken much research into the underlying causes of migraine, but their aim is ultimately to find a cure for this debilitating illness. This is especially important as only about half of those who suffer are actually diagnosed with the condition: if a cure could be found, that might encourage more people to seek help.

One of the things the Migraine Trust encourage you to do is to keep a diary of your migraines and share it with your doctor. I did this when I was first diagnosed with depression, as I seemed to be getting headaches and migraines all the time, and it was very helpful to see what pattern – if any – there was. In particular, the site might help those who say they have a migraine when it is actually a bad headache: believe me, there is a difference and you’ll know it if you’re a fellow sufferer! When I was running the Dates To Note series I always gave a link to the NHS website as this is a very good source of information, and their coverage of migraine is as good as everything else they do.

My diary showed that there was absolutely no pattern to my migraines, which often seemed to occur with no prior warning. Most of mine started the moment I woke up: there was no build up to them throughout the day, as some people experience, which made them difficult to assess. Like most migraine sufferers I just shut myself away in a darkened room until it felt safe to open the curtains again. Medical science has yet to agree on a set of defined causes for the illness: whilst one of the causes is believed to be emotional factors, such as stress, mine have always been noticeably different from regular headaches, which tend to fall into the category of ‘tension headaches.’ Migraines are believed to be a result of chemical changes in the body affecting the genes, and the genetic effect can mean that they are passed through the generations within a family. My Mum used to suffer badly with migraine and it has always been believed in our family – and by doctors – that I inherited this from her.

So how can you explain the fact that I have had far fewer migraines since I retired? I now live a life which, as far as I can possibly make it, is free from stress and tension. And the frequency of migraines has dropped noticeably – go figure! Does this mean that what I have believed for around 50 years was wrong? Even if that is the case, I can’t really see how I could have changed my working life to remove stress factors, which were part and parcel of every job I had. But I do find it interesting that a reduction in the number and length of migraines since I retired may somehow be related to that major lifestyle change. It is nearly seven years since I retired, and I can only recall seven or eight migraines in that time – when I would probably have endured something like 40 in a similar period whilst working. I can recommend retirement for a number of reasons – apart from having to be old to do it – but for me a dramatic reduction in migraine frequency is one of the biggest benefits. As I think to back to this time last year, when I wrote the previous post, I’m finding it hard to recall having any migraines at all since then. I probably have had some bad headaches in that time, but not to the point at which I’d be recording them in a migraine diary – for me, that is a huge step forward.

I’ve put a couple of the Migraine Trust’s campaign images at the head and foot of this post. They refer to giving up something you enjoy eating, drinking or doing to show solidarity with someone you may know who suffers migraines. I’m not expecting any of you to do that, but I’m sharing these to get you to think. For myself, I’ve already given up alcohol for health reasons, and have never found that eating cheese or chocolate, or drinking caffeine, have ever triggered a migraine for me. I know they do for others, though – I guess I’ve just been lucky in that respect, even though a glass of red with some cheese is now banned for me! But, in thinking about this piece, it struck me that I have a habit of using the iPad late into the evening: as far as I know it hasn’t brought on a migraine but I often sleep poorly and feel tired the next day, so I’m going to give that up for a month and see if that has any effect. That’s my pledge, which I’ve signed up to be added to the Trust’s pledge wall.

If you’re a fellow sufferer you have my sympathy. If so, or you’d just like to know more, do take a few moments to look at the Migraine Trust’s website – here – as I’m sure it will be of interest and help to you.

#GiveUpForMigraine

#TimeToTalk Day 2020


Tomorrow, 6 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who might need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this poster:

There are many other resources there too: from quizzes, games and puzzles to prompts on how to start a conversation. Please take time to visit their website: it is very informative and you’ll find helpful tip cards, like this one:

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I submitted it too late, and not in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, so is worth sharing again, I think:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

As it says in the image below, one in four of us will be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives. That is a huge number and, as I said in the piece I wrote (above) there are often no visible signs that someone is suffering. Mental health problems can be all-encompassing, taking over your life, and it can be incredibly valuable to feel that there is support for you. So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!

 

That Was The Year That Was

Around this time of year we find ourselves looking back at last year’s experiences and looking ahead to how we hope the new year will be. Do we ever really know? As I’m agnostic, with atheist tendencies, I don’t rely on that kind of life guidance, nor do I claim any supernatural powers of my own: I’m not Nostradamus, or even Old Moore (the Almanack guy). So I tend to rely on looking back at what happened to me to inform my way ahead – I’m a great believer in learning from our experiences. In my case, that means learning what NOT to do! I don’t keep a diary, so I tend to rely on my blog posting history to remind me of the past year, and that review is always accompanied by a look back at my blog’s statistics.

Last year was an odd one, in blog terms. I posted 53 times, which is similar to recent years, but not to any regular schedule: there were some gaps in there! Total views increased by over 40% from 2018, but likes and comments only saw small improvements. What am I supposed to make of that? Should I be pleased that so many more people read my posts, or concerned that the levels of ‘approval’ shown by likes and comments didn’t increase in proportion? Or should I ignore the statistics and just carry on regardless? Guess what – regardless continuation is the order of the day. I don’t blog for anything other than as a hobby, so it’s not as though I have commercial sponsors or advertisers to worry about. To be honest, I wouldn’t want that kind of pressure anyway: I suspect I could probably generate a better income from putting my non-existent predictive talents to work on the lottery and the football pools than I could derive from selling my blog (and my soul) for money.

I was actually approached a couple of months ago (via my Contact Me page) by a company wanting to use my blog as a vehicle to promote their product, but as that product was an expensive set of tablets with (in my view) over-generous claims for their general, sexual and mental health benefits, I made the decision to spare you from that, dear reader, and declined their kind offer. I trust that you are duly grateful. But if you are interested in that kind of thing, a quick internet search will furnish you with many companies who would be only too happy to separate you from your cash, with no help from me!

But I digress (as usual). I’m really looking back at what did happen last year with my blog, not at what didn’t. Using the number of likes as my criterion, I was pleased to see that four of my top five posts last year were mental health-related. Despite appearances to the contrary (e.g. all those music posts) the reason why I began doing this was to share my experience of depression in the hope that my small voice might make a tiny difference in the great scheme of things. So, whilst I have at times been indulging my blogging self with the more enjoyable aspects of life, it is heartening to see that people still take notice when I share the message that we need to be supporting those who suffer from a mental illness. Learning the lesson from that, I could make it a New Year Resolution to post more on mental health matters in the coming year. But, as I said yesterday to a fellow blogger, the only New Year’s resolution I ever make is not to make any other resolutions. That leaves me feeling that I achieve something every year! But even without a resolution you can expect more from me on mental health issues.

When I reviewed what you guys had deemed to be my top posts of 2019, it was very pleasing that my annual post for World Mental Health Day was the most liked, by a distance: so much so, in fact, that it is one of just two 2019 posts to feature in the all time top ten. If you haven’t seen it, or want another look, it can be found under the imaginative title of World Mental Health Day 2019 – I worked hard at that!

The second most liked post of last year was one for which I spent a little more time coming up with a title: 2018: They Think It’s All Over. Given that I’m sharing that with you in a post reviewing last year, I’m aware of the slight irony of that being the equivalent post to this one. But, like this one, it is a quick way for newer readers to pick up on what they may have missed before signing up for this drivel – and that one gives you a whole new set of links to follow. Sometimes, my generosity surprises even me!

The rest of my top five posts of 2019 were all mental health posts and, perhaps through no coincidence, they were all reworkings of posts I had originally written in 2016. As I said earlier, that is the primary reason I started blogging, and there is clearly an audience for posts on this theme. Those three posts were:

Time To Worry – An Update

I’m Still Me and

Reprise: My Top Ten Depression Tips

In its original version, the last of those is still my fourth most popular post in the seven years I’ve been doing this: as I said, there is an audience interested in mental health issues and I will never forget that. Even if I do stray off into other areas I will always return at some point.

You may wonder why I go back to those older posts and share them again. The answer to that is simple: I regard the words I wrote previously as being just as valid as they ever were, and the total number of people following my blog has more than doubled since 2016, so I would imagine that those posts were new to many. My apologies if I created a sense of déjà vu with you, but the message is important and, I think, worth reiterating.

Quite a few of my 2019 posts had nothing overtly to do with mental health. I’m thinking here of my December series of music posts – of which there were six – but, as music is regarded as one of the contributors to our mental well-being, there may be an indirect link. On a different theme, one of my favourite posts last year was Missing, Inaction – having just re-read it, even that had a passing nod towards mental health too, though its main theme was our dependence on the internet and the deprivation I felt from an enforced 15 day absence.

I’ll leave you with my own favourite post from last year. It was another of my musical ones but with a difference: its main aim was to show how talented musicians can be found on YouTube amongst all the dross on the site. I deliberately gave the post a slightly ambiguous title and, as you can see from the comments, a couple of people admitted to being drawn in by it. As I said to one of them, it was good to know that my MBA in Marketing (1980!) was still of some value, and who wouldn’t want to find out what Under The Covers was about? That was far from being the most ‘liked’ post, but is probably the one from which I derived most pleasure in writing.

Many thanks for indulging me in this little meander through my last year of blogging. I hope to see you again throughout this year though, unlike many other bloggers, I haven’t planned anything beyond this post. I’ve noticed a growing trend among bloggers to dedicate an annual theme, or a word (or several) for their blog. Having given this much thought, and in view of what I just said about my lack of advanced planning,  I’ve decided that my word for this (and probably any other) year should be: Whatever. It seems to fit me well: what you’ll get is whatever comes into my addled brain. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride – whatever it brings!

(PS New Year = new style: I decided to change the template theme for my blog, as I’d used the pre-festive period theme for several years and fancied a change. WordPress don’t offer one called ‘Whatever,’ as far as I can tell, but I hope you like the new look. It’s like me: simple.)