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

Tuesday Tunes 5: Kindness, Caring, Support

One of the biggest news stories here in the UK this past week – apart from the government’s continued dissembling over what is and isn’t happening in their Covid-19 response (usually the latter) – has been the one about Captain Tom Moore. Captain Tom is a WW2 veteran who turns 100 on 30 April, and had set himself the challenge of doing 100 laps of his garden to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities, as a way of thanking the service for the care it had provided him – particularly after he broke his hip. The story was picked up by tv and the press and resulted in an incredible outpouring of love and donations for this wonderful man. The last time I looked the total donated was over £27m! Tom was also invited to perform a duet – via the means of technology – with Michael Ball, the stage actor and singer. The song reached no.1 within two days of being released, raising yet more cash for charity.

Of course, this is a remarkable story, but it got me thinking about how many other acts of kindness and charity were being performed in these pandemic days. Very few even reach the headlines at all, let alone to the degree that Tom has achieved, but I believe they are all worthy of celebration in their own right. So, for that reason, my theme this week for my two Tuesday Tunes is: kindness, caring and support.

Both of the tunes are by English artists, one of whom has toured internationally, although I don’t think the other has. I make no apologies for sharing songs by people of whom you may not have heard: that for me is one of the joys of music, finding new things to enjoy. The first is from the better known of the two acts: Frank Turner is a singer/songwriter with a very loyal following, who has been making great albums for nearly 15 years. This song is the title track from his 2018 album Be More Kind. It is one of his gentler songs, and I think we should all heed its message, both now and when ‘normal’ returns:

The song was written as a response to world developments in 2016/7, notably the election of Trump and the UK Brexit vote, but it had a much wider relevance than just those two countries. Two years on, with the pandemic affecting so many countries, the message is even more strong and pertinent. I think it is a beautiful song.

My second song for this week is by an English folk/rock band who also, like Frank, have a loyal following but unlike him are probably little known beyond our shores. In their current guise, Merry Hell have been around for about 10 years, though they derive from an earlier band: The Tansads. Both bands have a strong social conscience that underlines their songs, which are also typified by some insanely catchy choruses. They have recently released a new video, made during lockdown, in support of our NHS, called Beyond The Call. As it is new I thought about sharing it in this post but, as our NHS is very much a UK national treasure, I chose instead to go with this one from 2016, as I think its message is of much wider relevance. The song is unashamedly political, but much of the response from governments to the pandemic has been political, hasn’t it? I don’t think I’m stretching it too far by saying that ‘We Need Each Other Now‘ is a message that needs to transcend politics:

I have always believed that human beings are innately kind and considerate, and this (perhaps naïve) faith is reinforced every day by what I see and hear in the news and on social media, particularly in the local context. I am unable to get out much, apart from hospital and clinic visits, so I rely on delivery services for groceries. Should these fail, however, I have a neighbour who has volunteered help if I need it, there are several local voluntary organisations providing support for people in my situation, and my daughters (who both live 20 miles away) have also offered to shop for me. That is what I have in mind when I talk about kindness, caring and support. I hope I’m not being too optimistic in thinking that the spirit that we see in current circumstances will survive longer than the virus.

I thought I’d finish today with a little bonus. I have always intended these posts to be brief, with just two songs each week, but I feel that an extra one is called for this week: I can’t imagine how Michael Ball would ever feature in one of my posts otherwise. Here is the video for that chart topper I mentioned earlier, featuring Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball and the NHS Voices Of Care Choir:

Not a dry eye in the house!

Take care, of yourself and others. Be safe, stay well. See you next Tuesday.

Alone Again, Or…?

I posted this to my Facebook friends a couple of days ago:


I live alone and don’t have any signs of illness, but I could understand her precautions: as she said, the outfit was as much to protect me from possible infection as it was for her. But it was another gentle reminder of how our lives are being disrupted by an unseen enemy. In normal course, I would have been phoned by my GP practice to tell me that there was a blood test request form for me to pick up. I would then take that to the local hospital and join what always feels like half the population of our small town in the queue to be leeched. However, I had a text message on Tuesday from the practice telling me that they would only be doing telephone contacts for now, and the hospital closed all of its day clinics on Wednesday. The district nurse told me that their service had been tasked with taking on the urgent cases, which was a little scary: to be fair, she did say that I didn’t meet the criteria for urgency, but was nevertheless on the list for a visit. In all honesty it was much more convenient for me and saved me the return cab fare. But it got me thinking about how even simple tasks are being complicated, and how much we owe to those in the front line of caring for us. Would you want to be going into the homes of those who are potentially vulnerable to illness at any time, let alone in these Covid-19 days? I sure as hell wouldn’t!

The visit also got me thinking about my own precautions and care. One of the signs of Covid-19, so I understand, is a raised temperature. Time to dust off my thermometer, just in case. But then I realised that I hadn’t seen it since I moved flat nine months ago. Oh. No problem, it would be in the kitchen cupboard with my small stock of first aid stuff, wouldn’t it? Nope. Maybe it had been put away in one of the bundles of stuff that went straight into storage cupboards? Another nope. After all, thermometers are pretty small, so perhaps I’d moved it into one of the drawers in my lounge furniture – all three of them? Triple nope. Time for my usual response to this kind of situation: a muttered ‘oh bugger.’

Perhaps I could think of another way round this? More in hope than expectation I hit the websites of the major pharmacies, like Boots and Lloyds, and – no surprise – every single model was out of stock, even the ridiculously expensive ones which should really have been made of solid gold for the prices charged. Or would have been charged, if they’d had any. I then tried Amazon, to be met with a similar story. Most offered possible delivery dates from mid-April until well into May – I could be dead by then, ffs! Looking in more detail at the various offerings, I also noticed that, apart from their unavailability, they all had one other thing in common: they would all be sent from China. Now, I’m no Donald Trump (whose favourite band is presumably China Crisis), but that did seem a potentially unnecessary risk to take. So I did what any self-respecting (but not yet isolating) Brit would do in these circumstances: I made a cup of tea (not China) and sat down for a think.

As is so often the case the tea worked its magic properties. It suddenly struck me that, as this flat has much less cupboard space in the bathroom than my previous one, I had a small bag of bits in there that I hadn’t opened since the move. Hey presto! One thermometer complete with protective case! Joy unbounded! Well, ok, I’m a Brit, so I was a little bit pleased. A quick clean, to protect myself from my own ancient germs, and I gave it a test drive. All worked as it should, so I stored it carefully in the aforementioned kitchen cupboard in case I need it again. My temperature was right at the low end of the ‘normal’ range but there is no way I’m going to start worrying about that! That would be a tale for another day if there was any change, and I really hope I don’t have to write that one!

Returning to my starting point, I’ve also been spending a good bit of time thinking about those in the front line of caring for and supporting us. I worked for 20 years in the NHS and, whilst I wasn’t a clinician, I met a great many in my time there. One attribute they shared, as do all of those providing my own current care, was their dedication to what they do and to the people they treat. I didn’t laugh or scream at the nurse who came to see me: that would have been completely inappropriate. As I said earlier, I live on my own. I’ve agreed with close family that we won’t see each other until it is safe to do so: I suspect that I might be late for my granddaughter’s second birthday in June, but I’d never forgive myself if I caught something and passed it on to her, my daughters, or other family. I’m alone, not lonely. I will survive quite happily as long as I can get food and medications delivered, as now, and the nurses can work out a way to substitute my weekly bandage changes if, as I suspect they will, the premises I go to are shut down. Look back at what I said in my Facebook post: it’s good to feel looked after. However long this lasts it will be temporary, in the great scheme of life. I give thanks to those whose dedication is supporting me through this and will see me to the other side. We all owe them our gratitude.

I hope you are also taking care of yourself and, like me, feel well cared for and supported. And please heed the advice from the powers that be. They may, like ours, have initially been slow off the mark, but their advice is guided by science, which is critical at this time. Be well. Stay safe.