Disclaimer: This is not a 'woe is me' update, nor is it intended to be preachy. I'm an oversharing Millennial with an inflated hubris of my purpose, so I naively and honestly believe that writing this may help sick people.
In late September, I started getting daily migraines - of the life altering variety.
Over the past 10-12 years, I had been experiencing migraines every few months, but nothing like this.
I developed a morning routine:
- Wake up
- Get ready in the bathroom without the lights on (because of the bright sink lights - not because grabbing and jiggling my gut in the mirror had gotten old...it hasn't).
- Put coffee in my system as fast as possible, while avoiding looking toward the rising sun.
- Avoid strong smells.
- Get behind my desk, but make sure that the monitor was turned as low as possible, while still being able to read, type and edit web blocks.
- Watch as my left eye would start to pixelate and blur out of focus.
- Let the nausea set in, all while working and online and on the phone, at around 9:30AM.
I would wait to take any painkillers until the first wave of nausea would pass. No sense wasting them.
The rest of the day would progress like this:
- Try to keep food down while working with one eye closed.
- Maintain a cheery (ok, cheery for me) disposition on the phone with colleagues.
- Get my adrenaline up for any projects, social outings or events that I needed to be lucid for. I learned the trick when I was 17 and desperately sleep deprived while on tour during my internship. A band member told me that he would induce fits of hyperventilation to help him see straight when he was sick from lack of sleep and in no mood to see anyone, much less entertain. It works, but you feel weak and sick when the adrenaline wears off.
- Try to go to bed and wait for the sick feeling to go away.
Being that I'm a stubborn person, and frugal to a fault, I didn't go to the doctor until a month of this had gone by. Yeah. Stupid.
I first went to the eye doctor in late October, thinking that maybe my astigmatism was to blame. If you've ever seen me wearing glasses, it's because of that issue.
The Stewie-Griffin's-head-shape of my eyes was not blame.
It took another few weeks to get in with my regular doctor, but when I did, we just took blood pressure and drew blood to send off for testing. The blood work wasn't ready until December 2nd, but he did tell me one thing out of the gate:
I had the blood pressure of a "50yr old man working on Wall Street."
Doc - "Do you stay active?"
Me - "As best I can. I'm outdoors a lot, and in the mountains or on the river pretty frequently."
Doc - "Ok. Has that ever caused migraines?"
Me - "Yeah, actually it does." *my hunting buddies can attest to this
Doc - "Do you eat well?"
Me - "We cook very healthily. Very few processed foods and a lot of wild game and veggies."
Doc - "Do you drink a lot?"
Me - "Nope - I like to know that I'm thinking clearly."
Doc - "Do you eat plenty of garlic?"
Me - "What? No, I can't eat garlic."
Doc - "What?"
Me - "Makes me feel sick and I bloat a ton when I eat it."
*Furious note taking
Doc - "Do you sleep a lot?"
Me - "No...especially with how I've been feeling."
Doc - "Try to get more sleep and see if that helps, at least until we get the blood results."
A few weeks later, on December 2nd, I was headed to the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers headquarters in Missoula to meet with some of their staff and two of the other Montana state chapter board members. I also needed to pick up my SD mulee skull from YAP Taxidermy. We were meeting at Draught Works and I was going to pick up a growler of Muddy Creek in Butte on the way home. It was going to be a good Friday afternoon. Then the doctor called.
"We found it - could you pull over if you have good cell service?"
A fly on the window of the car would have seen my face go from expectant to scared to encouraged in the course of about two minutes.
Here's the gist: My body was having a bad time with all things sugar. Not diabetic type issues though. This was between my gut and my liver.
"If you aren't abusing alcohol or pain meds, it could be that your system is having a hard time with sugar. You don't have any diabetic markers, but I've seen this before. You're probably consuming more sugar than you think. I want you to cut down to 25 grams a day, outside of whole food like fruit. That's about 5-6 teaspoons. It doesn't sound like a lot, but that's basically a candy bar and it's in everything, so look for it. You will probably go through withdrawals, but you'll get over it. And just to cover all our bases... no alcohol, and if you get a migraine, no more than the minimal daily dosage of off-the-shelf pain killers. Your liver turns alcohol into sugar anyway, so, just avoid that stuff. We'll do this for 3 months and then we'll test your blood again."
"Ok," I thought (as I put down the ibuprofen I was about to take for a minor migraine that had begun to set in), "that would be pretty easy."
I told Elyse and she decided to (save a beer here and there) go on this diet with me.
The alcohol and painkillers were easy. The only tricky part with cutting alcohol completely out has been explaining why I can't have a beer with someone. When I'd "cut" alcohol in the past, it was always by accident and would end unceremoniously some weeks later. The vast majority of my friends and work associates have a drink when they meet up. Explaining why I am not is annoyingly time consuming. On a humorous note, the last alcohol I had was a Pig's Ass Porter from Harvest Moon Brewery in Belt, MT. Not having a pint with assorted cheeses while watching Chef's Table with Elyse has been missed, but we're not dying. I do find myself drinking more kombucha though, because I like the bubbles. Overall, cutting alcohol has been very easy...if only inconvenient.
Cutting sugar...so much less so.
December 4th, two days after getting the mandate, was the first day that I did not have a migraine.
It was also the first day that I once again felt the desire to be a man of extreme violence. I wanted to strangle someone and drink a Coke at the same time.
Now, it's no secret that I hate soda. I think it's disgusting syrup and only drink it if it's a social thing or if I need a late-night road trip energy push to the finish line. But this was 9AM, and I WANTED IT BAD.
More than soda was my hope to get the chance to beat someone up. I can't quite explain it, other than I desperately wanted someone to break into our home so that I could open up a can of hurt on their pour souls. I lit some punk from Billings up on Facebook with a psychologically eviscerating attack on his entire family and way of life, followed by a 12 mile evening bike ride in 10 degree weather. During that ride, I attempted to play chicken with some "idiot high school kid" driving a jacked up diesel too close to the side of the road. I remember thinking, "If he hits me, that will be a lesson for all irresponsible diesel pickup drivers who try to make bikers fear for their lives!"
He was not the idiot on the road that evening.
I was not thinking clearly, and by the time the adrenaline from the ride wore off, I had a brief moment of clarity.
"HOLY CRAP...I'm detoxing."
"Elyse, have I been ornery?"
*Momentary silence from my patient and long-suffering wife...
"Yeah...and pretty rough on the kids."
I felt sick about it, but the desire did not go away the next day... or the next. I wanted malice for all humanity. I also quit sleeping, practically all together. My mind was starving. I'd find myself, when I did sleep, dreaming about honey or maple glazed everything. I wanted candy. I wanted pancakes with maple syrup and Nutella and jelly and chocolate chips on top. I wanted cookies. I wanted cake (I don't even have cake for my birthday).
I CRAVED SUGAR TO THE POINT OF NOT KNOWING IF MY THOUGHTS WERE MY OWN.
Using my learned trade (online mumbo jumbo) and sleepless nights to research just what was going on with me, I found dozens...and then, hundreds, of blog posts like this one.
I was not at the "got better" or "feeling calm again" state...until yesterday.
Somewhere around 9PM last night, I realized that I wasn't mad or craving sugar anymore.
Elyse and I went to the theater to see Rogue One (go see that movie and have yourself a good cry at the father/daughter thing in it). When I got up to the counter to get some popcorn and a drink, I looked at the candy and thought, "Gross."
I didn't realize that I had done that until I saw that stupid glass of blue milk on the family table at the beginning of the movie. Again, I thought, "Gross." while remembering the sweet blue milk drink I'd made for our Star Wars party before last year's movie release.
I went to bed and fell asleep before Elyse. I woke up this morning, and felt really rested and "good." I handled some pretty nasty people online and on the phone without taking their heads off or needing to double check and change what I wrote. I just met with a BHA member at The Daily coffee shop after work and didn't want anything from the food rack...because it all looked disgustingly sweet.
Finding food without added sugar is very challenging. I mean, VERY CHALLENGING. Limiting yourself to 25 grams/day outside of whole foods (what your liver can actually process before turning it into liver fat) is not terribly difficult though, if you like to cook.
Ironically, while driving back from SD with my brother a few days before getting the call from the doctor, I listened to a special report on new research about people getting sick in a non-diabetic way because of sugar. Reports of liver fat deposits and what it does to your blood pressure and how it affects your digestive abilities. Today, The Atlantic had an article on the subject of sugar's pervasiveness in diets and what it's doing to us.
Two years ago, I started to get sick when I'd have onion or garlic.
A month ago, I was horribly sick and could hardly function because of blinding migraines.
18 days ago, I cut back to 25 grams of sugar/day.
From 16 days to yesterday, the withdrawals had me wanting to hurt people.
Today, I feel good, and can have a little bit of onion and garlic again.
I don't want to go back.