I Manage To Fight Mine Off

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Posted by Colin Lay ( on August 31, 2000 at 03:24:17:

Interesting fact - I am able to get rid of my cluster headaches!!

I am a classic cluster headache sufferer, stabbing pain behind the eyes, so intense it can make me cry out, unresponsive to pain killers, unresponsive to any kind of relaxation or stress relief; coming without warning any time of the day or night, at work, at play, while asleep; seemingly with no cause, rhyme or reason; unbearable but unavoidable.

These attacks started about 25 years ago at age 23. They would come upon me once a year or so and for roughly 2 weeks I would experience these hellish headaches which rendered me virtually unable to cope with anything other than the 2 hours or so of inescapable suffering that they entailed. They would hit me every day, often 3 or 4 times a day, and then all be gone until the next “cluster” roughly a year later. After a few years of this I realised these were no ordinary headaches and consulted a doctor. He diagnosed “Cluster Headaches”, showed me some articles written about them, sent me for a brain scan just in case, and told me there was nothing anyone could do about them, it was a well documented fact.

A few more years went by until I made an amazing discovery.

I like to consider myself “in touch with my body”, I practice yoga, and when ill or injured try and work out what I can do to help fight off the problem or repair the damage. I cannot remember now how I figured out how to fight off the headaches, maybe in desperation I decided to try the opposite of lying down and relaxing (which helped not at all) or maybe I had to do some heavy labour while suffering a cluster headache attack and noticed something happening, I don’t know. Anyway I somehow came to realise that physical exertion seemed to dispel the dreaded headache!

At first I was suspicious of my success, it was very hard to force myself to jump around while suffering, although it did not seem to make things any worse, but I pursued my theory that aerobic exercise could rid me of these terrors. And indeed it did! I can state as a fact that I have been able to get rid of every single cluster headache that has afflicted me for over 15 years now, sometimes in a few minutes and never in more than 15 minutes.

My solution is to undertake some vigorous and continuous physical exercise with the emphasis on vigorous, the aim being to get my heart rate up and my lungs taking in great big gulps of air. I then keep this up until the headache lifts, which it does, sometimes gradually but more often quite suddenly.

For a long time this required a great effort of will, especially to force myself to get up in the middle of the night to start “working out”, but as the connection became firmly established, the onset of a headache started to result in an automatic “urge” to get active. It is still not easy, a lot of times it takes a full 10 or 15 minutes of intense exercise. I am not an athletic person and I have to push myself way beyond the point at which I would like to stop and rest, and all with the deadly headache thrusting daggers behind my eyes. I end up gasping for breath and slumped over like an Olympic runner who has just finished a race. But without a headache!

When I first started doing this I was skeptical, maybe these were lucky coincidences, maybe the attacks were getting shorter anyway, but if I got lazy and just tried to wait it out, the agony just continued until I gave in, did my workout and banished the damn thing. Even now after years of doing this it often seems like it is not going to work, I am killing myself for nothing, the headache is not one iota better, if anything it is getting worse, but the prospect of lying down and suffering is even more unbearable, I put my hand over my heart, yes it is pumping vigorously, I have to keep it doing that even longer, I force myself to it, and indeed, sooner or later the headache lifts like a cloud being blown away and the sun coming back out.

I have no idea why this works, maybe the brain just needs a good dose of oxygen rich blood (in that case, breathing oxygen rich air might also be a cure, I wonder if anyone has tried that?), or maybe the headache is caused by some kind of slight blockage which the pumping blood is able to dislodge, or perhaps the accelerated metabolism simply speeds up the natural course of the headache so it is over in a much shorter time. I have no idea.

I’ll tell you one thing though, my body is in much better shape after two weeks of battling cluster headaches every day in this manner. Maybe the attacks are simply God’s way of telling me I need to get more exercise!

Colin Lay - Aug 31 2000

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