In other words, a very busy trip, and one many migraineurs would dread.
I had been looking forward to this trip for months, because the conference promised to be a good one and because I would get to see many family and friends I don't spend much time with. (The price of picking up and moving clear across the country.) But, as the trip loomed closer, I could see the potential triggers stacking, and no easy way to avoid them: the flights, including a red-eye to get to Boston; irregular sleeping and eating habits; fluorescent lighting; long, full days with much more activity than I'm used to; different weather; brighter sunlight than we have in the Pacific Northwest; more flying; long driving trips. The list went on and on. Add to that the stress over trying to keep my strict gluten-free/dairy-free diet and I just wanted to cancel the trip.
But, because of personal and professional obligations, I packed up my bags, kissed DBF goodbye (with promises to see him in Virginia), and off I went. And I survived the trip, though I'm not sure about the cost to my body.
The conference was wonderful, and I made some very valuable professional contacts while I was there. Not to mention, I learned a lot. The days were long, though, very long, and by the end of it I was exhausted. The first two days I went on two walking tours, which I probably would have bagged if I hadn't paid for them upfront. (No refunds.) These were followed by many seminars in a very cold convention center under fluorescent lighting. A recipe for disaster. I skipped about half of the sessions I intended to go to, but I also managed to skip the guilt. Even when I had to cancel a dinner with the principals of my firm because I felt so sick.
Going to the wedding I thought would do me in, but taking it very easy on myself all week meant I still had some energy to coast through the weekend. It was a huge relief to get home nonetheless, away from the expectations of friends and family I don't get to see as often as I would like. My family "gets it" better than I could hope for, since both my mom and sister are migraineurs. DBF's parents try to be understanding, and I never feel pressured by them. But it becomes hard to say no to friends I haven't seen in years, especially when they don't understand the "headaches" I mysteriously suffer from.
A few essential survival skills I learned on this trip:
- Plan about half as much activity as I think I can do. Reasonably, that's all I will have energy to do. The rest of the time I will need to rest and recuperate, to make sure I have energy to make it through the whole trip.
- Bring plenty of migraine-friendly snacks for both the plane/car travel, and just to have in the hotel room. Always carry some in my purse to help avoid the unpredictable meal times that seem to be a requirement of traveling.
- Comfort measures! I packed my robe and slippers, as well as a pillow and stuffed animal from home. Having these in my hotel room helped me to feel like I was still at home.
- Ask for what you need. My hotel had recently "gone green" and switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which are a migraine trigger for me. My sister very politely talked to the front desk for me and explained the problem, and within a half hour they replaced all the bulbs in my room with less-problematic incandescents. There's no need to quietly suffer. Plus, explaining this problem has the double benefit of educating the hotel staff, so other migraineurs who may stay in that hotel will run into less confusion from the hotel staff.
- Balance aggravation vs cost. I bought some souvenirs at the conference and was worried about trying to get them home. My checked luggage was already overweight, and I didn't want to make my carry-on too heavy to deal with. I decided it was worth the cost to ship my souvenirs home to myself, and pay a little extra for overweight luggage so my carry-on was manageable. While I may have had to pay more money to do this, I saved myself a lot of frustration and energy I would have wasted on luggage.
- Most importantly, leave the guilt at home. I had to cancel a lot of plans at the last minute because of how I was feeling, or in the interest of not feeling worse later. I reminded myself that migraine is a real disease that requires management, and feeling guilty because I can't do as much as others will serve no purpose other than making me feel worse. So I dumped the guilt and focused on making myself feel better so I could enjoy my trip.
I'd love for there to be a day when I can travel again like I used to, a higher energy kind of travel that doesn't require so much rest and recuperation. But for now, I'll take this: a shred of normalcy in my storm of chronic migraine.