When my old granny finally managed to secure a part time job serving in a small local bakery just before the Second World War, never would she have guessed what pain and devastation that happy piece of luck would inflict on her family.
For she was allowed discounted bread, flour and cakes and being the poor family that we were, my mother and father brought what they could in spades never making the connection between their purchases and their continuously sick child, me.
My mother had been prone to bilious attacks all her life and when I was born, I too seemed to inherit the, almost daily round of vomiting and weekly curses of severe migraines like she had although my brother did not.
In addition, after my granny retired, my mother took over from her! If I had known I could have written a book; How to poison your family very cheaply!
It took over forty years to understand why I was always so ill and that time was spent in dealing with migraines so relentless that hardly a single week went by when I was not being physically sick. I investigated my mother’s bad headaches but had no luck in solving why she had them. Even my granny used to get them although, when she was a young woman, the only medication available to her was to place a rag soaked in vinegar on her forehead! To this day I do not know how she managed.
Up to the age of about twelve, my mother used to place one hand over my stomach and her other over my damp forehead while I heaved almost daily into our toilet. They are powerful childhood memories.
Little did she, my grandmother or myself knew that I was wheat intolerant. Yes, that syndrome we hear so much about nowadays. Of course, in the fifties, who would have thought that bread could harm a child, let alone make it so sick as to impair its happiness?
Interestingly though, up to the age of about twelve I used to get mild headaches and I was always vomiting but when puberty arrived, the reverse happened for the vomiting stopped and the headaches became really very unpleasant.
They would always start in the morning and when I awoke, I almost always knew. Unfortunately, over time and in anticipation of them, I became anxious to the point of expecting them and ever so slowly developed the lifelong bad habit of apprehension and tension which added to the symptoms.
They always occurred on the left side and the pattern was always the same. I passed though layers of confusion, slurred speech, visual effects, sickness, back and neck ache and lastly, was left with the pain. Always searing into my eye socket as if a knife was being continuously jabbed into it.
In those early days, the migraines would last for about eight hours but as the decades passed, they extended their visits until, in my thirties, they began to last 18 to 20 hours at a time. In addition, at that time I was beginning to get them about twice a week.
Within my circle of friends, I always seemed to be upsetting people. I would make an arrangement to go somewhere only to let them down on the day because of a headache. Moreover, not the type of headache I could just take two aspirin and forget about either.
Work was a continual problem and I had many jobs. Interestingly, I began to notice that I would always have a migraine on the second day and so could never go into work. It got to the stage where I told the employer that this was going to happen and I was never wrong. Stress you see.
I even planed events around my migraines once I knew their frequency but I was still known for letting people down and I even overheard someone once say “She had been Jeaned again!”
I noticed though that I never suffered two migraines in a row which I found interesting and that they always occurred after taking alcohol so I stopped that pretty soon! My family doctor went through his routines of course but no help was forthcoming and I became used to swallowing pain tablets, never ever imagining that the culprit was mainly the food I was eating.
Slowing down after forty and becoming a little sluggish after a divorce, I found myself slightly increasing in weight (okay, two stone!) and being vain enough to care but still young enough to dare, I joined my local gym.
So, three times a week I pounded away my fat on the treadmill because I had always enjoyed walking and I was advised to do the excise I liked best.
Because I was so out of condition, I was also advised to start slowly but I quickly progressed to a higher speed, greater elevation and spent a longer time on there until, after six months, I could walk for an hour up a pretty steep hill.
In fact, a friend who is good with numbers, once worked it out that each time I used the machine, I walked up the equivalent of Ben Nevis! Whether or not his calculations were true I do not know but it certainly felt like it for I sweated buckets and the weight dropped away.
However, it was only when I started to cut out certain foods that I began to notice my migraines diminishing both in frequency and strength. It was purely accidental actually for I only stopped eating them because I understood bread and cakes were high in calories and saturated fat.
A difficult thing to do by the way for it is known that we often desire that which makes us ill. How about your own food passions? What is it you absolutely adore? That you could not give up? It is not fully recognized that what we love will make us ill but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and a little scientific as well.
Eventually though, the penny dropped as I experimented. I remember once, cooking an enormous Cornish pasty and I used over two pounds of strong flour. The next day, for me, did not exist because I spent it in bed with the help of Diazepam which helped me sleep.
I knew of course from old research that certain things bought on migraines and I already avoided those; alcohol, as mentioned, chocolate, orange juice, cheese and sometimes eggs.
However, what puzzled me was the list was not consistent. Sometimes I could eat an egg or have cheese on toast and the next day I would be fine. Other days, I would abstain from eating any of those things and come down badly. What was going on?
Another ten years passed and more research was committed to my diary. Smoking was given up, a real hardship for two weeks for I had been smoking 40 a day since I had been a teenager but it had to be done and I am better for it. I did it one night and never looked back.
Now I had to add to the mix the question of stress. In short; If I was already stressed and I ate cheese then the chances of getting a migraine would be fairly high. If the stress was high enough I might get a migraine anyway even without the troublesome foods. Another day though, if I were chilled out, eating a little cheese would have no effect.
All this made sense but as I experimented even further, I discovered another part of the puzzle which was, the amount I ate and that was to do with stress again. I could see that each time I ate, my body became stressed because it had work to do, digesting it etc so it stood to reason that the more I ate the more stressed it could become. Nowadays, when I do eat less, my headaches occur with far less intensity.
Have I cracked the problem? Perhaps, if I were prepared to alter my entire lifestyle which it is simply not needed considering the ever weakening effects the migraines have on me nowadays. But if I were twenty again, I would seriously consider a dramatic life change. All those other health benefits are a plus.
Now I walk every day for at least an hour, 365 days a year. I drink water by the pint, several each day. I exercise with a yoga video every morning stretching my muscles, releasing all those toxins and poisons, I learnt to meditate regularly and found inner peace free from anger, repression, guilt and fear.
I have had an estimated five and a half thousand migraines during my lifetime and probably single-handedly supported the British Aspirin industry. I used to dream of my liver exploding from the pressure of digesting them! I would be lying if I told you I am not a sufferer anymore but they hardly bother me when I do get one.
I have rules for the day that go like this; Rest, for nothing matters. Drink water only to give the body some time-out and to wash away the toxins and sleep as much as you can. Walk slowly, talk slowly and love yourself. Tomorrow is another day.