Part 1: Insights from case studies
The late Oliver Sacks, a medical doctor, naturalist, and science historian, authored many best-selling books regarding the brain’s strangest behaviours. He investigated unusual neurological disorders and communicated them as case studies and personal reflections, offering insights and a deep appreciation for the complexity of mind and perception; what most take for granted until something goes wrong. His first book, Migraine, was inspired by his time as a resident neurologist under the mentorship (and misguided and rigid biases) of the world’s leading migraine expert of that time.
In due course Sacks came to challenge this expert’s thinking, a process that would come to mark his often controversial and unconventional way of investigating poorly understood abnormalities of the mind. Indeed, he came to be know by professionals and the common person alike, influencing the way we appreciate the incredible adaptability and resilience of the human brain.
I have Migraine in my library at the clinic; this gem of a book is a must read for my migraine-afflicted clients to borrow! One thing I learned from reading it was how different they can be for each person – well beyond the classic visual aura followed by severe headache, they can include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell and many other phenomena involving any and all parts of the body, being unique to each migraineur. Sacks was the first to establish that sometimes migraines do not even involve head pain! More interesting to me though, and what I too as a therapist even realized before reading his book, was the many revealing insights and solutions migraine sufferers discover along their often desperate and lonely paths seeking relief to cope and feel better.
As I have blogged before in the last straw illusion, the complexity of any of a number of chronic problems share the fact that they are often influenced by many confounding factors, many of them subltle and not obviously connected directly to the main symptoms, made all the more illusive since cause and effect of each influence can be delayed in time, and therefore, again, seemingly not connected. To make it even more confusing, these multiple and subtle influences can interact with one another in various ways to create different effects.
Hence, clients fail in finding simple solutions that work for the long term. This is the point at which I meet my clients often, when they are ready to make a Turning Point (so much so, it has been enough to name my business by it!). At this dynamic time the client has exhausted the most obvious, logical and easiest medical options; usually drugs; first reactive types taken just when it is happening, then when this fails, on to the preventative types taken daily. Next, the inconvenient imperative of going forward is necessarily about better understanding the complexity — investigating one’s unique nature in relation to the multiple influences of lifestyle, work, stress, rest, diet, etc. All the medications and treatments and complex medical investigations and interpretations are still critically important, but they now represent spokes in the larger wheel of one’s health. From this point forward, the client makes more steady progress toward understanding and integrating treatments with the other things they can influence that affect migraines more indirectly, that create lasting changes toward overall health.
Simply stated, although at first chronic migraines can become an all encompassing metaphor for one’s identity, ultimately, they serve the way to realizing vitality and health in a broader and deeper perspective. This realization and acceptance help create a roadmap toward subtler and solutions integrated into everyday decisions. The client now has a better understanding of where he or she is starting from on the road to healing; orienting and navigating intelligently toward “home base” makes more sense now. At the Acupuncture Turning Point, we work with you in more global ways than just with acupuncture, acknowledging we are just one spoke, with you at the hub of many people and other medical professionals to help you on your way.
Part 2 of this blog “The Headache of treating migraines” is coming soon, and will focus on recent clinical trials researching various treatments for migraines including drugs, acupuncture, and mindfulness. These experiments offer interesting and practical insight not only regarding the treatment of migraines, but also the nature and role of placebo (and what we think it is or is not).