Miss Migraine: Why a migraine diary doesn’t work for me

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on October 19, 2012 on my blog of the same name.

I don’t keep a migraine diary. If anything could be considered the cardinal sin of migraine management, it would be refusing to keep a diary.

Every book, every blogger, every website about migraine stresses the importance of a detailed migraine diary. They all tell you to write down everything you eat, when you get a migraine, how long it lasts, how strong the pain is, possible triggers, etc. Some even suggest drawing pain diagrams.

A few years ago I did keep a migraine diary—religiously. It took me upwards of an hour a day to log my pain level and location, what I ate, and what the weather was doing. I learned nothing I didn’t already know, namely, that cloudy days are like death for my head.

Star Wars journal

If I did keep a migraine diary, it would be in something cool like this hand-made journal from TheCrankyCrafter on Etsy.com. (Click the image for the listing.)


Over the summer, overwhelmed with guilt at my “laziness,” I asked my migraine specialist if I should keep a diary.

“It would be a waste of time for you,” she said flatly. Because I have zero headache-free time, de-tangling triggers would be “nearly impossible.”

Instead, she suggested the following course of action:

  • Avoid all chocolate (lol, no), caffeine, artificial sweeteners, nitrates, MSG, and alcohol. Those are the biggest triggers. Until my frequency comes down, we won’t be able to figure out any other food triggers. I’m doing so-so on this one. I cut out artificial everything from my diet about a year and a half ago, and buy 98% organic foods. But I am a tea fiend and dark chocolate is pretty much my only indulgence (our house has zero junk food; rarely we buy ice cream or a pie from the farmer’s market). And I do enjoy the very occasional beer, despite what it does to my head. What can I say? I love pumpkin everything, and it’s pumpkin beer time. For awhile I solved the caffeine problem by decaffeinating my tea (mostly), and the chocolate problem by substituting carob (although sweetened carob was waaaaay too sweet for me; there’s no replacing the deliciousness of dark chocolate).
  • Sleep and eat on a strictly regimented schedule. I have been enforcing a fairly strict sleep schedule, but lately my medication has been screwing with it. Either I can’t sleep or I can’t wake up. My current schedule make eating at the same time every day difficult, but I’m working on it.
  • Do aerobic exercise for 30 minutes every day. Apparently the 2 to 4 miles I walk every day don’t count as “exercise.” I have no idea how I’m going to fit an additional exercise into my days. Nor do I have any idea what kind of exercise I’d like to do, especially since hard physical activity is a sure-fire asthma trigger for me. (Note: Have discovered since originally writing this that I love running! Who’d have thunk it?)

While I haven’t yet implemented all or even most of these changes, doing so daunts me much less than keeping a migraine diary. Once these things become habits, I won’t have to think about them anymore, just like I don’t  have to remind myself to read food labels before buying a new product. In the meantime, though, I’m going to need a lot of encouragement.

Do you keep a migraine diary? What do you include? Has it helped?




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