They say it’s the brain, but it’s also the body

It's ALL connected
It’s ALL connected

TBI can seriously mess you up in the head. That’s a given.

But it can also seriously mess with your physiology.

In fact, out of all the problems I’ve had over the years, the physical issues I’ve had have far outweighed the cognitive ones – if anything, they contributed to my cognitive and behavioral issues.

  • Fatigue – bone-crushing, spirit-sapping exhaustion;
  • Problems keeping my balance, which messed with my moods.
  • Heart rate increase – or decrease, as well as blood pressure changes.
  • Light and noise sensitivity.
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Sensitivity to touch, which really messed with my head, as well. Imagine never being able to have human contact… it’s not much fun.
  • Constant adrenaline rush that wired me out, something fierce.

When your brain gets injured, it can affect your whole body. Because as we know, the brain is mission control for the rest of the works below the neck.

 

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I lowered my heart rate from 90 to 73 in a minute

Last weekend, when I was recovering from a migraine, I checked my blood pressure and pulse:

100/59 with a heart rate of 90
Before… 100/59 with a heart rate of 90

My heart rate was up, for some reason (this was just after noontime), and my pulse seemed a little off. 100/59 might seem awesome, but it seemed a little low to me.

So, I did my breathing and checked again:

95/66 with a heart rate of 73
After – 95/66 with a heart rate of 73

I was able to bring my heart rate down to 73, which felt better, and I raised my “bottom number” on my BP to 66, which actually felt better.  I don’t want my blood pressure to get too low, and I can bring it up with my breathing.

So, I did.

I made the mistake of not checking my bp and pulse while the migraine was setting in. I’ll need to remember that later, so hopefully I can head it off at the pass… before the stabbing pain sets in.  Who knows? Maybe I can head off the other symptoms at the pass: light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance, dizziness, etc.

In any case, this is probably a good thing to do on a daily basis, no matter how I’m feeling. It might save me a lot of hassle – and it’s definitely easier and cheaper than dealing with medication.

Migraines have been under control

trepanning - migraine relief?
Fortunately, I have a better solution than this!

Summary: Controlled breathing seems to be helping me control my headaches, especially my migraines. After years and years of having constant headaches, I believe I’ve found a way to control them. This is good news, because constant headaches are no fun, and they kept me from really living my life.

I’m happy to report: My migraines have been under control – The headache part, anyway. Last week, I had a weird couple of days, where I was definitely altered… very strange feelings, colors brighter and higher contrast, everything feeling like it was moving in slow motion… I didn’t take any meds, because I didn’t have a headache, and I wasn’t actually sure if it was a migraine, or if it was just one of those things that comes up.

I will occasionally have bouts of dizziness (well, not occasionally… more often than that). And I will have my bouts of clumsiness and feeling spacey. Especially when I’m under pressure, feeling emotional, or I haven’t slept, it can be a problem, and with the last days of my current job winding down, all three of those boxes get checked off.

So, I just let it ride. And Saturday evening (after my nap, ironically), the headache set in.

But to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Certainly not as bad as when I was cutting back on my coffee and went through that miserable withdrawal that lasted for days. And I actually have been feeling pretty good, without the constant headache. I think I must be doing something right.

The thing that seems to have moved the needle, is that I’m actively working with controlling my heart rate and blood pressure with controlled breathing. I can bring my heart rate down from 93 to 73 in a minute, using my technique. And I practice this on a regular basis, sometimes because I need to, sometimes out of curiosity.

It seems to be helping my migraines.

Now, the thing to be careful of, is thinking that one thing leads to another, when there could be other issues happening, too. I have also drastically cut back on caffeine, which supposedly helps headaches. That’s ironic, because I always heard that caffeine will help a headache, and to be honest, the times when I have been really struggling with the pain, having some dark chocolate or a bit of strong coffee really seems to help. If nothing else, they make me feel human again. I’ve also been exercising more regularly — at the very least, riding the exercise bike for 15-20 minutes each morning, and usually lifting light weights to boot. That could certainly be helping.

The thing is, I couldn’t exercise regularly for a number of years, because the headaches were keeping me from it. Nowadays, I still do get little headaches when I exercise, now and then, but when I do my controlled breathing and relaxation, they go away. Pretty amazing, really.

This is how it goes for me, these days:

Exercise: I get on the exercise bike and ride. I set the resistance to about medium, because I don’t want to overdo it. I’ll bump up the resistance and push myself, now and then, but when I do, I will sometimes get a little headache… which in my experience can turn into a big one — and big problems for the day. I back off on the resistance and check my pulse on the handlebars (there’s a pulse monitor there). If it is really high, I will control my breathing and bring it down. And the headache goes away.

Emotional Upset: My spouse and I have always had a “fiery” relationship. Our discussions sound like all-out fights to people who don’t know us. Our actual disagreements literally make other people run away. It wasn’t a problem for me, when I was 15 years younger (we’ve been together nearly 25 years), but in the past years, I’ve been getting more upset by these kinds of exchanges, and I’ve noticed a connection between the upset I feel and screaming headaches that come on — especially migraines. Sometimes I get so upset, I get an 8-out-of-10 headache (complete with light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, sensory issues, balance problems, dizziness, and nausea) that lasts for days. So, I need to find a way to deal with it. Now, when I get upset and I feel something coming on, I immediately “disengage” and focus on controlling my breathing. Sometimes I will go to a dark room and block out all sensory input. I can usually feel my blood pressure and heart rate going way up… but after a little while (maybe 15-20 minutes) of slowing everything down, I can “rejoin the living” and have a logical conclusion to what was probably a silly argument, to begin with. And no headache to speak of.

It’s pretty cool.

And it’s a relief.

Because now I feel like I can live my life without being in constant fear of headaches and migraine symptoms, etc.

Of course, there’s the other host of symptoms that come with migraine. Like feeling like my left side is carved out of a block of wood. But that’s also diagnostic. It tells me I need to take better care of myself, rest, get something decent to eat, and take the pressure off.

Bottom line is, I figured out a way to manage my migraines, and I’m pretty happy about it.

Managing migraines by managing blood pressure and heart rate

I guess I have abnormally active brain cells 😉

So, if migraines are vascular — as I’m told they are — and (in my case, anyway) they develop when my heart rate is elevated… then might it be possible to manage them and calm them down, by managing my heart rate and/or blood pressure.

Interestingly, my blood pressure doesn’t seem to bring them on when I am exercising. It’s when my heart rate gets up there. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened in a while. My headaches have been pretty chilled out, actually.

Perhaps due to cutting back on coffee, as well as stretching more.

Anyway, I’m really practicing lowering my heart rate, as well as my blood pressure, on a regular basis. And it seems to be helping.

Just this morning, there was an early knock on the back door — really loud. It startled me, because we rarely get any guests who come to our back door. And the knocking was really loud. I wasn’t yet dressed, so I threw on some clothes and ran downstairs. My heart was pounding — it was still early, and I wasn’t yet warmed up for the day.

Turns out, a workman had the wrong house. He was nice enough, but my system was still on hyper-alert. And all of a sudden I got a splitting headache.

After I pointed him in the right direction, I went back upstairs and did my controlled breathing. That throbbing behind my eyes was starting to set in, which worried me. So, I breathed slow and steady. My system was full of adrenaline — ready to fight — and I needed to back it down. I checked my heart rate and BP, and my BP was fine — 110/76 or thereabouts. My heart rate was 109. And I know it was going faster than that, when I was running downstairs. I did some more breathing, and my BP stayed about the same, while my pulse went down to about 97. Progress. I put away the blood pressure cuff, and just chilled out, breathing slowly and steadily. Before long, the headache subsided from an 8.5 to a 5… and it’s been slowly decreasing since then. I imagine breath filling my head, expanding gently and then washing the pain away… and it seems to help.

So, for now, I’m hopeful that I can eventually clear the headache and just have a good day.

I’m supposed to get the offer letter for my new job today, and it’s pretty exciting. Then they will need to get me into the system and finally approved (probably with a background check), and I can give my notice by the end of the week.

Then the final countdown starts… and the transition to my new chapter in life begins.

Onward

Blood pressure and heart rate – what’s the connection?

I checked my blood pressure along with my heart rate while I was exercising today. You can see a summary of my findings here: http://www.slowmyheartrate.com/an-interesting-connection-between-my-pulse-and-blood-pressure/

Basically, my BP went pretty low, while my heart rate is up. That has interesting implications for the whole headache thing, because if migraines are triggered by high BP or vascular issues, then if my BP actually goes down while exercising… WTF? Why the headaches?

It may be moot, because I can actually control my heart rate with controlled breathing, but it’s still a conundrum.

In related news, I tried Ruckpack the other day, and on an off chance, I checked my blood pressure within an hour after I drank it, and my BP was108/46 with a pulse of 64. That is very low for me — especially the 46. So, I did some controlled breathing and got myself back to 113/56  with a pulse of 59. I wonder if Ruckpack has that effect on me — I’ll need to do another test.

Anyway, I’m running late for work, and I have a lot going on in my head. Lots to think about. Lots to do. I had a restful weekend, overall, and I’m looking forward to this week, with only two standing appointments I need to keep.  Sweet.

I’ll need to do some more experimentation on Ruckpack.  Buy some more and see where it takes me. It could be I can’t tolerate it, and if so, it might be good to let those folks know about the effect it has on me. Because it might have the same on others.

Then again, I am an odd creature at times, so I’m not one to judge the rest of the world by.

Still, it’s worth looking into.