Creating a life beyond migraines – Introduction

Having experienced debilitating migraines for the last 19 years, the journey from surviving with them to thriving inspite of them has been long, arduous, insightful and ultimately, joyful. I have accessed science, art and spirituality to first understand my migraines, then find acceptance for them, and finally, move towards transcending them. I am presenting a series on this topic sharing my discoveries, should they resonate with your needs, values and perspective.

Migraines are still largely a mystery, both to the medical profession and certainly to the millions of migraineurs, whose lives are slowly and silently eaten away from suffering this debilitating disease. A truly comprehensive medical book on migraines titled “The Migraine Brain” by neurologist Carolyn Bernstein only appeared as recently as 2008!

I first felt strange twinges in my brain when I was about 16, climbing up the stairs in my high school in India towards the 5th floor science labs. With every step I climbed it felt as if something liquid, usually lurking behind one eye, bobbed around and thumped hard in my head. But it seemed to stablize once I arrived at the labs. As a young girl, I was convinced I had a brain tumor, and didn’t say anything lest I caused my family more anxiety than it already chronically experienced. When I was about 20, an emotionally traumatizing incident was followed by a blinding, brain-wracking pain episode like I had never experienced before. For 3 days, I could not lift my head from my pillow, the jelly in my head growing full-size and bursting through the veins in my temples, and the nausea so extreme that the slightest movement of my eyes caused retching. My cousin’s husband, a cardiologist, was summoned home in an urgent bid to help me recover. He asked me just a few questions and pronounced his diagnosis with confidence: She has migraines! With this, my mysterious affliction received a respectable name.

In my early twenties I began getting migraines frequently but carried on zealously with my erratic schedule in architecture school. By my late twenties, living and working in America, I began getting migraines 2-3 times a week, which for the most part meant perennial migraine. Sometimes I had continuous 14- or 17-day spells with no respite in between. I tried everything my doctors suggested (well almost) – thyroid supplementation, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, triptans. I also tried supplements (magnesium/B-vitamins and feverfew), accupuncture, yoga, thai massage, and potent chinese herbs (with dead scorpions in the mix!). All these remedies provided temporary relief, but nothing made a lasting, fundamental shift. I found myself angry, distraught, depressed, and sometimes even hopeless about life.

It was in my thirties, in a “rebirth” following the collapse of a 9-year marriage, that I finally slowed down my life enough to pay attention, become present, truly occupy my body, feel and listen. I began taking full personal responsibility. I had observed the rapidly increasing inefficacy of medications in my system; I now chose to wean myself off all drugs and undertake only natural therapies for my healing. I experienced many severe migraine spells before I began to gradually see benefits.

If I were to sum up all that I am doing in a single, overarching, “how-to” guideline, it would be this:

Remove all toxicity from your life and allow yourself to heal from within.

This must happen in 3 dimensions:

In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on guidelines under each dimension – physical, mental/emotional and spiritual.

Following the overarching guideline -remove all toxicity from your life and allow yourself to heal from within- even in any one dimension provides immense benefits. Gradually learning to practice it concurrently in all 3 dimensions has magnified the impact significantly, and has propelled me to a life beyond migraines. I still get them, but with less severity, frequency and most importantly, with a diminishing significance and meaning in my life.

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Indrani

    Dear Tana
    Thanks for your post. I too suffer from migraines and it remained undiagnosed for a long time. About a year back, I came across a doctor whose medicines have helped me cope with the attacks much better. He also pointed out few triggers like long gaps between food intake, extreme weather conditions, anxiety and stress.

  2. Khushi

    Tana, thank you for sharing your knowledge on the site. I am looking forward to more. I know many friends who go through this – they will welcome your posts.

  3. Anonymous

    Very well written. I am eager to know the other parts as I think many diseases are pshychosomatic and maybe some of the cleansing will apply. Do you celebrate a ‘re birthday’ – Its just a reminder of all the changes you brought about, not so relevant today bt more in 15 yrs when you are more distant from them.

  4. sarmila

    thanks for sharing the problems and its overcome,, looking forward to hear more from you,, if you need any medical concerns or some diets, you can ask me anytime,,

  5. Tana

    Thanks all for the interest! Indrani, I’m glad you have been diagnosed – it really helps in the early stages of understanding what is happening… eventually you will move beyond the name/label.
    Anonymous, I LOVE your idea about celebrating a re-birthday, and come to think of it, I guess I am doing it by committing to a Vipassana (meditation) retreat every year. In fact I am leaving for one in a couple of hours – so thank you for helping me think about it in those terms!
    Sarmila – thank you so much for your offer. I have already benefited from your posts on migraine (including the one on Shadow Disease – quite incredible!)

  6. Tana

    About psychosomatic aspects of disease – I just wanted to add that I am quite convinced that all disease has a psychosomatic aspect. Our DNA is like a bed of seeds, but the seeds germinate as a response to the mind-matter confluence. But “psychosomatic” is not to be confused with “fake” – the disease of the mind is very real, very impactful, and consequently powerful in healing – if we choose to heal at that level.

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