Your Money Or Your Migraines

We all want to live longer and lead healthier lives, but there’s considerable disagreement about how to actually achieve this feat.  If you follow popular trends, there’s always some kind of new diet fad going around.  Your guess is as good as mine whether any of it will actually help you live longer.

To some extent, having more money can actually solve the longevity problem.  Data has long been available in the U.S. that showed affluent cities tend to have residents with longer life expectancies than those in poor cities.  Presumably, having access to greater wealth provides for better healthcare and thus a longer life span.

Now, the CDC recently published new data down to the neighborhood level as part of the USALEEP study, and suddenly the longevity story has gotten a whole lot more varied.  Now we can see that even in affluent cities, life expectancy can vary 5 to 20 years depending upon the neighborhood in which you live.  Income (while an important factor) probably isn’t quite as important as previously thought.  You can look up your own neighborhood here to see how it ranks.

With this data it becomes so much easier to prove that leading an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise and access to healthy food makes a huge difference in longevity.

I’ve long theorized that members of the FIRE community will end-up living longer and healthier lives — mainly because we have additional time for exercise (keeping obesity and heart disease levels low), community, and eating healthy home-cooked meals.

It’s fantastic news that this new data set largely seems to support this theory, and it’s also given me a new tool in my search for a new home.

That said, there are some things that money, medical technology, and a healthy lifestyle can’t fix.  Death and taxes are the usual suspects, but migraines are my particular nemesis.


Migraines Are My Nemesis

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve gotten regular migraines.  I’m not talking about simple headache here — I’m talking about incredibly debilitating headaches that last for days.  Sometimes up to a week.  I can barely do anything when I have one of these headaches, which causes considerable frustration for family members and co-workers (back when I had co-workers).

Something like 15% of the world population gets migraines, so I’m definitely not alone.  That’s over a billion people!  My problem is that the most common treatments don’t work.  Most pain killers are pretty ineffective at this point, providing very little in the way of pain relief.  Sumatriptan (a common prescription medication) is only partially effective.  Of course, those medications only work when I can hold down food or water.  If the migraine is bad enough, I just end up vomiting the contents of my stomach.

(Sorry if that’s TMI)

It’s frustrating, but the doctors can do very little about it.  I’ve had MRI’s, tried various preventative medications like topiramate, made diet changes, etc … and none of it really helped my migraines.

But what about financial independence?


The Bad News

Most doctors, when trying to diagnose migraines issues try to understand what triggers migraines for the individual.  In my particular case, “work stress” was a likely trigger that all the doctors pointed to.  Reportedly, psychological stress is a trigger in something like 60% of migraines.

So it was with great glee when I left my full time job.  I’d reached financial independence, which meant no more stress!  My assumption was that without the work stress I’d be free of these debilitating headaches.

That was the theory at any rate.  The bad news is, after three years of financial independence I can definitely confirm that my migraines did not go away.

So much for that grand theory.


The Good News For FI Seekers

For the folks seeking financial independence that also happen to suffer with migraines, I do have a little bit of good news — they seem to be less frequent and more controllable now.  At least for me anyway.

As I write this, I’m on the tail end of a 3-day migraine.  Rather than a 5 or 6 day killer where I’m wretching my guts out into a toilet, this one was relatively mild.  It started on Sunday night, and Monday was actually the worst day.

Part of why I believe my migraines are more controllable now is the freedom that my schedule allows.  On Monday, after walking my son to kindergarten, I walked home and covered my head with a blanket (total darkness helps) and I just rested.

Rather than forcing myself to do something useful (like working on projects, blogging, etc), I just laid around all day and focused on relaxing.  Mrs. Tako was kind enough to cook dinner too.  This chill-out time seems to have worked, because I’m feeling quite a bit better today.  I can at least write this blog post.

migraine train station
When you have a migraine, even simple tasks like commuting become excruciating. The stress of trying to perform under all that pain just makes it worse.

This is another one of the great benefits of financial independence.  If I still needed to go to a job, I never would have felt better this quickly.  Instead of just chilling out, I would have forced myself to go to work or maybe tried to work from home.  More stress never helps, and trying to working with a migraine is a terrible way to work, let me tell you.

The other bit of good news is that the frequency of my migraines seems to be reduced.  Significantly reduced.  Rather than having 2 to 4 migraines per month, I’m down to about 1 migraine per month.  It’s hard to say why this happened — maybe less stress, more exercise, or perhaps a dietary change.

Whatever the reason, I’m very happy the frequency is reduced.  Some improvement is better than no improvement.


Final Thoughts

Whether you suffer from migraines or not, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me there’s significant health benefits to reaching financial independence — as long as the individual is able to maintain a healthy active lifestyle.

It goes without saying that there will always be issues medical science can’t yet solve, and those same issues aren’t going to be magically solved by living a FI lifestyle.  All the money in the world can’t fix ’em.

That said, good food, plenty of exercise, and very low stress levels might go a long ways toward helping with whatever issues plague you.  At least it did in my case.

For me, I know that my chronic migraines will likely plague me for the rest of my life, but I’m very thankful for the improvements financial independence has brought to the table.  It’s not perfect health, but improvement is a good thing.

Thanks FI!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a headache to nurse.


[Image Credit: Wikimedia, Flickr]

32 thoughts on “Your Money Or Your Migraines

  • October 3, 2018 at 5:29 AM

    I suffered migraines for most of my life, but reduced massively in last 10 years. Although nothing can cure it, they’ve reduced since I removed things that made my sinuses worse. I am allergic to cats (never knew when I was living with them in the house), and wear polarised sunglasses as glare definitely is a trigger. Normal UV protection sunglasses help slightly, but actually the polarised really reduced it.
    Then the last is good sleep. If I’m tired I often get triggered, and ironically after I’ve caught up the sleep. I think it’s when I relax after stress that causes it.

    Now, the only real trigger is when I have a cold/flu it might get triggered randomly, but that’s like less than once per year.

    Doctors couldn’t help actually, they go after things like cheese, chocolate, coffee, medication and none of those were helpful so I went back to doing those things. In the end it was all self determined since you know yourself best.

    Agree that having FI is helpful, especially to reduce work-related stress or downtime.

    • Polarized sunglasses… that’s a good tip. I’ve never heard of that before. Might have to try it!

  • October 3, 2018 at 6:47 AM

    You’ve referenced before, but I didn’t realize migraines were such a constant annoyance for you – sorry to hear it, and glad FI has helped a little.

    Have you experimented with caffeine? I know it helps some (while exacerbating others…), so it might be worth a try. You might have to do a lot of green or black tea to get a meaningful dose, or you can join the cool kids and start drinking thick, rich, black coffee. Within 5-10 years you’ll grow to actually like the taste. Mmmmmmm….

    • Yeah, I’ve definitely tried different caffeine sources. Some kinds of caffeine do seem to be helpful. Green tea in particular has a slight mellowing effect on my migraines. Other caffeine sources like coffee and soda seem to be too “sharp” a caffeine spike that makes my headaches worse.

  • October 3, 2018 at 7:22 AM

    I used to have awful migraines, but I did a food rotation diet and figured out gluten and dairy were triggers and had to go. Since I changed my diet I get them once every 4 years instead of getting one every couple of weeks. Not sure changing your diet would work but just a thought.

    • I went through the food rotation stuff awhile back to find out if I had food triggers. I do have a couple of food triggers, but I no longer eat that stuff.

  • It always surprises me how little we know about the human body, despite all the advances in medicine. My wife gets migraines when she’s around any artificial lemon – smells and tastes.

    Many cleaners and air fresheners trigger her headaches, even if she can’t actively smell the lemon. We were on a flight from China to the US and she started getting one, it was from one of those cheap disc air fresheners in the bathroom. She couldn’t even smell the lemon but the chemical was making it to her seat.

    Food is especially bad, since now the artificial chemical is ingested, but these are easier to avoid because you just avoid artificial lemon. Perhaps you are reactive to something common and just don’t know it? (just a shot in the dark though, as you probably researched this already)

    Makes me wonder if those artificial cleaners are good for you if there are people in the world that get sick from it!

    • Wow, artificial lemon huh? That’s a new one to me!

      Now that you mention it, my triggers could be something in the air. Occasionally I’ll go to bed without a migraine and then wake up with one. During that time period I’m not eating or drinking anything, but I am breathing.

      • You never know… maybe test a few things out and you can find your cause!

  • October 3, 2018 at 12:27 PM

    Sorry to hear this Mr. Tako! My wife doesn’t suffer from migraines but from severe vertigo and stomach sickness. Her triggers are strictly toxin and food related. We’ve gotten into some pretty weird stuff (body brushing, oil pulling, jumping on a mini-tramp) to eliminate random toxins and such…a great blog is wellness mama for some of this stuff. I know it sounds weird but it has worked for us…could work for you too:)

  • October 3, 2018 at 3:51 PM

    First off, very sorry to hear that you are afflicted by migraines. But I agree 150% that us FI folks have one of the best weapons for better health – time. And from my perspective, that’s worth achieving FI in and of itself.

    • Interesting read. It’s very curious because I’ve never heard anything remotely like this from the doctors I’ve visited.

  • Wow. Did not know you suffered migraines and to that degree of severity.

    Glad to see that there has been some improvements now that work stress is taken care of. I do still think there is understandable stress still in your life with your issues with your mother and her health.

    Hopefully when your plans to have her move to Asia and be more comfortable there happens you may have your own stress level goes down even more and maybe these migraines disappear completely

    • I apologize I now realize I blended the story of how from retire by 40 when I gave my comment. I remember reading about his mother issue and dementia and for some reason when I was resident your this post that powerful story stuck with me. Sorry for the confusion, guess long day at work my mind combined two completely different events as one

      • Yeah, I was a little confused there! Thanks for the clarification. For the record, my mom is doing OK and won’t be moving anytime soon! 😉

  • October 3, 2018 at 10:08 PM

    It’ll sound hokey, but botox worked for me. Improved my self image (relaxed the lines in my forehead) and seemed to relax me internally. Maybe it was the positive comments (you look so refreshed, did you just come back from vacation) or maybe the physical loosening of the muscles in my forehead, but it did work for me.

    • Huh…botox. I always thought of botox as a physical appearance enhancement, not a medical treatment.

      I learned something new. Thanks!

    • October 10, 2018 at 3:54 AM

      I second botox as a potential cure for migraines. A good friend has it injected in a halo around her head and down her neck every three months. It has changed her life. As a young working mom with small children she was missing a lot and now she feels she has her life back.

      Currently she has the injections every three months but that will stretch to every four months soon and her neurologist says that they can experiment with longer stretches between injections after that.

  • October 4, 2018 at 4:33 AM

    I am also one who unfortunately suffers from migraines. I don’t get them as often as you, but I can agree that they literally completely cripple you. Once they come, there isn’t much you can do to prevent the painful symptoms.

    Fortunately for me, mine come and go pretty quickly. Mine start with getting blurred vision, then about an hour later the headache comes, then about an hour after that I start puking. After that, I normally go to bed and wake up fine.

    Man do they SUCK!

    • Couldn’t agree more on the SUCK. They suck hard. I only occasionally get the blurred vision with mine. Not sure what that’s indicative of.

  • October 4, 2018 at 4:49 AM

    Mss FFsloth had pretty good succes with regular Yoga (don’t know if that is part of your exercise regime).
    She still has some but the frequency went way down and the intensity is also a lot lower.

    If interested Yoga, the frugal way is youtube: ‘Yoga with Adriana’ has lots and lots of sessions.

    • Some light exercise (like Yoga) does sometimes help, but if it’s too strenuous it just ends up making my migraines worse. I will have to consider it though.

      Even a slow walk can be agonizingly painful in certain stages of the migrain. I’m not sure I could do it.

  • October 4, 2018 at 7:22 AM

    I’m sorry to hear about the migraines. That sounds like a huge problem.
    Better diet and exercise help almost everything so that’s a good move.
    Maybe you can go on a month-long retreat and cut everything out. Eat vegetables, do yoga, and meditate all day. If that doesn’t get rid of the migraines, then you know they’re here to stay. Best wishes, -Joe

    • I’ve tried all different kinds of diets, but to no avail. Yoga though, it’s on my list of things to try some day. Cheers! 🙂

  • October 4, 2018 at 5:57 PM

    I had regular migraines most of my adult life, then several years ago I started having trouble with nearsightedness; seeing while driving, in theaters and even looking at presentations during meetings was difficult. Got glasses and migraines became very infrequent. I think the migraines were often triggered by stressing my eye muscles by unconsciously squinting to see better (may also explain why Botox works). My glasses do have anti-glare coatings, so that may help too. My doctor recommends Imitrex (Sumatriptan) nasal spray when I get them, starts working quicker than pills and should help with nausea. Good luck Mr. Tako.

  • October 6, 2018 at 2:38 AM

    This really sucks Mr Tako. I’ve never suffered from anything other than a “normal” headache, so have no idea how horrible migranes are. But your story confirms talks I’ve had with other suffers.
    Good luck trying to limit the number of times you suffer. Hope you find whatever works for you to also limit the intensity.

    You stated “We all want to live longer and lead healthier lives, but there’s considerable disagreement about how to actually achieve this feat.” This is not actually true. More plants and less animal products are already clearly shown to help, add in being active, good sleep/less stress and limiting exposure to pollutants and you have increased your chances tremendously.

    It’s too bad that misinterpretation of medical data and fabricated research is causing so much doubt and confusion.

    • There’s too many new “studies” that get published every year — I think it’s terribly confusing to lay-people. Many times these individual studies can conflict.

      Most of us have no idea which studies to “trust” because they’ve been properly peer reviewed and which studies to discount because of bad science.

  • October 8, 2018 at 2:01 PM

    So sorry to hear about the migraines. They must’ve been so hard to manage when you still had to work. Did you have to take time off? I’d imagine it’s near impossible to concentrate and do anything when they hit.

    Sucks that they are still there, but at least, as you said, the frequency is much lower now.

    Glad you are feeling better and able to write this blog post.

  • October 22, 2018 at 11:17 AM

    I can’t believe no one on this comment thread has recommended cannabis to you yet, haha… if it’s legal where you are of course. I’m Canadian and with all the activity around legalization up here I’m starting to see more and more cases of medical use (anecdotal only though, as far as I have seen) for pain and other brain/nervous system issues. Cool blog by the way. I recently came over here from Millennial Revolution and the content is good so I’ll be sticking around (: Hopefully your migraines decrease over time and never stop you from writing


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