Migraine triggers are fun because they can be almost anything and aside from lists of common ones, there is no way to determine what a person’s are besides paying close attention to what happens at the onset of a migraine (which could be seconds before the pain or days before because migraines are crafty, evil monsters). A migraine trigger is exactly what the name implies–something that triggers a migraine. It is important to discover what triggers your migraines if you have them so that you can avoid that thing, or potentially destroy that thing for all of eternity and live in peace.
But discovering triggers is difficult. It took me two years. Two years of pain so bad I would lay on the bathroom floor every afternoon so that I could listen to my family talk while they cooked. Then I would go upstairs in my room with all the lights out and curl up in a ball under my covers until my mom brought me dinner.
I don’t remember when it dawned on me that the smells from dinner cooking hurt. Or that when I bit into garlic toast my head felt like it was going to split open. I don’t know when it occurred to me that it was onion and garlic that triggered my migraines, but once I did it took me forever to realize that all forms of onion and garlic caused me pain: fresh, cooked, powdered, way down the ingredient list, included under the vague umbrella of “natural flavors.”
For the longest time, I tried to convince myself that ketchup and ranch dressing were OK. They are not. Immediate pain. I once ate goldfish out of my nephew’s snack bag because, like, a tiny amount of garlic powder is not the end of the world, ok? Instant migraine. Pretty sure I threw up later that day. Definitely was not a helpful babysitter for my sister.
Anyway, this trigger is an angry, take-no-prisoners kind of trigger (I don’t know if there are ones that aren’t that kind…) and it makes itself known everywhere in all kinds of food. When my family cooks they know (mostly) what to look out for and makes things that are safe for me to eat/smell. I generally don’t have to go outside, or smother my face in a blanket on the other side of the house. I avoid restaurants and foods that I don’t know. I like to try new places, so I use online menus to determine if/what I can eat there before I go.
People always ask me about this. Isn’t it hard to go to restaurants? Doesn’t that make eating socially difficult? The answer is “yes, it does. Thank you for noticing.”
Last week, I went to a Korean restaurant with some girls I don’t know very well. I wasn’t planning on eating because, well, it was a Korean restaurant and I figured they wouldn’t have anything I could eat. But the thing about people is they eat socially. It’s like a bonding experience or something, so you’re not really allowed to just sit around while other people eat. They get suspicious of your presence. So there was a round of questions about whether I was going to eat, then a round of insisting that I should eat, then a round of suggesting that I ask the cooks what I could eat.
I went up to ask.
“I promise I’m not trying to make your life difficult.”
“But I can’t eat garlic or onion. Is there anything here I can eat?”
“Yeah, the number 16.” Well, that was easy. Too easy. There’s definitely something wrong with the number 16.
“There’s no onion or garlic in that?”
“No, just vegetables and beef and a sauce.”
“What’s in the sauce?”
“Ooooh, uh, I don’t know. Probably garlic.”
Yeah, ok. Now we’re talking.
The other employees come over and we had a conference of three Korean restaurant staff, me, and the three girls I came with trying to decide if literally anything was safe for me to eat. And ultimately, no, nothing was. They did offer to make me rice, but I’m not a fan of plain rice so I bought a drink, thanked them for being impressively kind, and sat down feeling awkward in my weird body and my bright red face.
But being awkward and feeling weird is preferable to a migraine so I still count that as a win. Plus, they all tried so hard. That was a group of six people, three complete strangers, bound and determined to bend the laws of my existence so that they could feed me. They felt bad, as if somehow they were failing me, and it was the sweetest thing.
My friends, on the other hand, order pizza and eat it in front of me without a second thought. Sometimes they even order the garlic buttery crust and I have to leave because it smells too strongly. I would say I need better friends, but hey, I can’t deny people the appeal of garlic buttery crust. Even I want some–just, ya know, not really.