This was not how I was hoping to spend the holidays.
It was the end of the year and as usual my wife and I were taking the last two weeks of December off from work so we could relax and enjoy some time with our family. We had spent the previous couple days shopping and wrapping and our plan was to stay home the next day and recuperate.
When I woke up that morning I felt ... off, like I had brain fog. I was mildly dizzy, cold, and my heart felt like it was racing. I was also feeling anxious despite having no reason to be.
I recognized the symptoms as something I had experienced briefly a couple times earlier in the year. Nothing seemed to be horribly wrong though so I just assumed it was stress or fatigue and that it would pass in a couple hours as it had before.
Not Going Away This Time
Days started to go by and slowly the dizziness was getting worse and I started to feel more and more anxious. I tried to make myself calm down and relax but I really had to fight to slow my breathing.
About a month prior I had gone through a medical procedure to fix a deviated septum in my nose (I had always had trouble with allergies and breathing in general). While the procedure definitely improved my sinuses I was starting to wonder if something had gone wrong with the surgery that would cause me to have these symptoms.
Doctor the First
I actually had a follow-up with my nose doctor scheduled for later during our vacation so I dealt with the dizziness and anxiety and tried to wait for the appointment.
In short he told me the procedure had gone well and that he had no concerns about the outcome. He suspected my symptoms might be inner-ear related and that in most cases these resolve themselves with time as the body adjusts to occasional structural changes within the ear itself.
The ENT suggested I wait a month to see if it would go away on its own and said that if I continued to have symptoms that he would do a comprehensive ear exam, testing my hearing and overall balance.
The idea of waiting a month to see if my symptoms would fade filled me with despair.
Doctor the Second
I immediately made an appointment with my general practitioner, who listened to my symptoms with patience and then scheduled me for an MRI of my head the next day with a focus on my ears.
I anxiously awaited the results, hoping to find out what was making me so miserable, but the MRI showed that everything looked great, with no signs of any problems with my ears.
I was relieved but at the same time I was getting nervous about the situation. I still had no idea what was causing me to feel worse and worse and my vacation was coming to end.
Soon I would need to return to work and function like a human being instead of lying on the couch trying to fight what I was becoming sure was a panic attack.
My doctor ended up writing me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I never filled it but just knowing it was available made me feel a little bit better, like there was still something I could do or try.
Back to the Grind
After taking a couple sick days to extend my time off I went back to work. Being so dizzy I didn't trust myself to drive so my wife had to cart me to and from the office every day.
Each day in the office was difficult but I trudged through them as best I could. Even the trips down the hall to the bathroom were difficult.
In the evenings I spent most of my time searching the Internet looking for possible causes. It turns out there were a lot of possibilities, many of which scared me quite a bit.
Doctor the Second, Part II
I survived the month until the hearing test with the ENT who had worked on my sinuses.
I went into it sure I would come out with a bad diagnosis but I was still looking forward to it because I really just wanted to know what was happening to me.
Of all the possible results I expected I didn't anticipate this one: I passed all the tests and everything looked great.
This gave me even more anxiety which I think the doctor noticed. He said that he was an ENT and that in terms of dizziness the ears were the only tool he had in his bag of tricks but that a neurologist would have a whole other list of things that could be tested for.
With that in mind I called my general practitioner again and received a referral to a neurologist. I made an appointment for two weeks later.
I passed those two weeks in the same way I had the previous month.
My symptoms were no longer getting worse but I was still dizzy all the time, sometimes to the point of being nauseous. My anxiety level was pretty high although it came and went over the course of each day.
I would wake up in the middle of the night having had horrible dreams, and I spent most of the time feeling far more depressed than I ever had, often to the point of tears.
I also started to get headaches a couple times a week.
Doctor the Third
My neurologist appointment finally came and this time I was determined not to get my hopes up for a diagnosis.
The neurologist listened to my symptoms, had me walk around the office for a bit while watching my gait for signs of balance issues, and then promptly diagnosed me with migraines.
This took me completely by surprise. While I was having headaches on occasion, I didn't have the auras that I assumed were necessary and my dizziness and anxiety didn't seem to fit either.
He responded by saying that the definition of a migraine is expanding all the time and a wide range of symptoms have now been linked to it.
For a treatment he suggested I keep a journal of my diet and activities in order to determine the triggers.
He also said that, instead of prescribing medication to begin with, he wanted me to try a magnesium supplement for a month to see if it improved my symptoms as there have been a couple studies done showing it can help decrease the frequency and severity of migraines.
Lastly he recommended regular aerobic exercise as well as keeping my sleep pattern constant every day of the week including weekends.
The Final Test: Trying Magnesium
After weeks of waiting and worrying about my symptoms I was skeptical that a simple vitamin supplement could help me but at this point I was willing to try most anything.
So the first thing I did was pick up a bottle of magnesium at the local grocery store. I started it immediately and hoped for the best.
For the first 24 hours there was no change in my condition but I kept taking the magnesium. Around the 48 hour mark I started to get a really bad headache in the afternoon. It wasn't the worst I'd ever had but it was the worst I'd had in recent memory.
The headache lasted for a little over 24 hours. However, when the headache was gone something strange and wonderful had happened ... I was no longer dizzy, my anxiety was gone, and my heart didn't feel like it was racing.
I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. The only change I had made was the magnesium supplement. I immediately started searching the Internet for magnesium deficiency and read about the varied symptoms it can cause.
The more I read the more I realized two things. The first was that magnesium is incredibly important to the human body and the second was that many people probably are not getting enough of it.
In short it took three doctors and almost two months before I ended up with the simple solution of a magnesium supplement.
Back to Normal
This all happened to me in early 2010, and in addition to trying to eat more foods high in magnesium I have been taking a magnesium supplement ever since.
I will say however that I recovered faster when I started taking a better quality magnesium supplement.
I do occasionally get a headache (that I now realize truly is a migraine) but they don't occur that often provided I continue to take my magnesium and avoid the handful of triggers I have identified through my journal.
Quite frankly I feel better than I have in a very, very long time.