Living with Vestibular Migraine: Jennifer B. from Migraine Strong on Diet and Working Full Time (Plus Her Favorite Soup Recipe!)

Life with a vestibular disorder or migraine can be tough. This week I'm sharing interviews from fellow migraine warriors about their lives with chronic illness. #balanceawarenessweek2018 #vestibularmigraine #migrainerelief

For Balance Awareness Week 2018, I’m focusing on a series of interviews from fellow vestibular disorder and vestibular migraine warriors in all different stages of healing. They’re sharing their tips and tricks, as well as what they’ve learned from living with this illness. This week is dedicated to raising awareness for these increasingly common disorders, which often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Please consider helping us raise awareness by donating to Jennifer’s fundraiser for the Vestibular Disorder Association. Also you can catch her delicious gluten free recipes here.  

What’s your name and tell me a little bit about your history with Vestibular Migraine. How did it begin and how were you diagnosed? Are you a fan of your current doctor?

My name is Jennifer Bragdon. I’ve had vestibular migraine for two and a half years.  It began April 19th 2016. I turned over in bed, felt hard room spinning and I was dizzy all day, every day from that day forward until I finally received diagnosis and began treatment three months later.  It took treatment another three months to kick in. About six months after VM onset, my dizziness finally began to fade.  I saw five specialists before finally finding Dr Danner, a neurotologist at Tampa Bay Hearing and Balance in Tampa, FL. I honestly love the man. He heard me, believed my symptoms and knew what what causing them. He saved me from the symptoms I was drowning in for so many months. 

Have you ever tried Vestibular Therapy?

I never officially tried vestibular therapy. For me, three drawbacks kept me from trying it.
1. Dr. Danner’s office is located an hour from my home so, he wasn’t able to refer me to someone he trusted in my area.
2. He said it would likely make me dizzier.
3. It took so long for me to get diagnosed that my FMLA protection ran out so I was faced with deciding to quit my job, or go back to work dizzy. I opted to go back to work, and the thought of engaging in an activity that would likely make me dizzier was terrifying at that time. 

How did you get the idea that food and migraine might be connected?

I never knew that there were dietary triggers associated with migraine.  When I first got sick, I noticed that my morning cup of coffee increased my dizziness significantly, so I gave it up cold turkey before ever hearing a word about migraine diets. Once meeting Dr. Danner, he reviewed a migraine diet very similar to Heal Your Headache with me that was distributed by John’s Hopkins. He asked that I implement the diet as part of my treatment plan. 

Are you on a particular diet to manage your migraines and have you noticed that it helps? What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed, if any?

I’m currently following a version of Heal Your Headache. I say “a version” because Heal Your Headache is meant to be an elimination diet. Once you reach baseline, a reduction in frequency and intensity of symptoms/migraine attacks, you can begin to add foods back in one by one to test them as personal triggers.  I have been able to successfully add many foods back in, but still follow its principles. For me, following this diet helps my preventative medication to be effective at a very low dose so I don’t notice any medication side effects. 

What’s your favorite migraine safe recipe? Do you have any personal recommendations on how to prepare it?

My favorite migraine safe recipes are Blueberry Muffins & chicken & rice noodle soup (recipe below!). Both freeze amazingly well in individual portions making it easy for me to have grab and go foods on hand so that I can easily follow the diet during the busy work week. 

A Migraine Safe Chicken and Rice Soup Recipe | Heal Your Headache

What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome so far in your path to healing and how did you do it?

The biggest hurdle I’ve overcome so far was going back to work full time. I was still very dizzy when it was time for me to go back to work and my doctor did not want to release me to drive.  I called the executive director of the agency I work for to explain that at the end of my allotted 3 month FMLA period, I had just received diagnosis along with a treatment plan and that I just needed a bit more time for treatment to kick in.  My executive director allowed me one month of working part time from home which gave me time to begin my recovery. They also were extremely lenient in allowing occasional work from home days once I returned to full time status. Without their graciousness, I’m not sure I would have as much success transitioning back into full time work.

Is there any person, book, podcast, etc. that has inspired you to be a better advocate for your health?

Early on in my diagnosis, this handout , given to me by Dr. Danner, helped me the most.  It clearly outlines the diet and supplements that are recommended for those with Migraine and Vestibular Migraine.  Later, I learned about The Migraine World Summit and watched nearly every session. I even purchased access so that I can easily refer to their trigger and supplement guides and re-watch a session discussing a topic I might be having difficulty with. I strongly believe educating yourself about vestibular migraine is the most empowering action you can take to gain control over your symptoms. Last, but definitely not least, I can’t say enough about the friendships I’ve formed as a result of my diagnosis.  I have deep appreciation for many VM-ers that I’ve talk with over the last couple of years in the Facebook group Migraine Strong.  You (Alicia) and my fellow admin team of Migraine Strong (Eileen, Danielle, Cannon & Marina) inspire me every single day. You are five strong, tough women that fight not only to dig out of your own symptoms, but to help others dig out of theirs as well. I am so grateful to know each of you.

What do you hope for the future as far as your healing? Do you have a long-term goal for managing your Migraine?

Personally, I still hope for remission to end my VM attacks and for better control over my daily ear symptoms which include neurological noise (tinnitus), pressure changes and fluctuating hearing loss. For Vestibular Migraine as a whole, I hope for more knowledgeable doctors and for better patient care. Months drowning in symptoms before diagnosis is too long. VM desperately needs more research, I will always hold on to hope for a cure.

If you could give any person who has been newly diagnosed with a vestibular disorder advice, what would you say?

I would tell someone newly diagnosed with VM that there is hope and there is an end in sight to daily dizziness. To hit Vestibular Migraine from all sides – implement diet, supplements, exercise, preventative meds, daily sleep routine, hydration, relaxation strategies etc. and to join the Facebook group Migraine Strong to learn more about implementing these strategies. 

Explaining this to your friends, coworkers, and family can be extremely difficult. Do you feel you’ve been able to manage this well and, if so, how do you do it?

Explaining VM to my family that doesn’t live under my roof, has been one of my toughest struggles. My fiancé, who experienced my VM onset first hand, has been an amazing support for me through my toughest days.

Is there any one product, supplement, device, etc. that you couldn’t live without or that has been an integral part of your healing?

There are a few supplements that I lean on to help ease daily symptoms, but the one I absolutely can’t live without is magnesium, magnesium, magnesium! Invest in a high quality, clean and calming magnesium like Pure Encapsulations Magnesium Glycinate and Life Flo Magnesium Chloride flakes (as a foot soak). Magnesium absolutely helps to calm down a hyper responsive VM brain. 

Graphic on Vestibular Migraine Symptoms

Graphic created by Jennifer Bragdon

One Pot Chicken and Rice Noodle Soup
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 mins
 

This Heal Your Headache safe recipe is wonderful for meal prepping! Jennifer likes to freeze it and use during the week for a fast and easy lunch or dinner. 

Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chicken, Gluten Free, Rice Noodle, Soup
Servings: 4 people
Author: Jennifer Bragdon
Ingredients
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 8 cups water
  • 3-4 large carrots, chopped
  • 3-4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp shallots
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp ghee, butter, or olive oil * I use Kerrygold
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 box Pad Thai Rice Noodles * I used Annie Chuns
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional Mix-Ins: 1/2 green bell pepper, 4 green onions, 1 tbsp of assorted dried herbs
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, heat the cooking fat (olive oil, ghee or butter) over medium heat. Add the shallots, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until vegetables are soft.

  2. Pour the water into the pot. Add the parsley, salt and pepper (along with any other herbs you enjoy) and bring to a boil.

  3. Add the raw chicken breasts to the pot, add the bay leaf, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 55 minutes.

  4. Turn heat back up to high. Remove the chicken with a fork, shred into pieces and return it to the pot.

  5. Once the soup in near boiling again, add the Pad Thai rice noodles. Boil 4-5 minutes until tender. Serve hot, or freeze in separate containers and store for later.

Alicia was diagnosed with Chronic Vestibular Migraine in 2016 and has been able to successfully manage her symptoms through medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, and the Heal Your Headache Diet by Dr. David Buchholz from Johns Hopkins. She's the owner of The Dizzy Cook.

5 comments

  1. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have implemented all of the treatment pie, except a successful preventative. I am searching for one that does not add to the dizziness. Which preventatives work for you and what kinds of stretching do you do that you find helpful for the dizziness?

    Reply

  2. Jennifer Bragdon

    Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for your kind words. I’d love to talk with you in more detail. Are you a member of Migraine Strong on Facebook? Please feel free to send me a pm there or on IG anytime. I’m happy to help. 😘

    Reply

  3. Karen Mizrach

    Thank you for your story. It’s such a lonely journey so learning of co-sufferers is a huge boost. I’ve been diagnosed with VM after 1 year of dizziness/vertigo and many doctors. Most of those doctors made me feel like a complete idiot. Finally I have a grasp on what’s going on and some ideas on how to cope. I have a wonderful PT who has been working on my neck that is often in spasm and has arthritis. The vestibular therapy was not a success and actually triggered migraines. I struggle to keep exercising and mainly just walk every day with my walking stick. Now I’ve added in a stationary bike, but am finding it aggravates some symptoms. Should I power through that feeling or back off? What are your exercise ideas?

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Hey Karen, I’m curious about you saying the vestibular therapy triggered your migraines. It’s common for it to increase symptoms, especially after each session. The trick is to always have your symptoms come down to the “baseline” of when you started. A good vestibular therapist will know this, but I have seen some where they push too hard and it does trigger more issues. Any exercise will aggravate symptoms, but it’s important to stay active. It’s how our brains start to heal. If you start slow and work your way up, you’ll have better luck. That may mean a short walk or getting on the bike every day. As long as your symptoms are coming down to whatever the baseline is when you started within the hour after exercising and not staying elevated or getting worse, you’re making progress. I started with really easy vestibular therapy exercises and then progressed to doing beginning ballet classes (where I didn’t turn or bend over). Now I do pretty intense training and my symptoms do get elevated, but they always come down within 20-30 minutes after I leave class. I hope that helps a little bit. I can go into more detailed exercises if you need them.

      Reply

      1. Alicia

        Also I will tag Jennifer in this so she can respond with her story as well!

        Reply

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