on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the invisible threshold

I wanted to write on sunday, but I was having my monthly migraine, so only today I seem to be slowly recovering. I still feel like shit though. This month’s menstrual cycle started out so well, hardly any PMS, cycle arrived on the 28th day unlike most months, no migraine prior and during. On the 5th day I went out for a while longer than usual, and the next morning I woke up as if I was hungover, and that extremely uncomfortable feeling progressed into a migraine by the evening.

The thing with a chronic illness is that I’m often left playing guessing games with myself: was it the food I ate, should I have wrapped myself in cotton wool longer and not gone out, was I hydrated enough, etc. Five years have passed since I started having these issues, and I don’t feel like I know any better.

I am not sick enough to be in a hospital, and yet sick enough to have not much of a quality of life. Days like these make me wonder what is the whole point of living, as I can do nothing much except lie in bed, and even lying in bed makes me feel fatigued from the body ache. There are things I want to do, but every cycle I spend so much time being sick and recovering that by the time I’m physically well, I am too mentally and spiritually exhausted to do anything.

There is an invisible threshold I’m trying to find. After experimenting for so long, I have learned that too much or too little of something is not healthy. Every person’s body is also different, so what worked for one person may not work for another. A lot of health research is also done on participants of a certain gender and ethnicities, so something that is “scientifically proven” may have different results for the specific individual. Also, after reading so many books on health, I have learned that researchers can be extremely biased, their interpretations can be suspect and their statistical methods can be flawed. Corporations fund research in their favour. The core lesson I’ve learned is: don’t trust anyone with your personal health, not even doctors, not even “science” – do your own research and decide what to believe

The reality is most people don’t really feel the need to do much research, because their health is mostly uninterrupted. This is not a luxury I have, unless I decide to simply give up. Giving up doesn’t mean status quo though, it will probably mean that my health will continue to degrade as I age.

Some new research points to oxidative stress as a possible cause to PMS symptoms and migraines:

Oxidative stress is a phenomenon caused by an imbalance between production and accumulation of oxygen reactive species (ROS) in cells and tissues and the ability of a biological system to detoxify these reactive products.


What causes oxidative stress? Diet – meat or vegetables according to who you believe, too much or too little exercise, stress in general, environmental toxins, etc. Migraines or PMS are considered “mild” symptoms of oxidative stress, comparatively to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

There is a theory that migraines are a way the body brings itself back into homeostatic balance after suffering from oxidative stress:

An increasing amount of evidence — much of it clinical — suggests that migraine is a response to cerebral energy deficiency or oxidative stress levels that exceed antioxidant capacity and that the attack itself helps to restore brain energy homeostasis and reduces harmful oxidative stress levels.

The metabolic face of migraine — from pathophysiology to treatment

The way I interpret this is that my migraines are a response to trying to cope with the overwhelming oxidative stress I am having, and if I don’t find out how to live in a way that is able to lessen the stress enough, it may have long-term negative repercussions on my body.

So, I need to find the invisible threshold of enough. Enough exercise, enough micro-nutrients, enough water, enough stimuli.

I feel like I’m close, but not close enough. And what is enough is dynamic according to the stage of my menstrual cycle:

What I notice for myself is that I tend to get sick during the periods when there is a sharp drop in my hormones. Estrogen affects insulin and cortisol – the lack of it seems to make my body exceptionally sensitive to stress. On good days I seem to recover from the daily transient stresses easily, but during times of extreme hormonal movements every little thing I do is a possible migraine trigger. It is also not just one area of my life that I need to be careful about, the stress is accumulative of every single choice that I make.

The threshold I’m trying to find is elusive. Each cycle takes a month or so, so I will have to experiment for the entire cycle before knowing if whatever I’m doing is working. Some months are bad, I spend the entire month in chronic pain before the next cycle is about to start again.

Today is the 10th day of my cycle. I am barely recovered from the last bout of my migraine that started on the 5th. I’ll be ovulating in a few days if I’m lucky, and I’ll probably enjoy one sane week before starting PMS again. Sometimes I get very delayed ovulation because my body spent so many days just recovering.

Is there a silver lining? Sometimes, as written many times previously before, I resent the tendency to want to find a silver lining. Yet if I am ever able to find the elusive invisible threshold I am looking for, perhaps I could derive a sort of complex twisted satisfaction from being able to live so tenderly and lightly in my very fragile body. Maybe as a consequence, I’ll develop a framework to maintain optimal health for the rest of my life.

These days I joke that I’m both healthier and sicker than I ever was. During good days because of all the changes I’ve made, I do thrive better than before. My energy is stable, I actually have a stamina now, I don’t get cognitive fog much anymore, I stopped getting food comas, and I am able to do a lot of things I was never able to do. Being sick has taught me patience and how to live according to seasons. It would never have been sustainable living like I was before with no respect for my body or psyche, it was a matter of time that I would suffer some serious consequence.

Now, I just need to find out how not to be too sick during those estrogen drops.

2 thoughts on “the invisible threshold”

  1. Winnie I really feel for you. I too have a mess of hormonal / stress related issues, so I’m grateful for your writing. As much as I wish you weren’t experiencing this, it is a relief in some ways to know I’m not the only one. Sending love x

    1. Winnie says:

      Hi Lara!
      not sure if you’ll see this but thank you for reading and also relating to this journey. I totally get the relief, it is often an isolating experience to suffer from chronic health issues while we see everyone else going about in their lives. Thank you so much for leaving this note! 🙂

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