Managing any kind of symptoms while living with Dissociative Identity Disorder or structural dissociation can be difficult.  As with any mental illness or chronic conditions, it’s ok that managing symptoms is difficult. Regardless of how difficult it is, we found that doing what we can to keep us comfortable is beneficial and that is what we are sharing here.

Since headaches can vary in severity, there is no one magical thing or set of things that will work for everyone and every headache.  Most of our headaches come from switching identity states, our mal-absorption condition, temperature changes and light sensitivity.  Many of them aren’t phased by medication (OTC or prescription) and some of them require medications and a hospital visit.  Sadly, not all of the parts of our identity can tell the difference in these types of headaches. 

For this reason, we’ve developed a “headache protocol” that all of our parts (and our partner) are aware of.  The protocol includes things that work to relieve most of our headaches.  We know that if the protocol was followed and we still have a headache, that medication may be needed.

All of the recommendations that follow in this blog are things we actually do and products we have used to help us either prevent headaches or control active headaches. 

Preventing headaches with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Prevention is important.  However, preventing headaches takes consistency and that can be hard to maintain for people with dissociative identity disorder and other types of chronic conditions. For us, it’s important to build a few things into our routine that helps us prevent headaches.   These 5 things have consistently helped us with preventing headaches.  Since they are part of every day life, they have been easier to keep up with for everyone in our system.

B Complex Vitamin
The first time we were told to use a B Complex vitamin to help prevent migraines was more than a decade ago.  We haven’t been consistent over the years and that’s how we know it works.  When we keep up with taking our B vitamins we see an impact in how quickly we get a headache.  We aren’t sure that it prevents it but it does make a difference in how many switches and bright lights we can endure before we get a headache. Over the years, we have concluded that our body needs some added B12 so we take these B12 gummy vitamins every day. We love the gummy vitamins because we can’t usually take supplements since the pills are horse sized.

Hydration
We hate admitting how hard it is keeping up with seemingly easy things like hydration.  Honestly, keeping up with anything, even drinking water, is harder with dissociative identity disorder.  Hydrating ourselves is probably one of the hardest things we face (second to brushing our teeth) and when we don’t keep up with it – HEADACHE CITY.  Every body needs a different amount of water and we know that to keep us from having a headache we need about 40 ounces per day.  Is that enough to keep us hydrated?  We aren’t sure but it certainly works for us when it comes to preventing headaches.

Blue Light Cancelling Glasses
We’ve been using blue light cancelling glasses to prevent headaches from screen time for over a year.  They have been so helpful with preventing them.  We wear them while on the computer, the iPad and while scrolling on our phone.  We noticed that using these also improved our sleep. The best thing about them is you can buy a pair that have no prescription or you can get a pair with the prescription you need.  We own these blue light cancelling glasses and love them. 

Breathwork
We use breathing techniques to keep our mind clear and to de-escalate triggers and nervous system activity.  This helps us prevent switches and work together.  Ultimately, working together without needing to switch identity states has been very helpful in preventing headaches while living with dissociative identity disorder.  We do that as a system by using different breathing techniques.        

Meditation
Making sure we meditate daily (often more than once) is essential to preventing headaches for our system.  Many of our headaches come from grinding our teeth and clinching our jaw while we dissociate during stressful times.  Since we are dissociated, we have no awareness of the clinching and grinding. We use meditation to help us stay more relaxed and present in the body during triggers and stressful times.  It helps keep us from grinding and clenching, which in turn works for preventing our headaches.

Managing a headache with dissociative identity disorder

When we have an active headache, it can be difficult to get whoever is fronting to remember the protocol for headaches.  It probably took us a solid 6 months of practicing using the headache protocol (and discussing it internally) for us to become consistent with using the headache protocol.  As mentioned before, the protocol is designed to help us de-escalate most headaches and even for more debilitating headaches the protocol usually gets us to a place where we can do additional remedies, like self-acupressure, to help us relieve the pain.

We highly recommend creating a headache protocol to everyone, especially people with dissociative identity disorder.  Everyone’s plan will look differently and that’s ok.  The best way to know what works for you is to try things for a few weeks and observe how you feel after doing it.  We’ve included our headache protocol below as an example.

Our Headache protocol

The key to the headache protocol is to enact it as soon as you start to feel the headache coming on.  If you don’t do it immediately, it’s effectiveness lessens.  It’s important to stop what you are doing and give your body some rest as soon as the headache begins (or as soon after as you can)

Step 1: Apply Lavender and Peppermint Balm
We use this lavender and peppermint balm to take the edge off.  It really does work and help us relax our jaw and other tense spots.  We rub it on both temples, under our nose and on the back of our neck.  It provides an aromatherapy that helps take the edge of the headache and helps us relax.

Step 2: Drink a glass of water. 
The whole glass – we chug it.  Go for 8 ounces but 4 ounces will work.

Step 3: Ice Pack
We like to apply an ice pack over our eyes.  Some people may prefer heat here, but ice works best for us.  We choose an ice pack with a little weight to it and one that is oblong.  We lay it over our eyes and forehead (not covering the nose).  This is our very favorite ice pack for this.

Step 4: Massage balls
We place massage balls on the acupressure points at the back of the neck.  Known as the “Gates of Consciousness” these points are located just below the base of the skull in the hollow between the two neck muscles that run vertically.  Placing a massage ball on each of these points and breathing deeply is very helpful for many of our headaches.  Please note that two massage balls (one on each point) is the most effective but if you only have one you can use it and move it to the other side.  Here’s a link to a pair of massage balls for you.

Step 5: Lie down to rest
We lie down with the lavender and peppermint balm on, massage balls under our neck and the ice pack across our eyes.  We focus on breathing in deeply and slowly for several minutes.  We try to do this for at least 20 to 30 minutes before we move on to other things if the protocol wasn’t enough.

Managing a headache that won’t quit

If the headache protocol doesn’t kick the headache before it really gets going then we know it’s time to break out the heavy duty medicine.  For us – that is mostly acupressure.  We use medication from doctors and drug stores as an absolute last resort.  Our body doesn’t agree with them very well and they cause more harm than good for our system.  For those who can tolerate taking medication, adding an pain reliever to the protocol could be helpful.

After we have tried the headache protocol, if the headache is persistent we continue with additional self-acupressure points that help us relieve headaches. 

This is our personal self-acupressure routine for headaches.  There are additional points that can be used to relieve headaches but these are the points we use most often and we know they reliably reduce the pain the headaches we get with our dissociative disorder.

Self-Acupressure routine for headaches

Self-Acupressure is a safe and reliable way for us to manage many of the symptoms we have with our chronic illnesses.  But – It’s not always accessible when you’ve run out of strength or don’t have able hands that can apply even pressure. This book on self-acupressure can give you a detailed idea of using the points (as well as a quick google search) so we will keep the instructions brief. 

At the base of the skull
Using the pad of our thumb, we press underneath the base of the skull into the hollow areas on either side of the spine.  Then we tilt our head back slowly and allow the weight of our skull to rest on our thumbs.  Do this for one to two minutes while breathing deeply.

At the Third Eye
We put our palms together and rest our pointer fingers on your third eye.  Our middle fingers will rest further up our forehead.  Then we tilt our head down and let the weight of it rest on our fingers and those pressure points. We make sure to breathe deeply while doing this for 2 minutes.

Below the the cheekbones
We put our index and middle fingers at the bottom of the cheekbones, one hand on each side.  Our middle fingers line up with the inner corner of our eye and the pointer fingers align with the center of our eye.  We lean forward and allow the weight of our head to press into our fingers and the points. We do this while breathing deeply for 2 minutes and applying the pressure evenly and firmly.

Between the thumb and index finger
This commonly known pressure point is in the webbing between the thumb and index finger.  We press it by putting our thumb on the top side of our hand and the index finger on the palm side.  We apply firm and even pressure from both sides. Pregnant people should not use this point.

Top of the foot
On the top of the foot between the big toe and the second toe, you’ll find the LV 3. We apply pressure there with the back of the heel on our other foot.  Stimulate the spots in that area by rubbing back and forth.  Don’t press too hard but just hard enough.

Tea Time with meds

If we complete the acupressure routine and still have found no relief we may drink a tea we make before trying medication. This gives us time to check in with child parts and medical trauma holders.  We usually need to help them and support them before taking any medication.

If we do need medication we always reach for BC headache powder before the injections of Imitrex.  It’s the thing that works the best for us.  When we take medications, we also implement the protocol again and lay down with our lavender peppermint balm and ice pack.

When taking care of headaches, managing the symptoms and preventing the pain its mostly about taking breaks, getting rest and meeting the needs of the body.  It can be hard for systems to keep up with this but having protocols in place can help everyone in the system get on the same page.  Managing headaches with dissociative identity disorder is difficult but can be done if several parts work together to stay consistent, get rest and take the time to care for the body.

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