How migraine headaches impacted my life and what you should know

Migraine and Headache Awareness

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June was National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, and I was happy to be able to share my migraine journey as a part of the #MoreThanAMigraine campaign to help raise awareness.

My Story: The Migraine Struggle is Real!

Migraines and me, well we’ve have had a long, tumultuous relationship. My earliest memory of migraines was when I was 11. At the time I had no idea the debilitating pain, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, all common migraine symptoms, would be something I would be living with for most of my life. I simply believed for a long time I had headaches.

The stuff that other people say

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If you suffer from migraines you probably can relate to having well-intentioned people give you unsolicited suggestions about causes and advice on potential cures even though they have never suffered from migraines or rarely had headaches.

  • “It’s just a bad headache” – my mom used to say this. She’d give me over- the-counter pills for headache pain relief and tell me to sleep it off.
  • “You read too much!” – this may have been partly true because I eventually did need glasses.
  • “Take magnesium, iron or calcium.”
  • “It’s probably you’re diet. Go gluten-free!”

Incidentally, lack of knowledge plays a big part in why migraines go undiagnosed for years, as mine did.

Set it Off: Migraine Facts and Triggers

After being diagnosed with migraines in my 20s, I set out on what I think is typical for people who suffer from migraines, trial and error methods of trying to identify what the triggers were.

Some of my triggers include scents like vanilla or lilac, and many perfumes, red wine, too much caffeine, and certain types of soft drinks. Then there are the triggers I have zero control over, like hormonal changes that happen during PMS (yup, every month) or changes in weather. I live in Canada, so you know, that’s pretty much every day!

My Life Interrupted

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I’ve learned through my experience and meeting others with migraines that we have different experiences with migraines.  I’m guessing the one thing we may have in common is that migraines, whether episodic or chronic, can severely impact on our quality of life, including missing days off school or work and affecting productivity and time with family and friends.

One time I was asked to photograph someone for their website, my first paid gig as a freelance photographer. On the day of, however, I was hit with a migraine. I showed up, put on my best smile and barrelled through the shoot like it was the best day ever while in pain and feeling nauseous the entire time. The client couldn’t tell that I was not at my best. It made me angry, frustrated and questioned whether I could do freelance work at all if migraines were going to be an issue.

My migraines are episodic, meaning I have them less than 15 days each month (sometimes they can last for days). I met a woman who has chronic migraines, which are ones that happen for 15 or more days per month. She told me she had migraines every single day. It blew my mind that she was able to hold a job and live while in pain every day. But she told me she has a system of pain management in place that works, and that is routine for her.

Suffering from migraines, regardless of the type, just straight up sucks, 100% for the individual and their loved ones. Having to miss the championship game for your kid’s basketball team, or piano recital or awards ceremony because of a migraine can be painful for the parent and the child.

Ain’t No Cure for These Migraine Blues

Since there is no cure for migraines, when it comes to migraine treatments, one size does not fit all.  Before my particular course of treatment, my migraine would typically last for 14 hours. I would be curled up foetal position on the bathroom floor, in the dark, cellphone in hand, crying and wondering when I should call 911 for help. I felt like death.

Pain Management

After trial and error, I’ve found a combination of preventative and alternative treatments that work for me.

Migraine Management - InfoGraph

I’ve managed to cut the duration down to about 7 hours on average. I take less time off work, get to spend more time with friends and family and don’t stress out as much about going on vacation.

We have to find treatments and ways to manage the pain that meet our specific needs. For some, it’s preventative measures, like migraine-specific medication, therapeutic options like BOTOX for chronic migraines (yes, that’s right, BOTOX was approved in Canada in 2011 to be used to treat chronic migraines. I have no experience with it but consult your doctor for more details). Alternative options such as acupuncture, massage therapy or chiropractic treatments may also work for some people.

I still experience debilitating migraine headache days,  sometimes migraines that last for up to three days, but these are infrequent now and for that, I am very grateful.

If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, check out www.mychronicmigraine.ca where you can take a simple quiz to determine whether you might be a chronic migraine suffer and learn more about chronic migraines.

Cheers,

me

 

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My Morning Routine: How I Start the Day Mellowed Out

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Part of Recovering from Burnout 

How I start my day has changed considerably when I was forced to cope with chronic pain that left me unable to sit or walk for months. Then I suffered from burnout which left me feeling mentally, physcially and emotionally exhausted. To say it was a rough year is an understatement.

Burnout threw me off my game and I needed to take back some control, in small ways and switching up my morning routine was one way I was able to do this successfully.

Now getting up and starting my day off in quiet before I get my hustle on is essential to me. It’s been my lifesaver.

I also read a Fast Company article If you want some general information about how successful people start their mornings, Fast Company article on how successful people start their mornings which was helpful in reinforcing the notion that how we start the day is so important for wellness.

SwellMade_Pillow_Bedroom

My Old Morning Routine – FAIL!

What were my mornings like before? Well, I would get up at 6:00 with the alarm, usually after a restless nights sleep, groan loudly and curse, and immediately start to think about work and all I needed to get done that day.

One of the big issues for me was being super hydrated and waking up with headaches and for a migraine sufferer, this only added to my crappy morning mood. Here’s a Reader’s Digest article about some of the implications for dehydration while sleeping.

1. Distraction Mode

Once I was out of bed, I would get into distraction mode.

  • I turn on the television to take in the morning news and immediately sit there, like a zombie, watching the highlights and maybe even getting a little depressed at the not so happy news stories.

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2. Had to have my Social Media Fix

  • I would eventually make turn my attention to charging my phone. Naturally, I would stop to check emails and a quick look at Instagram.

3. Handlin’ the Hygiene

  • Then I would absentmindedly take a shower as I continued thinking, stressing, about the day ahead of me.

No More Sleepwalking Through My Mornings

Basically, I was kind of sleepwalking through my mornings. Sometimes I was so lost in thought I wouldn’t remember getting dressed or recall the journey into the office. Sound familiar?

SwellMade_Pillow_Bedroom-3

Drowning in the emotional and physical quagmire of burnout forced me to try some new things in hopes of taking back some control over my life and feeling like my old self again.

I created an info-graphic to highlight my new mellowed out morning routine that has truly resulted in awesome benefits:

5 Awesome Health Benefits of a Morning Routine

  1. Sense of control
  2. Calm and more focused self
  3. Time-saving (more organized and less distracted)
  4. Reduced stress levels
  5. Happier, smiling me (even before coffee!)

Morning Routine - InfoGraph - FINAL

What ways do you find to get your day off to the right start?

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Gratitude Attitude: Getting Uncomfortable to Find Happiness

Copy of Just try New things. Don't be afraid. Step outside your comfort zone and soar.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE and intentionally getting uncomfortable is the secret to really kicking that spice up a notch!

This approach to life is what’s kept me, in many ways, out of the clutches of prolonged periods of depression. It’s been a solid practice for maintaining my mental wellness. The odd thing is that I hadn’t connected it to my happiness before. If I’m not learning something new, then I’m usually pretty miserable.

How I do it

I’m a lifelong learner – if I could get paid to take classes for a living, I’d probably be happy (assuming it’s not math…). Every year, as part of my goal setting, which involves sitting down with a pen and post-it note and jotting a few things down, I try to list one new thing I want to do or learn for the year, sometimes more.

Several years ago, I decided to do my first solo travel. I went to Chicago and fell in love with the city and solo travel! I’ve since visited solo to a few other countries including Spain and Portugal.

I have taken a 10-week technical boxing class, which was intimidating – it was in a real boxing gym and the guy, well, he looked like he coached many champs in his earlier days. I absolutely LOVED every, single, gruelling, sweat-drenched, bit of the workout! To this day, I will swear that boxing is the best fitness workout you can get!

I have also taken classes in kickboxing, taekwondo, Spanish, salsa and Cha-cha lessons (omg, sooooo embarrassing!) and ice skating – I still can’t figure out how to stop without crash landing, but I haven’t broken any bones or hurt anyone, so I’m ok with that.

In all of these activities I’m usually mediocre at best, or sometimes the classes were not that great, but I always stick with it through the end. I’m still happier for taking the time to do something for myself, that is, to intentionally get uncomfortable, learn something new, meet new people and just have a good time.

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5 other Awesome Benefits of Getting Uncomfortable:

  1. You’re in control. You decided what new thing you want to try and just go for it!
  2. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you take that first step (ok, you’ll probably also feel sick to your stomach, but that should pass…eventually)
  3. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment having done it.
  4. Your more risk-averse friends will totally admire you (yes, I am a Badass, cha-cha dancing superstar, that’s right!)
  5. It has the power to be transformative. You will learn something about yourself from all that discomfort, like, Ummm, that you are in fact a badass.

This year, to step outside my comfort zone, I’ve committed to taking “self-portraits” and sharing them here @thisgirlwithcamera for all to see. Just writing that made me feel a little queasy. I’m still getting used to it, maybe even enjoying it a little!

(Inspiration for this post is from Get Happy: Lessons in Lasting Happiness by Dr Anthony Gunn)

What interesting ways have you found to  ‘spice up” your life lately? Leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brunch Spotlight: Wish Restaurant, Toronto

Wish Restaurant

Photos by Cassandra McD.

It’s the weekend! And that means its time for one of my favourite activities. Brunching! Ahh, if brunch was a sport, it would practice it professionally!

One of the restaurants in Toronto that I’ve been to a few times for weekend brunch is Wish Restaurant. Celebrated my birthday here last year as well. I’m a sucker for great design and this place has this French, rustic vibe going on that’s chic and inviting (also it’s a place that serves my two fave meals, French Toast and burger and fries! Never disappoints!)

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Wish Restaurant

Be forewarned, the space is on the small side but the patio is great in the summer. If you happen to walk by during a weekend afternoon you will notice that the place is filled with the constant hum of conversation and a constant stream of people. It gets seriously busy really quickly so my advice would be to make reservations and do that early.

I will mention that the last time I was there, we were politely encouraged to leave after a short time as the table was reserved for other patrons. This is not uncommon for hotspots in the city. So, if you’re looking for a place to gab for hours with the girls this may not be the place for you.

Wish Restaurant

Tips:

  • Always make reservations in advance
  • Try to get there for an earlier brunch time slot as it’s less busy
  • Take a couple pics for the IG, it’s def an Instaworhy spot, don’t you think?

If your a brunch lover too, would love to hear what is your favourite brunch dish?

 

 

 

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Food Photography: 5 Beginner Tips for shooting in Natural Light


photos by cassandra mcd.

Midlife and My Photography Goals

I consider myself a long learner and a naturally curious person so trying new things is what I do! Also, as I age and go through midlife, I’ve also been thinking about retirement and activities and hobbies that I can do now that I can take with me into retirement. Exploring different subjects in photography just happens to be an awesome way to satisfy my appetite for learning and enhance my skillset so I’ll be good to go when I’m 60!

Food Photography a solution to a winter problem

I decided to try to learn food photography by watching YouTube videos and using only natural light. It was my solution to being able to practice photography during the long, cold winter months when I’m hunkered down at home.

I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get me into the kitchen and trying some different recipes. I don’t enjoy cooking that much so I wanted to make it more enjoyable. It worked!

Finding a No-Stress Foodie Community

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I joined, then Gastropost, a foodie community (this ended much to my disappointment), that had weekly food missions that we could participate in for a chance to get our photo featured in the weekend National Post newspaper.  That was pretty fun. I got featured several times and found myself looking for new recipes on a regular basis. Gastropost sadly ended last year but it was fun while it lasted.

Creating Other opportunities 

Not that long ago,  I was involved in a weekend project where I got to make and shoot a few different “simple recipes” for a friend. I had a full test kitchen going on and I will never do it again! I underestimated the amount of work involved.

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Also as a natural light shooter, I only had a small window of decent sunlight to get the shots done so I had to work fast. It was still fun and I have some photos and lessons learned I want to share with you, starting with 5 simple tips for planning a food photoshoot in natural light.

5 Natural Light Food Photo Tips for Beginners

  1. Know your limits: Limit what you plan to shoot. Try only a couple dishes in one shoot, especially if you are not a hardcore planner (I’m not) and you may want to experiment with plating and try different setups
  2. Planners Win: Pre-plan your shoot – Pinterest is great for styling ideas
  3. Get it together: Organize your props and put them in a reachable spot. The more prepared you are the less amount of time and precious sunlight you’ll waste. I speak from experience!
  4. No Fillers Please: Never use flash, never! if it starts getting dark, you are better calling it a day.
  5. Leftovers are good motivation: If you are just learning, like myself, one tip is to think about if you can freeze the food or keep leftovers for lunch or dinner. This serves as an excellent determining factor in what I choose to shoot!

A Note about My Camera Equipment

I’m sharing my photos of a simple Stuff Mushrooms dish photographed in natural light:

  • My old and trusty Canon Rebel T1i (yes, it’s from 2010)
  • Nifty 50 –  the 50mm lens that cost about $100
  • Patience
  • Window light
  • props from my kitchen

Hope you enjoy this and get inspired to shoot something for your blog or social media or…cook something yummy!

Cheers,

Cassandra

Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

1 lb fresh mushrooms, medium sized

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

¼ cup dry bread crumbs

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

½ tsp dried oregano leaves

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

Directions

  • Brush or wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth. Remove stems from mushrooms. Set caps aside. Finely chop mushroom stems.
  • In a medium bowl, combine chopped stems and all remaining ingredients.
  • Press mixture firmly into mushroom caps, mounding on top.
  • Place on a sheet pan with shallow sides.
  • Bake at 350F for 18 to 23 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

Stuffed Mushrooms

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Food Photography 101: 5 Beginner tips for shooting in Natural Light


photos by cassandra mcd.

I decided to try to learn food photography by watching YouTube vid and using only natural light. It was my solution to being able to practice photography during the long, cold winter months when I’m hunkered down at home. I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get me into the kitchen and trying some different recipes. I don’t enjoy cooking that much so I wanted to make it more enjoyable.

It worked. I joined, then Gastropost, a foodie community, that had weekly food missions that we could participate in for a chance to get our photo featured in the weekend National Post newspaper.  That was pretty fun. I got featured several times and found myself looking for new recipes on a regular basis. Gastropost sadly ended last year but it was fun while it lasted.

Not that long ago,  I was involved in a weekend project where I got to make and shoot a few different “simple recipes” for a friend. I had a full test kitchen going on and I will never do it again! I underestimated the amount of work involved. Also as a natural light shooter, I only had a small window of decent sunlight to get the shots done so I had to work fast. It was still fun and I have some photos and lessons learned I want to share with you, starting with 5 simple tips for planning a food photoshoot in natural light.

5 Natural Light Food Photo tips for Beginners:

  1. Know your limits: Limit what you plan to shoot. Try only a couple dishes in one shoot, especially if you are not a hardcore planner (I’m not) and you may want to experiment with plating and try different setups
  2. Planners Win: Pre-plan your shoot – Pinterest is great for styling ideas
  3. Get it together: Organize your props and put them in a reachable spot. The more prepared you are the less amount of time and precious sunlight you’ll waste. I speak from experience!
  4. No Fillers Please: Never use flash, never! if it starts getting dark, you are better calling it a day.
  5. Leftovers are good motivation: If you are just learning, like myself, one tip is to think about if you can freeze the food or keep leftovers for lunch or dinner. This serves as an excellent determining factor in what I choose to shoot!

I’m sharing my photos of a simple Stuff Mushrooms dish photographed in natural light, using an old beat up Canon Rebel T1 with the 50mm lens that cost about $100.

Hope you enjoy this and get inspired to shoot something for your blog or social media or…cook something yummy!

Cheers,

Cassandra

Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

1 lb fresh mushrooms, medium sized

¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated

¼ cup dry bread crumbs

¼ cup onion, finely chopped

½ tsp dried oregano leaves

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

Directions

  • Brush or wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth. Remove stems from mushrooms. Set caps aside. Finely chop mushroom stems.
  • In a medium bowl, combine chopped stems and all remaining ingredients.
  • Press mixture firmly into mushroom caps, mounding on top.
  • Place on a sheet pan with shallow sides.
  • Bake at 350F for 18 to 23 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

Stuffed Mushrooms

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Shopping habits: Reflections of a somewhat reformed shopaholic

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-18Photo: Cassandra McD.

Let me set the scene and you can tell me if this sounds all too familiar to you.

You get a text message from your BFF. 2 images: (1) A new backpack and (2) two new pairs of shoes – one pair, a sexy open-toed high-heeled sandals with metallic gold heels – LIT!! and the other a red hot pair of flats with an oversized bow, very Valentino-esque.

You: [send  multiple fire emojis]. Wait, r you gonna sneak those into the house so ur mom won’t c them?

Her: [smiling emoji with halo] Of course! Aren’t they cute tho? I just had to have them!!!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-24Photo: Cassandra McD.

Makes totally sense to you, right? They were indeed cute and def worth having.

Then you get the follow-up text.

Her: Argh. I think I may need rehab!

It’s meant as a joke but underneath it, can there be some element of truth?

My initial reaction at getting a text of pretty shoes would be a jolt of excitement. Then an instant desire to run out and have a “browse” through the shoe aisles of Winners…then maybe take a stroll through the mall, you know, just to see what’s in the stores. You guys know what I’m talking about!

The thing is, I only need look to my right, at the stack of boxes in my bedroom to be reminded of new boots and unopened Nine West shoebox housing a pair of mohair leopard-print wedges lying on the floor.

Or open the closet and look up at the stack of new workout gear! What? It was January and Gap was having a sale and I needed some new colourful tanks! New Year New Fabulously Stylish-Going-to-the-gym-soonish Me!

Realizing that I’m a weapon of massive consumption is a hard pill to swallow. I don’t think I’ve ever gone an entire day without spending money on something whether it’s little things like coffee or snacks to large items of clothing. Thankfully I’m not a huge online shopper so I’ve dodged that bullet. Phew?!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-34Photo: Cassandra McD.

Maybe they need a “patch’ or a little pink pill to help curb the yearnings felt when you spot the perfect heels or that LBD and for dealing with the withdrawal symptoms when we realize your size is sold out or the credit cards are maxed out.

The first months of the year, in particular January is when we hear all about dieting, working out and quitting smoking – the most popular of New Year’s resolutions. Where are the segments about kicking the shopping habit? Is there a pill for that?

It’s a new year and new, more responsible me…hopefully. So as part of my embracing self-care I’ll be committing to making more effort to shop less on items and focus on experiences, like dinner with my friends, brunch with my aunties and planning a trip to Iceland with my cousin. After all, those experiences are worth way more than any pairs of shoes in my book!

JellyR__Harbourfront_HR-54Photo: Cassandra McD.

How have you put a handle on your bad shopping habits this year?

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