Headaches

| By Paul | | Comments (29)

In what was a very healing and important post for me, see Blending, the subject of headaches came up in the comment discussion. Someone asked if it was a common issue for people who struggle with dissociative identities, and others chimed in saying it was. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to talk directly about the issue. To be honest, it is not high on my list of symptoms I have to worry about, but as I have thought about it, it has shed light on some other issues for me.

Probably it is not high on my list because I do not consider my pain to be all that bad. This is ironic, because I know full well that pain, whether it is in my body or head or neck or throat, can be absolutely debilitating. Headaches tend to be the most frequent source of pain, but also the least disabling. Body memory pain with its associated flashbacks, by contrast, can have me writhing on the floor and crying like a baby.

My personal take on headaches, for those of us with any chronic dissociative issues, is that they are related to degrees of switching states. There are switches that we flow into and are kind on our system, and these do not usually generate headaches. These, for me, are switches that takes place when we, for example, end up being more playful or funny with our children. As such, they are not really full blown switches, though they can be, but more usually are more of the blending type I talked about in the post I referenced at the top.

But, most switches are highly stressful. And headaches are clearly linked to stress. Psychologically, I label these headaches as switching headaches. The medical language would be tension headaches. The pain can be severe. Sometimes I just go right to medication, depending on what is going on, I will take as a first line, the variant of Fioricet without the caffeine. And try some techniques like guided relaxation and a heating pad on my neck to relax the muscles.

There appear, to me, to definitely be degrees of pain. If the internal stress is bad enough, it feels as though my whole body collapses, and this leads to what I think are migraines. These are the times when I cannot see well, become nauseous, cannot think at all, and the head pain is a different league. These can last a day or more for me. I have heard from others that migraines can last a week or longer. Thankfully, that has not been my experience. I usually can get by with medicating the pain, and forcing myself to sleep. That usually means I take a cocktail of Percocet, Flexeril, and Klonopin.

As I have healed, I have found that these really bad states happen less and less. This leads me to the interesting piece. What is interesting, for me, about all of this is that there are things I can do to solve these pain states without any medication at all, and quickly. I am just not that good at doing this yet, but I am getting better. There have been many times I have ended up in a really bad switch state and in bad headache pain (which is usually accompanied by other somatic body memory pain, like neck or throat pain) and ended up phoning "My Healing Guide." She almost always tries to help me get grounded, and there is always resistance. The miracle is that getting grounded works and solves the pain. And often the solving of the pain happens as quickly as the switch itself.

Now one could look at that data in a couple of ways. One could say that the pain is contained in a part (or parts) of me, and that my getting grounded as me, Paul, still could keep the pain in the part, with the part suffering. I do not subscribe to that theory. I think that becoming grounded helps the whole system, and parts of the system become more at peace (sort of like what I was trying to get at in the "Blending" piece).

29 Comments


shen said:

I've had a headache since Wednesday evening. It came on after a very intense therapy session, during a time when I felt as if I was aware of more than one part at a time. I don't remember headaches associated with switching, but this kind of headache during a time of growth and change is something I'm coming to see as a pattern.

I've felt all week as if there are several parts of me awake at the same time, and one of these has not been connected to the rest of me in the past - at least not that I'm aware of. There is something new happening and that, I believe, is why I have this headache. Now, after almost 48 straight hours of this pain(and a strange kind of light distortion that makes it hard to focus on the real world) I'm really ready for it to stop. I'm glad for what my therapist is referring to as a "breakthrough" but I am ready for a break from the relentlessness of it. It is making me feel rather out of control.

Thanks for an interesting topic which is exactly right for me today. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to shen:

Shen, Sorry it's been so long you have been suffering. I know a lot is going on for you, but still you should get some medical relief.

I almost never get headaches anymore since I accomplished co-consciousness with the angry protector. Squashing him and trying to prevent him from bursting forth (using grounding) was what was causing the headaches for me. He had some things to say and they were quite important. For me, the headaches were a message about the importance of what he had to say, both to me AND to others. So... he ended up figuring out how to bust out and tell off some certain folks using absolutely zero tact at first. Zero tact and a lot of profanity. And that was probably the start of the most important chunk of healing I have done to date. Solved a BOATLOAD of physical issues as well. He freed me from some stuff when he freed himself.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Ethereal Highway:

Ethereal Highway, Great to hear from you! So, your experience seems similar to mine. The less dissociative I become the less of a problem I have with headaches. I also tried to prevent parts from having something to say, but found (after a long time) that it didn't work. Now I try really hard to accept and listen. It's a totally different philosophy for me, but it does seem to work.

shen said:

Wow... that is exactly what I did last week. Exactly - a part of me that has been completely submerged came out, the dam broke and my anger just poured out completely uninhibited.

I caught some flack for the anger... and have been trying to keep it under control since mid-week... maybe that's why this headache will not go away.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to shen:

Shen, The more I try to keep things under control, the more physical distress I find myself in. I find that breathing and moving through it makes things better. But, of course, we all know that's easier said than done. Plus I know you do a lot of that already.

Nansie said:

WOW is all I can say when I read all of this. Lately I have been able to connect alot of different physical ailments to my DID stuff. One of the first was the headaches. Like Paul I will put heat on my neck to help ease that tension first. It does help alot. I get the headaches in behind my eyes and in the very center between my eyes. AND they are awful...causing nausea and overall crappiness. Ibuprophen is wonderful to me. I take two and then two more in a couple of hours if things aren't better. If it's real bad and I have mindspins too I do xanax. Things have to get real bad tho for me to do all of the above. Sometimes it does too. Especially when I have a new part come out with a flood of a new memory. Hard stuff for sure. It amazes me that we all suffer from this...my T always seemed very interested when I told him I was having headaches that lasted for days....now I know why. The dizziness comes when I fight to stay present in an uncomfortable situation...this is bad cuz I get physically ill sometimes from it. I'm really learning alot lately about myself thru everyone and their blogs! I thank you all!

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Nansie:

Nansie, Keep in mind that any kind of stress brings on headaches, and since healing like we are all doing is a high stress activity, it's not at all surprising we have pain problems. This is why I almost didn't make this post, because it seems painfully (bad word) obvious. I am glad you are learning about yourself. This is the route to healing.

Kylie said:

I experience headaches just like Nansie described (right behind the eyes) - particularly when we are having a stressful time. I never really thought this was a DID thing because I also get migraines occasionally (which feel different again) and thought it was to do with that.

As I mentioned before, I take this as a sign we need to 'chill out' and we have a few things we do for that. Sometimes when its really bad I will have a hot shower to loosen the muscles before lying down and taking some Ibuprophen. I try not to resort to medication - I have a problem taking meds, but not enough that I wont take them when I need to. We hadn't tried the heat pack on the neck though - will definitely keep that in mind!

The other thing we do is every now and then we will get a massage. This is something we had a lot of trouble doing at first - trusting someone to touch us was a huge issue. It still can be but we always go to the same lady who is very good and who is aware that we have some issues - though nothing specific. Its important we do this because I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders and back and it makes those headaches - and my migraines more frequent.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Kylie:

Kylie, I didn't mean to imply that headaches were really a DID thing. The only way in which I think it's a DID thing is when they are directly related to switching. Otherwise, most headaches I think are the normal stress variety. The heat pack is a very healing thing, because you can do it and focus on doing mindful relaxation. That seems to help. I have a moist heatpack I put in the microwave for 2 minutes. It's quite amazing. I tried the massage, and did well with it for a while until I got someone I got wildly triggered by, and so I stopped going. I find the moist heatpack does almost as well as a good massage.

castorgirl said:

It may sound perverse, but I'm glad when I experience a headache, as it means I'm connected to my body and not dissociating the pain away.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to castorgirl:

Great point Castorgirl. What I didn't mention in my post is that I never really experienced any pain at all (including headaches) until I really made a leap forward in my healing beginning a couple years ago. So, yes, I know what you are saying. This is the "going through it" my therapist keeps talking about. I've spent a lifetime going around it, and it's not helped me heal. It's only helped me survive. I want, and need, to heal now.

shen said:

I've had this headache since Wednesday... four days now. There must be an end.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to shen:

Shen, Has it ended yet?

shen said:

Not yet... Falling asleep with it is bad but waking up with it each day is worse. I have no fever or other symptoms, just this headache...

C suggested a family meeting, but I don't know that I have time today. I'm hoping for tomorrow morning.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to shen:

Migraine medicine?

Melissa F said:

I will get two kinds of headaches that I relate to being DID. I'll get the "switchy" headache that is behind the eyes and occurs when I'm revolving too quickly with other insiders; but generally, those headaches don't last and go away once I settle down.

The other headaches I get are migraine-intensity headaches, with sensitivity to light and sound, nauseousness. These come about (generally) for one of three reasons: Construction w/in my internal system (you know, like 'building' a place inside my head for a newly-discovered alter); if a new alter is going to be presenting very soon; or lastly, if I'm fighting off processing some trauma/memory work. Once I can figure out why I am having the more intense headache, then I can address it appropriate and get some relief.

Melissa

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Melissa F:

Hi Melissa, and welcome to commenting here! I'm glad you are able to know from where the pain is coming. You seem to have good awareness of your system. For me, I frequently get caught up in panic sometimes and it becomes hard to do the work to ground. Interesting how common this is. As I said, it's something I've not brought up because I didn't think it was an issue, but apparently it is.

Holly said:

It's always interesting to read/hear others' experiences with headaches. It seems for most people with DID the headaches are the result of switching, as you mentioned. I don't believe that's the case for me. But honestly, I don't understand what IS the case for me when it comes to headaches.

Headaches absolutely were high on my list for a long time. For years and years and years I had constant, nearly debilitating headaches. I woke up with a headache; I went to bed with a headache. I joke that I had one very bad headache for 20 years but that's not far from the truth. I saw doctors, chiropractors, nutritionists, you name it, nothing helped.

Nothing helped, that is, until I learned about my system. Almost immediately, the headaches abated. The difference was night and day. I went from always having a headache to often having a headache. Fast forward to today when I rarely have a headache - a DID headache, that is.

I have no idea why what was a constant, seemingly unsolvable problem is no longer a problem at all. All I know is that I found out I had DID and the headaches diminished. I still get them from time to time and that's good - they serve as a barometer for me, measuring the internal atmospheric pressure. But it's still a mystery to me. It's not as if we're a fully co-conscious, highly communicative system. So it can't be down to communication. But it's not about switching either. If it were, I'd still get headaches all the time.

Thanks for writing about this. It's an interesting topic.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Holly:

Holly, Always nice to hear from you. I love reading your blogs! For me, it's really hard to know if the headaches are really a result of switching. Sometimes it's just that there's a lot of internal activation. Sometimes it feels like a revolving door of switches. The title was headaches, but I should have broadened it to overall pain. Like you, things changes as I learned more about my system. In some ways, some types of pain got much worse as I learned more about my system and had more awareness. Other pain got better. It's really hard to tease out. I think I now rarely have "DID headaches" because I'm much better at grounding than I used to be. I think when one can't ground, there's an internal panic, and that causes the "classic switching headaches". With practice we can help ourselves.

Holly said:

Thanks, Paul.

It IS hard to tease out - great way to word it. So many things related to DID are.

Interesting about the grounding. I feel like when I have a DID headache, grounding makes it worse! I like that there's that difference between our experiences and between so many people's experiences. It's a nice reminder that DID, while there are certainly hallmarks of it, is unique to each individual living with it.

OneSurvivor said:

I am not sure why, but I don't remember headaches being much of an issue when I was growing up...or even as an adult. I did reach a point about 15 years ago where I started to have the non-painful symptoms of migraines, which started to lead up to some painful ones, too. But meds work really well for me, thankfully.

I do think that the symptoms may have been the precursor to finding out about the DID. There was a huge revealing and healing time coming up, so there may have been a connection. They do not bother me much any more, but who knows what will come up when I move and am opened up to do more healing work.

I wonder if the fact that I have been co-present for so long has something to do with it. Perhaps, if I had been more of a time losing switcher, I would have had the headaches, too?

Paul Author Profile Page replied to OneSurvivor:

Thank you OneSurvivor. For me, a lot of the pain issues, including headaches, only became prominent as I've healed. Fodder for a new post title: "What kind of switcher are you?"

OneSurvivor replied to Paul:

That is a good topic. There are so many different ways that people switch.

Mareeya said:


I'm so glad to find a post on Headaches and DID. I have suffered migraines for over 20 years now that do not respond to any type of medication, whether it be prescription or over the counter meds.
My therapist has been tracking these migraines for 8 years now. She was trying to see if, and how they correlated with my DID, as she highly suspected they were related. We think we have figured a few things out.
I almost always get a migraine when I switch. Even if it is a switch that puts me in a positive frame of mind, the migraine still accompanies it.
I also get a migraine if parts of my system are in conflict with each other, ie; I have a couple of parts who are determined to self sabotage. They feel this is for my own good, but I have another part who tries desperately to get them to stop the sabotage. This internal chaos will almost always cause a migraine.
I also will get a migraine if I'm not giving a part of my system what they desperately need...in other words, I'm not nurturing the parts who need nurturing even if they're pleading for it.
My therapist is working with me on internal communication and cooperation, but I just cannot seem to master that. I'm not even sure if it is possible to master that.??
But I had one success story about a week before Thanksgiving when I had a part who was pleading with me not to make us go to our usual Thanksgiving destination that I literally force us to go to every year because that is what is expected of me. I started to get the worst migraine ever, which I was positive would last 3 to 4 days.
I thought about what my therapist said about trying some internal nurturing. So I promised my internal part that we wouldn't go this year. I woke up the next morning without a trace of the migraine.
Now granted, this migraine could have been just from the stress of going to this Thanksgiving destination, or it could have been from my part making a big fuss inside. My therapist subscribes to the thought that my parts are creating chaos and giving me migraines as sort of a wake up call to listen to what they need. I agree only to a certain degree....not yet determined. :)
I will continue to work on that internal communication, even though it seems so darn hard to do.
Sorry to ramble so long about this, but these headaches encompass the middle of my head all the way down the back of my head, and last anywhere between 1 day to 4 days with only a couple of day break in between. I am honestly hoping that as I learn to become more co-conscious, and internally communicative, these headaches will decrease in frequency. I've noticed a slight change just since I stopped resisting my diagnosis, which only happened this past year.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Mareeya:

Hi Mareeya, Thanks for stopping by here and taking the time to comment. No problem on the long comment! Sounds like you are doing some really good detective work there. Yes, communication is the key and listening. But I want to validate for you that it's certainly not easy. Often people think very literally when it comes to communication, like as if you are going to have a face to face. For me, it's been much broader. For me, it means just being open to what parts of me want to express. And that expression comes in many forms. Often it comes in the form of sharing of feelings, not discourse. So, the key here I think is to think out of the box a bit about communication.

Mareeya said:

Hi Paul,

"Often people think very literally when it comes to communication, like as if you are going to have a face to face."

Thanks so much for writing that. I think that is where I am stumbling here. For the most part, I am a very literal thinker, so communicating has been very confusing for me.

Thinking about it in broader terms will help me a lot. That makes much more sense for me.

Paul Author Profile Page replied to Mareeya:

Yes, Mareeya. I have found that many clinicians (even ones who are experienced with dissociation) use the word communication but don't talk about it in broad terms. I can almost assure you that if you think about it less literally, you will be able to have more opportunity to make progress in this area.

OneSurvivor replied to Paul:

I have found talking out loud to whomever will listen (and pass it on to those who cannot hear) really seemed to help me a lot in the beginning.

There have been times when I had questions and needed to know something and I suddenly knew it. I think that is a form of communication, albeit it not a conversation in the traditional sense.

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