“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (http://www.brainyquote.com)
During my office visits, my neurologist would ask me how bad my headache was, on a scale of 0-10. Since I only saw him one every few weeks, I thought the answer to that question couldn’t possibly be giving him that much to go on.
What if I were to chart my headaches multiple times a day, every day? Could I learn something about them? Could I start asking some intelligent questions about them, like “do they tend to get worse in the early afternoons, right after lunch?” or “are they worse if I don’t get a good night’s sleep the night before?”
That led me down the road to all sorts of things that I thought could be contributing to them – how “stressed out” was I feeling, how much liquid had I consumed that day, had I eaten recently, and so on.
I built a custom wearable, wrote a survey app for my desktop and eventually my phone to collect this data. While the wearable was short-lived, I collected more than a hundred thousand data points with the app over the course of a year, and tried to see if there was any correlation between the strength of my headaches and things going on around me. There were some mild correlations, but I didn’t find anything like a smoking gun.
In April 2016, I decided to try to rule out any food-related triggers. My family and I spent that month going through a program called “The Whole 30”. The authors talk about various foods that cause inflammation – milk, grains, sugar, etc. – and how by abstaining from them for 30 days you can clean out and “reset” your system. They don’t specifically talk about headaches, but I wanted to see if cutting those foods would result in any improvement. It didn’t. My headaches before, during and after the Whole-30 remained about the same.
In July 2016, I started what I thought was the next logical step – a massive research project. I set out with the ambitious goal of reading every piece of headache research I could get my hands on. I also started identifying the researchers doing the leading-edge work in this area.
That undertaking spun into what I believe will become a very interesting future software project. However, after 8 months of pursuing that, it dawned on me that now I had two problems.*
I needed to get back to the real quest – my headaches. I felt my best bet would be to go back to the experts – researchers and medical doctors – rather than try to become one myself, but something about my experience as a patient nagged me.
*Apologies to Jamie Zawinski