I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should write this article. I’ve never written anything quite so personal before. But recently, someone whom I know has been experiencing problems that might be attributed to artificial sweeteners, so I’ve decided that if this article helps one single person, then it was worth it. So please read it and see if anything I say about artificial sweeteners might ring true in your life. This is not a sympathy article, so please don’t feel any obligation to comment on it. I am quite alright these days.
This is an actual personal experience that I had between 1988 and 1993 (and beyond)
I began drinking diet soda while I worked at Pacific Scientific in early 1988. I had a daily routine of stopping by the store in the office complex for a diet soda in the afternoons. By October of that year I was no longer working for that company, but shortly thereafter I started having migraine headaches. I continued to drink diet soda at home. Within a few months time I became pretty much disabled by the frequency and intensity of headaches. I spent more than one day on the bathroom floor with my face on the base of the commode because it was cool and seems to relieve the pain. Often I would crawl on the floor like an animal, writhing in agony and helpless to do anything about it. I kicked several holes in our bedroom wall while lying on the bed thrashing about in pain, so when things got really bad I rolled out of the rack and onto the floor. I would spend hours on the floor of our home. The typical event duration was 6 to 9 hours of intense, agonizing pain, followed by a period of mental fog where I couldn’t function as an adult. It took about 10 months (if memory serves) for the sensitivity to develop. Please keep this in mind.
These headaches took away everything worth living for. From that point on I did not care if I lived or died. Things would happen like I would go to cross the street not noticing a large truck bearing down on me. Upon realization I wouldn’t bother to move out of the way. When one gets to that point there is no more progress on anything. They are completely arrested.
It wasn’t until 1991 that my MD figured out that the cause was most likely sensitivity to artificial sweeteners. The above activities went on the entire time for the better part of three years.
During that time he had prescribed anti-migraine medication that wasn’t working – because the cause wasn’t normal, but rather a chemical allergy only no one knew it at the time. I remember once I had a real head banger and my wife (at the time) got so scared she paged the doctor who told her that I must be having an aneurysm or other brain trauma because I was on the anti-migraine medication. Even in the induced mental fog, I somehow knew the problem wasn’t physiological. I was able to persuade her that I wasn’t going to die (but I certainly wanted to). I just rode it out on the floor of the bathroom.
I went to see my doctor later that week and he scheduled me for a CAT scan after that horrible episode. He was determined to find the cause. The scan found absolutely nothing wrong with me. Now my MD was really stumped…. After several more weeks, at another office visit he remembered reading something about artificial sweeteners and migraine headaches. He asked “Do you drink diet soda?” and it was like a movie-in-real-life, where the camera comes up close to the subject. My eyes began to tear. “YES!” and then I suddenly recalled that all my problems began after I started drinking diet soda. Now it all became very clear, and I was angry at myself for not seeing the connection before.
I stopped drinking diet soda immediately. I wish I could say that my troubles stopped immediately but they didn’t. My headaches got even worse now that I wasn’t getting that neuro-transmitter my body had become used to. It was like a withdrawal syndrome that a drug addict experiences. My MD said that I just didn’t have the enzymatic pathways to process the chemical sweetener.
The stupidity of modern mankind is staggering. The Romans had special metal vessels that were used to sweeten wine. They didn’t know any better than to use them. Eventually the entire wine-drinking population went mad because of lead poisoning. Nowadays we have food products that are sweetened with a substance discovered when a scientist (for whatever reason) tasted his fingers that had been holding a beaker of some sweet tasting chemical stuff that had dripped down the outside. We do know better. Will we ever learn?
Impact On My Life
I remember once, some good friends of ours invited my wife and I over to their home for dinner. I had become nearly a recluse because the frequency of headaches was on average 5 per week (even 2 per day on some days). The wife had prepared a fantastic meal of all my favorites. I sat down to eat and no more than 20 minutes had passed when I felt that twinge in my head that told me in 15 minutes I wouldn’t be able to see or function. To this day I get very sad thinking about that moment. The wife had spent so much effort to have us over for a nice evening and I couldn’t even hold it together long enough for that. I left their home with tears of appreciation and embarrassment on my face. The truth is, I never went back to their home again, but only because I was too disabled.
Depression is a side effect of migraine headaches. This experience took all the life right out of me. I went from a young, vibrant, positive and capable man to a completely useless in a matter of a few years. Even after the frequency of the headaches had diminished to a “reasonable” level, I still was left with serious damage to my countenance. I had been, for all intents and purposes, been physically tortured for several years. I used to joke that no one could get me to talk about anything because there wasn’t anything that could be done to me that would hurt worse than what I had become used to.
I began a new recording project in 1990. While in the studio during the very first recording session, I had a headache and had to wait for several hours until it diminished enough for me to return to work. While my fellow musicians sat in the control room of a 20 million dollar recording studio and waited for me, I laid on the cottage bed in agony. Further down the line came the realization that my public performing career was pretty much over as I couldn’t risk booking a show only to have a headache completely disable me.
Even when I didn’t have an actual headache, I was often in some kind of mental fog. I remember people asking me directions to places that I knew, but I couldn’t tell them how to get there. I also couldn’t be relied upon to count my own change. I couldn’t say names of places and things sometimes.
I didn’t really recover well enough to work until sometime in 1992, but even then I missed opportunities (I worked as a broadcast engineering contractor) because I couldn’t function. Sometimes I would drive to a job site and have to turn around or even worse, park somewhere and ride it out in the car because I was too far away and couldn’t make it back home in time. Only the frequency diminished however – the intensity remained. When it got to the point where I would have only 1 headache per week, I considered myself fortunate. During this time I had managed to record some new songs for a new album but the pace was agonizingly slow.
As late as 1998 I was still getting occasional headaches. Nowadays I can give myself a good one by drinking alcohol and not sleeping, but these days I don’t get them very often.
When you have something like this happen to you, you are desperate to stop it. I bought acupuncture needles and I studied how to use them myself. I got very good at stopping a migraine and actually reversing the effects. It’s too bad that I didn’t develop this skill until after I went through the worst of it. If I get a headache I can use 3 needles and stop it in 20 minutes.
In December of 1993 I was seriously injured and I couldn’t walk without a cane for more than a year (I couldn’t walk at all for several weeks after). It’s fortunate that my headaches had diminished by then because I do not think I could have handled both medical problems concurrently. In all, just about 10 years of my life have been robbed because of those two problems that occurred back-to-back. When I look back on my life during those times, it’s a wonder that I accomplished anything at all. I can certainly say that I lost my prime years. I spent them on nothing. Looking out the window mostly. I do remember thinking that I was going to really regret wasting that time but at the moment I was powerless to do anything about it.
These days, every day is a beautiful day. I truly appreciate every breath that I take. I try to concentrate on what’s really important, and even though I’m 51 (in 2007) now I still feel like I might be able to accomplish something after all. I can never take things like politics or sports seriously and I don’t have time for debates or pointless competitions. I have a beautiful young wife and I’m looking forward to doing things that are enjoyable and bring her happiness. In some ways, my life in Taiwan has made up for the past.