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