No one really knows what causes migraines. When I went to the neurologist a few years back, I was given a lengthy list possible “triggers,” most of which I have attempted to eliminate, but no luck. I can tell you what I do know, and that is that living with chronic migraines sucks!
A migraine is an intense headache which is mostly on one side of the head. It can cause throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, and intense sensitivity to light or sound. I don’t believe any two people with migraines suffer the same way. These are just the clinical terms for defining a migraine. For more research on them you can check out Mayo Clinic’s website.
I have tried to eliminate food and environmental triggers, but I also have tried several preventative medications including antidepressants Prozac and amitriptyline, anti-seizure medications gabapentin and Topamax, and birth control. And for when I get a migraine, Maxalt, Imitrex, Zomig, and now I’m on naratriptan. Sometimes the side effects can be just as bothersome as the headache and its symptoms.
I have kept a journal to try to find a pattern and help find tiggers, but so far all I can tell is they are random and they are getting worse as I get older.
1. Migraines are not just bad headaches
Those who suffer from migraines know that it not just a bad headache. Migraines affect the whole body. When I have a migraine attack, sometimes I do not get a “headache.” It’s rare to not have the throbbing pain, but on occasions I just feel extremely tired, unable to concentrate, and dizzy. I consider these days a “one” on my scale of one to three.
Other times the vision in my right eyes goes fuzzy like I have been staring too long into the sun. And sometimes I have a ringing and pulsating sound in my left ear. On a really bad day, I get all of these symptoms and the horrible pain.
2. You live in constant fear of the pain
I love to travel. Migraines do not mix well with travel. Motion sickness can trigger migraines, especially when I fly. On the way back from a trip to New Mexico and Colorado I had a terrible migraine that would not go away, so not only did I feel like I wanted to die, I could not help drive on the 14-hour trip back to Arkansas.
Also when I’m two days into the backcountry, a migraine would make the trip miserable for me and whoever I’m with.
In my job finding a replacement last minute could be problematic and I also want to be a reliable employee. I know that most of the time the medicine the doctor has prescribed me will stop the pain within a hour or two. So I tend to try to work through the pain.
I am constantly afraid of the pain though. I don’t want a headache to strike and affect my life. The weeks when I have several headaches, I am constantly worried that one will strike and I will not be able to function the way I should.
3. You try really, really hard not to let migraines rule your life
Despite all the pain and physical symptoms that migraines cause, the main reason I hate them so much is because they can take over my life. I hate living in fear that I will get a migraine and not be able to partake in work or a fun activities that I had planned.
Last fall my sister and two of my best friends planned to hike Pinnacle Mountain. Two of my favorite things in life are hiking and spending time with family and friends.
That morning I woke up with a migraine. So I took my pill, naratriptan, prescribed by my doctor for when I get a migraine, but it didn’t work. I made lunch with lots of carbs and fat. For some reason comfort foods help me get over them. But that didn’t phase it either. I’m allowed a second naratriptan if the first doesn’t work, however the second didn’t work either.
I tried so hard to stop the migraine. I used every trick I had to make the pain stop so we could go on our hike. But we never got to go.
This headache I would label a “three.” It was equipped with the nausea, vomiting, and pain so severe I couldn’t even fall asleep. I was so looking forward to hiking Pinnacle with my friends, and was heartbroken when I couldn’t go.
4. You hide the pain from others to not be a downer
On the occasion above I was not able to pretend I was fine, but most of the time when I get a migraine, I usually hide the fact that I’m in excruciating pain so I’m not the friend who is always sick and causing plans to change.
Once while I was visiting my then-boyfriend who lived in another town, I forgot my medicine. Of course I got a migraine, but I didn’t want to be a downer so I tried to fake my best cheerful self. Then he wanted us to make a two-hour drive with his parents. Having wanted to impress his parents, I did not want to whine or complain. He has wonderful parents and I know they would have not thought less of me, but I still didn’t want to damper the outing for everyone else.
As the day went on, my headache got worse. I squeezed my fingers in the car to help cope with the pain, and prayed that no one noticed how bad I felt.
I know many other suffer silently too. If I gave into every migraine I had, I would miss out on my life. And that is just not something I’m ready to give up yet.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician nor an expert on migraines. I simply suffer with them and wrote this blog post to bring awareness to the disease and encourage others who might suffer or have loved ones who suffer.