I’ve suffered from migraines for years. Many people don’t know what they’re like – unless you get them it’s difficult to imagine. I’m not a medical expert or a scientist; this is just my personal experience of migraines, sparing none of the gruesome details (sorry).
Migraines are not the same as headaches, and neither are they mild. For ‘normal’ headaches the ‘glass of water and couple of paracetamol’ remedy might work, but it is unlikely to work with migraines. The symptoms of migraine are different for different people – I get a headache and nausea; others have visual symptoms instead or as well. It can be completely crippling.
Often I can feel the migraine coming on the day before – I may be unusually tired, hyper, or feel like there’s a weight on me. I almost always wake up with it in the morning. I haven’t found anything that will stop it by that point. The headache itself can be anything from a dull, queasy ache, to a sharp pain in the right side of my head.
The migraine also affects my digestive system, which is particularly hard to deal with. It’s as if my whole body feels sick, as well as my stomach. Strong light and noise doesn’t make too much of a difference to me, but I become acutely sensitive to smells and erratic sounds e.g. people talking. I usually have to stay in bed all day.
If I drank a glass of water I would vomit instantly. I usually take sips of water, which doesn’t stay down for long either, and it’s unpleasant even trying to drink. I’ll be sick between three and ten times. I can’t eat anything and so every time it happens there’s less and less to throw up (again, sorry!). The strain on my stomach muscles and my throat and my head gets worse. As the hours go on I often feel like I can’t bear it any longer – I’ll be in tears and, occasionally, if I’m particularly emotionally drained, hysterical!
Usually by the end of the evening the sickness will start to wear off. The headache often intensifies at that point, but at least I can drink a little more, and possibly eat something small. By the next morning I will be left with just a muzzy head, tiredness and strained muscles.
I started to get migraines regularly when I was fourteen – I suspect it was linked to puberty – every week for several months! It would take me half the week to recover and I’d be anxious for the other half. I wasn’t the only one affected – the possibility of them hitting hung over my family; over exams, holidays, day-trips…
Of course, I’ve been to the doctors about it – three times. I’ve tried a couple of treatments they suggested, and pretended to be pleased with the generic sheet of ‘possible triggers’ that they printed out for me. I cut cheese out of my diet for a long time, chocolate (for a shorter time!), citrus, easily avoided red wine, took vitamins, tried a drug that a doctor suggested (which didn’t stop the migraine, only delayed it for a couple of hours and made it last longer)… Nothing has worked reliably.
I’m more likely to get a migraine if I’m stressed – I’ve been sick before, during and after exams! A migraine at a busy time can lead to a large amount of catch-up work too. But they also happen when I’m relaxing (I often get them on weekends) or if I’m excited about something. For a long time I largely avoided exercise – a 400m run would be enough to trigger a migraine – and that had a negative effect on me emotionally as well as physically. When I had migraines on a near-weekly basis I suffered from fear – fear of when the next would hit (it even has a name – cephalalgiaphobia). It’s as bad as the migraine itself.
I don’t suffer as badly as I used to. I’m able to go running and to go to Crossfit – it’s not always easy, and I still get a variety of headaches from working out. I get anxious when I’m particularly busy, because I can’t predict when they might hit. But my health has improved significantly in the past couple of years. I sometimes go for several months with no migraines, for which I’m very thankful.