Have you ever noticed that people use the term migraine as a description? People say things like this project is giving me a migraine or my kids are so crazy today I am getting a migraine. It is as if it is a descriptive term for stress and overwhelm. While stress and overwhelm can indeed give you a migraine, there is so much more to the experience. I suffer from migraine headaches and have quite a few stories to tell about managing your life with migraine pain.
My earliest memory of headache pain is at the tender age of ten. My headaches came and went with the ever shifting Michigan barometer. As a child no one ever mentioned migraine. The favorite buzz words were sinus headache or sinus infection, or the ever popular, “You don’t have a headache. Kids don’t get headaches.” That last one never came from anyone close to me, but I did hear it a time or two. Looking back now, I am sure I unnecessarily took millions of antibiotics for sinus infections I did not have. Luckily, there were no long term consequences of mass consumption of antibiotics.
I was in college the first time a doctor said the word migraine. I had just spent 3 or 4 days on my friend’s apartment floor because I was unable to drive or even function for that matter. When I finally emerged from the fog of pain, nauseous, and sensory overload, I was diagnosed with sinus induced migraines and given a prescription for Maxalt. I was relieved to have some kind of diagnosis and plan of attack, but my story does not end here.
In my 20’s, my migraines increased to chronic proportion. Remember, I started nursing headaches at the age of 10. I was the girl whose purse was full of Advil, Excendrin, Mortrin, Aleve – I was a regular pharmacy starting at about 13. By my mid 20’s I needed 4 Advil to even make a dent in my pain. As luck would have it, God graced me with a high tolerance for pain. I am grateful for this gift, because by 25 it was easier to count how many days I did not have a migraine. My quality of life at this point was less than stellar. I would make it through work and then spend the rest of the afternoon and evening on my couch or in bed. Sometimes I would drag myself to work, only to be sent home a few hours later because everyone could see I was not well. It was just a hot mess of magnificent proportion.
At the urging of my wonderful mother, I went to see a neurologist. I will be the first to admit, I do not like doctors. My experience with doctors and my migraines is annoying at best and insanely frustrating at worst. Before going to the neurologist I was told that I just needed to stop taking birth control and all my problems would be solved. Hmmm…. I wasn’t taking it at 10, so I think we should keep looking for another answer. I also had several dentists offer to break my jaw and wire it shut, because my jaw was definitely the issue. NOPE! I don’t think we will go with what is behind door number 2 either. So finally I ended up at a specialist.
Here is what I learned from my neurology adventure:
- You are responsible for a lot of the diagnosis. They need data and only you can provide it. So start charting everything my friends – food, sleep, stress, medication, time of day you get a headache, how many hours it lasts, etc, etc, etc. These are things only you know.
- Migraines are hereditary. I have migraine sufferers on both sides of my gene pool. Lucky me!
- Too much pain medicine is a VERY BAD THING! Rebound headaches my friends, the result of massive amounts of pain meds is rebound headaches. As soon as your body starts coming down from the meds, the headache comes back with a vengeance, so you take more meds, and you end up in a horrible loop that you cannot stop. I had to go through a “detox” of sorts from over-the-counter medication.
So I ended up going on an anti-anxiety medication that had been found to inhibit migraines in some patients. It was worth a try, I was up to 28 migraines a month. Taking the medication took me down to 8 a month. This was considered a success by the neurologist. She gave me plenty of refills on Zomig for acute migraine symptoms and we called it a day.
This plan worked for me in the short term. Eventually, I got sick of the medication side effects and started looking for alternatives. I found all my food and drink triggers. I have quite a few and of course they are things that I love like Champagne, dark chocolate, and wine. I also gave the chiropractor a try. Chiropractic treatment helped me immensely! I know it does not help everyone, but it was a huge game changer for me. I also started managing my stress and sleep better, as in I actually tried to manage them at all. In my 30s, I found myself in the land of 2-4 manageable migraines a month. Most of the time I could function my way through, sometimes I just have to lie down.
Here is the thing about living the mom life with migraines; your kids still need you. I can assure you, your 18 month old child does not understand that you want to crawl in a dark cave for the next 12 hours. I learned how to mother with migraines. Sometimes that meant everyone in my bed with the Disney Channel or Netflix until Daddy gets home from work. Sometimes that meant crawling around on the floor with my babies, because I was afraid to pick them up, because I might fall from dizziness. Now that everyone is a little bit older, sometimes it means everyone hangs out with their screens while mommy lies on the couch and lunch consists of whatever my 12 year old wants to put together. I do the best I can.
The worst part is my own guilt. I worry that my children will remember their childhood with mommy always having a headache. If I can manage through the day and not let them know, I do. But sometimes that is not an option. This week I had a knock me out of commission migraine for 3 days. I somehow managed to get us all to swim lessons, but nothing else on my enormous to do list got done for days. I also asked my children to calm down, be quiet, and give me space a million times. They try to accommodate my sensory overload, even if only for 5 minutes. They also give me hugs and kisses and ask me how I am feeling repeatedly. They really are the sweetest munchkins a Momma could ask for.
Since I turned 40, I seem to be having an increase in intensity of my migraine symptoms. They are less manageable and more knock me to the ground. I guess it’s time for some more research. Time to write down everything I eat and drink and how many hours I sleep and exercise. I am even contemplating doing Whole 30, because the best way to find triggers is elimination and then re-introduction. Life is just a constant winding road. Things are always changing. I need to change to, find a new set of solutions. Making a change every decade is really not all that bad. Just another day in my life of controlled chaos.