Donna’s story

I hadn’t realised how much stress had been contributing to my migraine

I suppose I should start at the very beginning…. My dad has suffered with migraine for as long as I can remember. However, when I was in my early 20s and started to get headaches that paracetamol wouldn’t shift I went to the GP and was referred to an ear, nose and throat department for sinusitis. Only following scratch tests for allergies and then having an MRI scan which showed my sinuses were perfectly clear, was I referred to a neurologist.

At that point I was first asked about migraines in the family, my history and to complete a diary which included what I ate and drank, how I slept and any other factors that I thought may contribute to my headaches.

Donna Brookes

I was formally diagnosed with migraine about 4-5 years after I had started experiencing them. At first, I felt that I was able to take the medication I was given and they were gone fairly quickly. But I then started having the migraine that lasted 2-3 days and the tablets I was taking didn’t help. I was then put on to sumatriptan injection pens, which I perversely enjoyed the immediate detraction from the pain as I administered it.

My migraine continued to become more frequent and more painful, so as I couldn’t continue with the injections as I wouldn’t be allowed the amount of pens I needed. I’ve tried a few triptans, frovatriptan, rizatripan but for me, sumatriptan is the one that works best. I was also put on preventive medication, amitriptyline, pizotifen (couldn’t go on beta blockers as too low blood pressure) and then topiramate and I also had Botox injections. I used to alternate between amitriptyline and pizotifen every six months to try and trick my body it was something new. I tried all the ‘alternative’ measures too, including acupuncture, taking supplements, Indian head massage, and I bought a Cefaly headband. I think the only thing I didn’t do (following attendance at a The Migraine Trust conference) is to have the daith piercing.

In 2009 I had to go cold turkey due to Medication Overuse Headaches. I had previously taken co-codamol as well as a lot of paracetamol, codeine, domperidone and triptans. However, once clear, I then started on topiramate and for six months I didn’t have a migraine…..then they started returning again.

Migraine journey

I was told by my consultant that it was likely that my migraine would get worse as I approached menopause. Along the ‘journey’ of my migraine, I also had a career in the Civil Service which I loved, but was very stressful at times and involved a lot of travel. On one occasion I had a really bad migraine when I was stuck in London and had run out of sumatriptans. That was the worst journey ever, I was crying on the Underground with my shades on. I felt so poorly, with the lights, the movements the sounds, the smells. And I know this sounds like a drama queen, but there has been many times when my migraine is at its worst (usually end of day two – I’ve often been submerged in a bath at 4am) and I’ve begged for it to be a brain haemorrhage and just be done with it.

Although there were many adjustments made for me with my migraine, e.g. I had a laptop which allowed me to work extremely flexibly and catch up when recovered, I found that I would feel the need to complete a report (when I had a migraine) before taking any medication as then my brain really would switch off. I recall a telephone conference that I couldn’t speak at all. I would start a sentence and had no idea what I was saying.

Eventually I got to the stage where I was either working, having a migraine or sleeping. I’ve missed numerous personal occasions due to the migraine. So, having worked in the Civil Service for 25 years, I was ‘dismissed’ following a complete breakdown. My migraine subsided quite noticeably whilst I was off work. So much so that I was able to stop taking any preventive medication.

Stress and migraine

Where am I now? I now still have about 12 migraine a month but they are totally manageable – I can take a sumatriptan and lie down and most of the time the migraine is gone within a couple of hours. I realise now that as well as hormones (still my main trigger), I hadn’t realised how much stress had been contributing to my migraine. My Dad kept saying to me “retire, retire” and of course I really didn’t think I could afford to. I now work around 12-15 hours a week working in a local shop/post office. I have never felt so healthy. I still can’t really drink alcohol, nor cope with lie ins.

But I think that I now try and think positively about my migraine…. Because of them I have led a fairly healthy life – regular sleep, very limited alcohol, regular exercise etc. It has forced me to stop doing a job that I am unable to do without a detrimental impact to my health and well-being – so it really helps regulate me. I now feel that migraine is part of me, but doesn’t define me. I no longer have to play catch up all the time, or try and explain to colleagues that I’m stuttering because of a migraine, not that I don’t understand the subject matter being discussed.

Finally, I have to say a big thank you to my close friends, family, The Migraine Trust and especially my husband – who has been a single parent and nurse so many times due to my migraine. He’s had to be patient when I’m barking at him not to walk in the bedroom as the floor boards move and his aftershave was making me worse. Without them and him, I really don’t know where I’d be.

The views and opinions expressed in this ‘Migraine story’ are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Migraine Trust.