Saskia’s story

As I grew older the migraines changed

Saskia Roskam

I haven’t shared my story with anyone other than close family or friends. But today I want to share it with you. More than anything I hope it is a story of what can be achieved when not all the cards are stacked in your favour.

I am an entrepreneur and I suffer from debilitating migraines. The dark room, throbbing pain, nauseating, shivering with cold and brain fog kind of migraines. Over the past 12 years they have brought me to my knees on more occasions than I wish to admit.

Few people have witnessed me in this state. My boyfriend probably comes closest to understanding what they are without ever having suffered an attack himself.

The start

My migraines started in my mid-twenties when I entered the working world. I called them headaches at the time because I didn’t know any different. But within a few years the headaches turned into unmistakable migraines. I suspect that in those days I may have even suffered from cluster headaches. Where I would rather bang my head to a wall than suffer the pain that was inside it.

Ever changing

As I grew older the migraines changed. They became more frequent with 4 to 6 migraine days a month. I felt embarrassed and weak for having to call in sick all those times. But the reality was I just couldn’t get to work, let alone get my body or head to function or string a coherent sentence together. I was no use to anyone.

I was angry and disappointed in myself for having a body that wasn’t able to deliver 100% of the time. So what I did is I made up for the migraine days. I would work unpaid overtime to compensate for my illness. This made me feel better at work, but after a few years I realise that what I was doing was madness. I somehow had to come to terms with the fact that this was my ‘defect’.

Throughout both my pregnancies my migraines were beautifully non-existent. Only to hit me harder once the babies were born. On some occasions my boyfriend had to come home from work because I was incapable of looking after our children.

Otherwise healthy

The funny thing is that I’m never ill. You will not see me with the flu or much of a cold. And on the few occasion I am sick I won’t call in sick – as in my view nothing (as of yet) has compared to the disabling state of a migraine. When you know what it’s like to have a migraine, you quickly understand that a common cold is not a problem.

I have often tried to describe a migraine. But the closest I can get to it is something barring the signals between your brain and body. Your brain literally shuts down all systems in order to deal with the pain. In those instances I can’t really care for my kids as I can’t fully perform any action they need from me. For instance when they ask me for a simple slice of toast when I have a migraine, they might as well have asked me to perform key hole surgery. I just cannot do it!

Becoming an Entrepreneur as a Migraineur

Since starting Bloom Bakers the word migraine always, always lingered in my head. Because everything that we plan in advance has the potential of me falling out. And with big orders/ markets or important meetings this adds a lot of stress. Mostly to myself. But also to my business partner Lisa. Because when I can’t show up to do my half of the job it means I either burden Lisa with my 50 per cent or we can’t do it. It’s hard to explain how difficult this has been for me. But it’s easy to explain how incredibly lucky I am with a business partner who is understanding and who is sensitive enough to understand my condition even though she’s never lived through it.

Like my boyfriend she has seen me during an episode (which leaves my head clouded with brain fog, gives me vertigo and makes me borderline bulimic, because often times making myself sick is the only thing that gives my head some relief). Lisa knows that my migraines are all consuming and that fighting against it is pretty much impossible. This condition is my Achilles heel and as such has shaped the way we run our business. I have had to succumb to it and so has the business.

Are there bright sides?

Arguably it’s better than when I was still employed full time. Because while there still is copious amount of guilt, I at least feel that the person I work with understands me. She knows that the days that I am out for the count, I more than make up for on my good days.

After 12 years of trying to heal my condition through dietary changes, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Chinese herbalists, self-proclaimed internet experts, etc. I started taking medication (sumatriptans) for it this March. I can tell you that it has changed my life. I am still in pain. But the operative word these days is “manageable”. And I prefer that word to “disable”.

You might wonder why I took so long to take these drugs. Well, the answer is simple. I was raised in a household where we were encouraged not to take medication. We first tried to find natural solutions, homeopathic solutions before reaching for medication. Another thing that scares the life out of me is medication overuse headaches. Over the years I have read a lot about migraines, and the thought of a self-inflicted headache (as opposed to the headaches my body naturally produces, scared me more than anything. I couldn’t handle more headaches in a month).

But managing the business forced me to look into medication. It is a new path for me and I hope the medication will serve me well and will never become my master.

Lucky really

So there you have it. Living with migraines is hard. Every day you wake up and the first thing you assess ‘how is the state of my head’. The answer to that question will set the tone of the day. But I consider myself one of the luckier ones. These days I will have 4 migraine days a month at the most. When I read about people who have chronic migraines or 10+ migraine days a month and I count myself lucky. Very, very lucky.

Real life

I think it’s important to share these real life stories. Real life struggles. Because while everything about this business might look good from the outside, we as people behind the business go through a lot to make it all happen. And sometimes we do it in ways that we never thought were possible. We found a way to make our business exceeded our expectations despite having a disabling condition to deal with!

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.