I have done all sorts of stuff while in recovery - such as writing music and having business ideas
I was 40 before I experienced my first migraine. I thought I was going to die. My head was exploding as I threw up. Nice. That first migraine wiped me out for a day.
After that, as if a switch had been turned on, I had migraines every three weeks or so. I was lucky as they always occurred on the weekend at that time, which was bizarre. The GP suggested I had ‘weekend migraines’ and that my body would just shut down now and then due to a busy weekday lifestyle (I was teaching full time and exercising a lot).
Luckily and amazingly, I never lost a day’s work, even though I had to get home fast at the end of day now and then for a mid week migraine.
How did I know they were on their way? I get a sort of aura. It can be a strange feeling that sends your emotions all over the place, from a calm euphoria (before the pain obviously!) to fear. My senses highten. Then I slur words, often lose balance and some sight before it kicks in.
I know when it is really close when I do a funny kind of yawn several times a minute. I once read a quote that said you can tell when migraine is approaching when ‘the sun is too loud’. I understand that well. Then it is time to get meds and wait – usually they don’t work. More on that later.
I have had migraines for 10 years now (I am about to turn 50). I would like to explain the variety of migraine I experience.
Paralysing migraines: unable to move but aware of what is happening. I imagine this is what a ‘date rape’ drug feels like. I have been stuck in a position until a family member picked me up and moved me to a sofa or bed. No sickness just nausea. Unable to speak or move. Lasts around 2 hours.
Full on “purge” migraine: the most common for me. My body will purge everything so I spend a long time in the bathroom with my hair tied back, naked and with old towels on the floor as my body gets rid of waste as I vomit. Charming I know but someone has to say it as it is. This is accompanied by excruciating headache which is only ever slightly relieved by head pressing on a cold surface or holding a ‘cool pillow’ over my head. I lose control and can hurt myself by grinding teeth hard, hitting my head or scratching myself until I bleed, in frustration. Lasts around 3 hours but recovery can be days.
The short-term migraine: one that is positively affected by medication for once so I am able to go to bed and eventually sleep it off. It consists of nausea, stomach pain, diarrhoea and bad headache. Lasts 2 hours or so.
I began with sumatriptan. This used to chill me out enough to knock me out and to sleep eventually after throwing up stopped. However, I made a trip to the GP after a horrific migraine one day and explained that I thought blood pressure was making it worse. He tested me and it was off the scale. So after that, sumatriptan was not allowed as it makes it worse and all I could take was dispersible aspirin.
I have always refused daily drugs as I do not want to become addicted to anything that has side effects on a regular basis. The aspirins are to be taken on onset but rarely do anything. Blood pressure tablets have made a little difference in the last few years, and I thought as I approach menopause that the migraines might stop. Wishful thinking!
I definitely think having a slightly lower blood pressure helps (the medication doesn’t really work that well, however) and I take lots of magnesium supplements as I believe a deficiency can be an issue. I am physically fit, a healthy weight, practise yoga daily and have a calm persona. I went vegan three years ago and I believe this helped slightly too as dairy seemed to have quite a negative impact.
Since I stopped being in the classroom full time, I now travel the world for work. I am still in education, but I worried no end about migraine when working long hours and driving or flying regularly.
I have only twice had a migraine while working abroad – once during the night so, although drained, I could work the next day. The second time I had learnt not to fight it so took a few hours off and went to bed in my hotel room. I awoke to broken glass everywhere where I had experienced balance problems (not that I could remember knocking stuff over).
Recovery can take for a couple of hours to days. If I have been sick then it takes a while to recover from that. Sometimes when I have a short term migraine I can get an hour into recovery and the medication, combined with the excess brain action, give me a creative buzz. I have done all sorts of stuff whilst in recovery – such as writing music, having business ideas and so on.
What works for me? Quite simply not a lot as if I am going to have a migraine attack then it will catch up with me eventually. I know that it helps to take medication as soon as aura or symptoms appear (especially yawning). It helps to eat little and often and keep well hydrated at all times. I keep an eye on my diary to know when there might be a trigger (if it’s been three weeks – which could be period related; a change in the weather (particularly if stormy); a very active week, perhaps being stressed or having over exercised.
I take electrolytes in a drink if exercising and get plenty of regular outdoor exercise. I wear sunglasses if it’s sunny or the sky is full of those clouds that seem to emit that bright white light. I take vitamins and extra magnesium. I meditate.
Then, I get on with my life because until we know what causes these horrendous attacks, we have to live.
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.