What it's like to live with migraine triggers

Nick, Donna, Varsha, and Gary share their experience of managing their migraine triggers

How Donna has to avoid alcohol

My triggers

My main triggers are hormones, stress, dehydration, very loud noises, bright lights and alcohol. Many of these are unavoidable, but the one that has always been one I kept trying out was alcohol. For a couple of decades, I could count on my hands the amount of alcohol I consumed each year! It just wasn’t worth the agony that followed. Sometimes, when I felt I was in a ‘good place’, I’d risk a glass of wine with a meal, especially if we were out. However, I could tell the moment the wine passed my lips whether I would be okay to finish the glass, or (more often than not), pass it to my husband to finish.

We always joked that we shared the driving, he’d drive there and I’d drive back.

How it feels to have to give up for migraine

I always felt like the ‘party pooper’ and also often ended up leaving early too. It is even harder to refuse a cold beer on a very warm sunny day, but that is something that I have had to do too many times.

How Gary had to change his career

My triggers

Alcohol, exercise, socialising, bright lights, live concerts and chocolate are limited now to avoid triggering a headache. I was originally employed as a mechanical engineer, but to help with my condition, I returned to college, studied for a few years, and ended up changing my occupation, thus avoiding cold dirty noisy workshops.

How it feels to have to give up for migraine

My headaches began at the age of 29, and so having to give things up at such a young age was distressing.

How Varsha has to plan her day

My triggers

I’ve noticed several things that trigger my migraine: dehydration, hunger, bright lights, loud noise, exercise, low/high sugar and heat. I also think hormones act as a trigger for me too. It’s difficult to control so many variables on a daily basis. I feel like I’m stuck in a never ending game of ‘what will trigger my migraine off today?’.

I have to think about everything! I have to assess myself everyday and ensure necessary precautions are taken to prevent triggering a migraine and ruining my day. Even with preventive planning in place, with so many different triggers, a trigger will slip past and cause a migraine.

I try to ensure I maintain a healthy diet. I try to stay as active as I can and push my body to strengthen it (difficult to do most days but has to be done). I avoid too much sugar and stay clear of junk food like chocolate and desserts as much as I can. I have found caffeine to help, at times, to ease my pain slightly but my biggest helper is sleep and rest (not so easy to achieve when you’re on the go!).

How it feels to have to give up for migraine

I’ve had to: cancel plans regularly, stop myself being active on certain days, be taken home from days out/events/parties, defer exams during college and university (hence graduated later) and wasted hours bed -bound and in pain. I’ve found myself not only ruining my day but friends and family around me.

I am however, lucky to have supportive people around me to keep me positive and mentally sane. The debilitating effects can be difficult to get through a lot of the time. My boyfriend helps me appreciate how lucky I am and keeps me motivated and active. He supports me to keep believing in myself which can be hard to do with the frequent amount of pain.

How Nick has to manage travel

My triggers

My illness is one that is invisible and yet makes more of my decisions than I would have like to admit. The constant checks and routine before I leave the house the making sure I have food, drink and medication. But it starts before this, really. On the day of a particular event, e.g. trip to London to the theatre, I am assessing home my head feels from the moment I wake up. I pre-empt the travel/stress headaches by eating and drinking well.

I plan where my next meal is and what it is. Too much sugar could result in a headache – equally too little could too. It’s like an old fashion scale or balance that could tip over with one wrong move – sometimes my body is calling out for something but I still have to try to make the decision. Where most people would have use coffee for a boost I have to result to other means. I have no coffee or alcohol in my life as well as limiting my sugar intake (which sadly includes chocolate) and ensuring my diet is healthy.

How it feels to have to give up for migraine

I have cancelled trips to the cinema an hour before because I know my head couldn’t take it and have a much smaller TV than most these days! I am in a strange situation where my girlfriend also gets migraine although she would agree that hers are better controlled than mine. Having her support is essential to this – it’s not easy cancelling cinema trips last minute or leaving a party early.

She knows that to book a trip abroad I have to be in the right frame of mind – if I’ve had a bad week I simply cannot imagine getting on a plane with the altitude and confined space. But she sticks by me through all these decisions knowing there will be better times around the corner.