Living With Migraines

I’m … exhausted. I think that’s the right word. When one of these finally passes, it feels like I’ve been competing all day. Before the feeling passes, and I just go back to thinking they’re minor things, I’m going to write about it.

A migraine is usually caused by a trigger. I have two, stress and exercise, which is ironic considering what I do. They can be anything though – food, alcohol, sunlight, there is no set pattern. Observers often think that just a headache, and wonder why you don’t just carry on.

Migraines are as individual as a fingerprint. Some people will suffer and stay functional, others completely break down.

My migraines take a specific pattern:

  • They start with tension in the back of the neck.
  • Next pain will start somewhere in my head. Usually behind my forehead and at the base of the back of my head.
  • Light hurts, looking at screens more so.
  • I go dizzy.
  • Sometimes I have problems speaking.
  • Thinking becomes disjointed and difficult. Simple things become near impossible.

When one of these hits, there’s only one thing I want to do – make it go away. Any way possible. I usually need help, because I’m not always capable of helping myself. First up, two ibuprofen and two paracetamol go down my gullet. No idea if they help anymore, but they’re the starting point. Heat and cold is next. One or the other may help, either a hot water bottle or a pack of peas to the top of the head, forehead and neck. If one doesn’t help, sometimes the other does. Next is a dark room, and attempting to get to sleep. If I can get to sleep, and stay asleep, I can sleep through the pain. Sometimes it’s too painful. Sometimes, sitting still helps. Sometimes, constantly moving helps. I used to always jump in to a warm bath. That’s not always helpful though.

I will try most and all of the above, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. A migraine does eventually go away on it’s own, usually after several, several, hours, sometimes a day. And when it’s gone, I feel exhausted, like I’ve been training all day with no let up.

This is all reactive. That is, it’s all done once the migraine starts. And it comes with Dread (qualifies for a big D). I worry about when the next one will hit, because when it does, my day is gone. And that can mean cancelled classes, meetings, or even just planned down-time.

A few years ago, I discussed the problem with a friend. He gave me some Syndol, and this took the edge off the migraines. It didn’t make them go away, but it did take the edge off and made them liveable. Unfortunately, after a few months, the Syndol stopped working.

Last year, I approached my GP with the problem. I’ve suffered from these on and off since my mid teens, and I was hoping for some advise on dealing with them. The first response was to put me on beta-blockers. They killed all my energy, completely killed my ability to play any sport, and I really struggled to get work done. All I wanted to do was sleep. So, not happy with that, I nixed them and went back to dealing with them as and when they arose. To be fair to my GP, I didn’t go back for a second attempt, since I knew the next step was anti-depressants, and I wasn’t keen on that.

I have one known way of reducing the frequency of the triggers. Daily cardio helps, an hour of gym work, running or cycling a day helps. This is quite intensive, but means that I can participate in high-intensity sport without triggering a migraine. It doesn’t stop the stress triggered ones though. I can’t guarantee I can do this every day, and there’s a two week “bootstrap” where I’m guaranteed daily migraines. Once we’re past that point though, I’m ok.

Today I went for a jog. And it was a jog. 45 minutes, 6km. And felt pretty good when I got back. One shower later though and I went south with one of the worst migraines I’ve suffered for a long time. I tried everything listed above, and several hours later I was still in crippling pain. I found something I hadn’t tried before, sumatriptan in an over-the-counter form. Pricey, but I read good things and decided at this point to give it a shot. It worked, I have a second (they come in a pack of two), and it’s there for the next time one hits. No idea if they’ll continue working, of it this was a one time fluke. Nothings certain with migraines.

So why am I writing about migraines?

For starters because they’re misunderstood and crippling. They’re not a mild irritation, they can be complete life-changers. And because it’s useful to voice experiences for other people, hopefully there’s something useful in here for other suffers, or at least other sufferers can appreciate they’re not alone.

A resource I found recently which has proved immensely useful is [http://www.migrainetrust.org/](The Migraine Trust). Their fact-sheets are useful, and they provide strategies for coping, details on medications, and ways to work with the medical profession. It’s immensely useful. It’s the first dedicated resource I’ve found on migraines that puts everything in one place.