This is a challenging one.
While people ask to understand you all the time, almost force you to explain what’s going on, they don’t really get what you’re telling them.
This has been my struggle with my parents for many years.
I suffer from migraines.
It doesn’t look severe. Almost sounds cute. Like a sweet flirty way to say headache.
Although I wish I was being girly.
I will not attempt to do a scientific paper.
This is more like my testimony. But it will be a long post, so get comfy. I will put a few sources at the end if you’re really interested in the matter.
What are migraines?
As you can see, migraines are violent headaches. And that’s where people tend to mistake.
I’ve been dealing with them from as far as I can remember. When I was little, I would intake a large dose of Tylenol or Aspirins with little to no effect. I would be suffering so bad that I would cry, my parents would stay with me, providing me love, understanding and lots of cold packs. My parents and teachers would be understanding but they would never get the degree of affectation. What my entourage doesn’t always get is that migraines aren’t simple headaches that tend to be too hard to handle. In fact,
A migraine is a neurological disease characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches often in association with a number of autonomic nervous system symptoms.
The headache of a migraine often involves only one side of the head but in some cases, patients may experience pain bilaterally or on both sides. The pain of a migraine is often described as throbbing or pounding and it may be made worse with physical exertion.
Migraines get deeper than simple headaches, they affect your whole body. It took me time and a lot of research to completely understand my condition too.
What are the symptoms?
Migraines, unlike headaches, give out a few warnings before attacking you. But so you can live the total experience, these are the phases which you have to go through.
1) Prodrome : Hours or days before, you’ll experience some announcing symptoms. It might affect your mood (depression, fatigue) or your body (constipation, diarrhea).
2) Pain Phase : That’s when the headache kicks in.
This stage involves head pain which can be severe, even unbearable. The headache is typically throbbing, and made worse by movement.
It also involves sensitivity to light, sound, nausea and a tendency to vomit. You’ll likely lay down and try to reduce your movements as it only aggravates the pain.
3) Postdrome Phase : As the attack slowly fades away, you might experience some feelings associated with hangover and mood swings (depression or euphoria).
Some people might suffer from migraines with aura.
An aura is a transient focal neurological phenomenon that occurs before or during the headache. Auras appear gradually over a number of minutes and generally last less than 60 minutes. Symptoms can be visual, sensory or motor in nature and many people experience more than one.
Which resulted in a main classification of migraines in those with aura and those without. There are others classifications based on the actual location or the main affected area by the disease.
What are the causes?
Until now, there are no real explanation to what can cause migraines. It is mentioned here and there that hormones changes might actually be the main factor. A few triggers have been identified linked to the environment, diet, your actual physical and mental state. It has also been said that they are a genetic disease with a tendency to affect more women than men.
Once the pain kicks in, it is really hard to get rid of a migraine. You have to quickly ingest analgesics, triptans or other drugs that have been prescribed to you by a doctor.
It is best to actually take matters in hand at the prodrome or aura phase which would act, if I can say, as a barrier to the pain phase.
One of the most popular remedy would be sleep. Indeed, people suffering from migraines will usually try to sleep through the pain and feel recovered at awakening.
There are some unorthodox methods used by individuals to stop the migraine from progessing (cold packs with a high dose of mint while massaging my temples work for me at the prodrome or aura phase).
Can I actually prevent migraines?
Avoidance of triggers is the most apparently efficient way to do so. If you add to this self care treatments and lifestyle changes, you could actually experience long inter-migraines periods.
It’s recommended to start a journal so you can get better knowledge of your migraines and fight more effectively against it.
What are the risks?
Migraines being recurrent. It is a great tendency to abuse of painkillers. It is not recommended to take more than 3 a week. As your system could get used to the drug which would lose its effectiveness.
Migraines are believed to be the pain that occurs by dilatation and contraction of blood vessels situated in the brain, therefore severe migraines not treated could lead to serious brain injuries as vessel rupture and others related.
Main differences between a simple headache and a migraine
Truth be told it’s hard to differentiate because they can feel alike to people. Some of us would experience severe headaches which aren’t migraines and light migraines can easily be compared to simple headaches.
Migraines through the eyes of society
Migraines being a common affectation within women, it has typically been associated as a weak fragile female characteristic.
Men affected with this disease often have to struggle against discrimination.
It’s hard for people who haven’t experienced it or observe one with the disease to actually comprehend the gravity behind the headache.
What about your experience with migraines?
As mentioned earlier, I’ve suffered from migraines since childhood or even before. After abusing of Tylenol and Aspirins, I quickly got used to them and would experience great pain.
I experienced migraines with and without aura and diverse pain location as frontal, left, right, bilateral or even cluster and sinus migraines. It occurs at least twice a month as a premenstrual and postmentrual syndrome. Allergies, too much fatigue, or even the beginning of a headache and other triggers lead sometimes to 3 or 4 attacks (max) a month. I will usually sleep it off but if, for any reason, my sleep should be disturbed, I’ll have to take painkillers (Advil Migraine works great for me) and rest until it successfully kicks in. I would immediately feel euphoric and rested. It’s actually a great feeling. Sometimes when I waited too long to take the Advil -cause I don’t want to abuse- I would vomit once or twice and have to rest a few hours. I’d ultimately feel better after.
A walk through one of my typical migraines
Usually days before, I feel bloated, confused. I experience mood swings and intolerance, along with other premenstrual syndromes which makes it hard to distinguish if it’s because of the migraine or because of my periods coming soon. Some hours before the headache, I experience fever, nausea, dizziness, eyes burning, sometimes irritated sinus, fatigue, no will to actually move my legs which is why I would be laying down by then. These aura don’t always happen together, sometimes not at all. By the time the pain occurs, I am in a dark room with no lights, no sound, positioned in a very specific way on the bed. The pain is actually pulsating, pounding, unbearable. It feels like a metal circle around my head or like a painful drum kicking on one side of my head, depending on which migraine I’m experiencing. If it’s too hard to handle, I take one or two capsules of Advil and try to sleep it off at any cause. If I was too late, the pain worsen until I throw up once or twice. At this point, the Advil is actually on the ground. The pain diminishes, the fever decreases and I can actually attempt sleeping again. If I sleep soundly, my migraine will disappear and I will feel great like I got high or something. If for some reason my sleep didn’t work, I will experience after effects like some pain, a bit of fatigue, and more.
The reaction of my entourage
Usually when I do experience an attack, they will offer me to lay down or some painkiller. Knowing perfectly how ugly it’s going to be, I will attempt to go home or to obtain powerful ibuprofen or painkillers. I will ultimately have to lay down in a dark quiet place or try to recreate a comfortable one.
By seeing first hand my suffering and fever, they will usually be concerned but will not understand how a headache can affect someone that much and will suggest some unnoticed disease that I should really get diagnosed.
My parents never took me to a specialist, they would relay on doctor’s prescription or successful painkillers. They will often suggest my tendency to exaggerate my condition and will get upset with me being too lenient or tolerant about the migraines recurrence. Which is why my mom and I have been playing hide and seek with my Advil. She’d take away most of my pills so I don’t get addicted and would give them back only if I am suffering too much.
My friends will often look at me as a potential gravely sick person and will suggest appointments with doctors so I could get my auras checked.
In other words, they do not believe that the migraines can affect me that much.
Living with migraines nowadays
It is hard to get people to accept it as a real disease and be tolerant with the attacks and their consequences. I would miss work hours and college classes and with the explanation, no one would actually understand that I wasn’t laying in bed like a princess trying to get a simple pain to go away.
Even within doctors it’s not fully understood. It took some time to my pediatrician to prescribe me effective painkillers because she couldn’t understanding why I would cry and vomit from a simple headache.
Most of the time I’m being discriminated as a weak and too tolerant female, with no real intention or will to eradicate headaches which have no serious causes.
So to prevent all the judging and discrimination, I would often not mention or try to cover my migraines with other acknowledged related diseases.
As a result, I always carry my own stash of Advil and take it as soon as I identify the aura, some symptoms or the pain.
It try to avoid causing them and relentlessly blame them on unbearable menstrual syndromes too.
I sure hope one day, I can be open about it and be accepted for what my condition really is.
Migraines are a serious condition, I do hope I helped you understand the gravity and lift up some of the discrimination against it. It is not a cute womanly affection. It needs to be well taken care of. There’s a chance you might know someone dealing with this. Be aware and understanding. For more information, please consult :
– Migraine headache
– The migraine trust
– A specialist
– A suffering friend 😉