#ThrowbackThursday: My first migraine

This morning I was lying in bed with a real bastard of a migraine and, when I was capable of doing so, thinking about the very first time I ever had a migraine…and how it has been since that day. It is #ThrowbackThursday, after all…

Now, let’s get something out of the way right here and now. Migraines are *not just a headache*. Like many invisible conditions, where there is (usually) no outward sign that the person it is affecting is in the midst of an attack, it can be so easily dismissed. And I can see why, really I can. Unless you are one of those unfortunates who suddenly starts to vomit or who experiences partial facial paralysis during an attack, there is really no way to prove that you are actually having a migraine.

I personally suffer from classic Migraine with Aura. This means that my first indication of an attack is visual disturbance (the aura), followed by a massive, searing, hatchet-to-the-head pain. Sometimes I do feel ill, but this is usually due to dizziness caused by the aura, which usually manifests itself in a small squiggly line that gets increasingly longer and wider until about 3/4 of my vision is taken up with what resembles the “snow” that used to come on the television screen at the end of programming for the day.

Sounds fun, right…?

The first time I got a migraine I was sitting in Mr. Smith’s GCSE Art class. I was about 15 years old. While staring at the painting I was attempting to convince myself wasn’t entirely awful, I noticed a couple of blue flashes streaking across my vision. “Cool,” I thought, “I wonder what that’s all about?” Next I noticed that I couldn’t see parts of objects/people in front of me. In fact, there seemed to be a black and white squiggly line curving across my vision. “That’s pretty,” I thought, innocently. It was a bit strange, not being able to see parts of things and made getting to the school bus at the end of the class (it was the last class of the day, at least as I recall) a bit of a challenge. My High School was built to accommodate 700 pupils, but by the time in question there were over 1300 of us, which meant that every time it was time to change classes, the corridors resembled scenes from the bull runs in Pamplona. Really fun to negotiate when you can’t see much of anything.

When I got to the place where the bus was due to pick me us, I noticed that the squiggly line had gone. I didn’t really think much more about it until, while sitting on the bus, I had the sudden sensation that an axe was being driven between my temples, repeatedly. I had never before experienced such total, utter pain.

I got home and dragged myself into the house. Mum asked me what was wrong and I explained to her all about the flashes, the line and the pain. She didn’t even need to look it up (migraine is hereditary and runs in the family), “You’ve had a migraine,” she told me and then went to the phone to make an appointment with our GP (a wonderful doctor called Dr. Mike Beer who still practices out of the Spring Gables Surgery in Hampsthwaite, North Yorkshire).

Dr. Beer saw me right away. He was a bit concerned at how suddenly the migraines had come on and, in order to rule out any other possibilities such as a brain tumor, he sent me off to Leeds to see a brain specialist (what is the real title???). There I had to do all kinds of bizarre mental and physical exercises, as well as have a scan of my head. No tumor. Oh lucky me! Just migraine…

The following months were a total nightmare. I was trying every kind of migraine medicine under the sun, but nothing worked or it did work, but the side effect was so horrible I’d rather have had the migraine (have you ever spent an entire day running up and down the staircases of your home because the medication you have just taken has made you so hyper that you literally cannot stand still? I don’t recommend it…). I was turning into a bit of a basket case; the pressure of coursework and upcoming mock exams increased my stress levels, which in turn increased the number of migraines I was getting. One week I had a migraine at least twice a day, every day. The fear of getting another migraine and whether this time the medication would work was driving me to the edge. I remember sitting in my parents kitchen, crying and shaking with fear because I was so scared of the attacks and the pain and wondering if it was ever going to get better or if this was going to be my life from here on out…That thought alone had me considering a quick exit stage left…

But it did get better. I found a medication that worked and did not have any weird and wonderful side effects (warning, product placement: the wonder drug that works for me is Migraleve. At first I took both the pink and the yellow pills, but these days I only need the pink). Over the years the number of attacks has gradually decreased and there are certain things I avoid/avoid too much of because I know they are triggers for me, i.e., heavy red wines, caffeine, strong cheeses, getting overly stressed or too hot etc…etc… Sometimes I get a migraine for no apparent reason. I tend to get a cluster of them around a week before I get my period (sorry, was that overshare?). But the number of attacks per week/month has decreased and I live in the hope that maybe one day they will bugger off completely. What was a bit of a bugger was that with each of my pregnancies, I got almost constant migraines again for the first three months (and could not take my medication). That combined with the nausea from the pregnancy made me feel particularly wonderful…

I am hugely fortunate to currently have an employer who is entirely sympathetic to my Migraineur status, but this has not always been the case. As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult when a condition presents no outward signs and, unfortunately, migraine has been and still is used as an excuse/slang for “I went out last night and got sloshed; can’t be arsed to go to work today so I’ll say I have a migraine”. This does no-one any favours. In fact I did have an employer who used it as an excuse to deny me a promotion. They thought I was just making it up. A letter from my doctor explaining my condition cut no ice. I quit and got a much better job (revenge is sweet indeed). So please, don’t make migraines any more difficult than they are. Thanks.

Should I one day win a massive, colossal, life-changing amount of money on the Lottery, I swear I will donate millions to migraine research. It is a condition that affects around 15% of adults in the UK (the majority of them women; men do get migraines but it is rarer) and, relative to its economic impact, receives the least research funding of all neurological illnesses. More facts and information about migraine can be found on websites such as those of The Migraine Trust and the National Migraine Center.

I hope and pray that my daughter never has a migraine. The idea that I might pass something like this on to her is a horrible one. But diagnoses are being made earlier, treatments are getting better and more effective, and migraine, though it does put the world on hold for a while, is not the end of the world. Not if you don’t let it.

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