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June 15, 2018

The Monthly Migraine: Seven things migraine sufferers want you to know

Health Stories Migraines
Monthly_Migraine_Article 1 Photo courtesy/Lindsay Patton-Carson

Part of the author's migraine arsenal, including her dog, Bowie, for much-needed cuddles.

There’s a good chance you know someone who suffers from chronic migraines. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are the third most common illness in the world. In the United States, one in four households have one person who suffers from migraines. It’s a common chronic illness, but one with little concrete research as to why they happen.

Many are hopeful, however, as the new prescription drug Aimovig has shown success in clinical trials. This is huge news for migraine sufferers, whose only options are drugs used to treat anything from seizures, depression, blood pressure and more. Up to this point, there has not been a drug manufactured specifically for migraine prevention.

Personally, I’ve struggled with migraines for my entire adult life. I got my first one at 19 years old, and they’ve only gotten worse as time goes by. I’ve gone from having one migraine day every few months to spending days at a time stoned out of my mind because medical marijuana is the only thing that dulls the pain. (It sounds fun, but it’s not.) Other than the debilitating side effects, one of the most frustrating parts of having chronic migraines is not being understood. Well, here’s my chance to (graphically) spell it out to anyone who has never experienced a migraine. Please keep all these in mind when someone tells you they have a migraine.

We are afraid you don't believe us

If you’ve never had a migraine, there is no way to fully understand the pain we go through. It’s not just a headache (hell, we’d KILL to just have a headache), it’s a pain that takes over your life. When I have my bad days, I tell my colleagues to call me because just looking at a screen will send me straight to the toilet. It’s that bad. No matter how much I describe my pain, however, it’s still difficult for people to fully understand. We’re not trying to get out of plans or skip work, we literally cannot function. I’ve spent my entire career worried about being let go from a job because I have too many migraine days. I’ve canceled plans with friends, all while having this intense guilt looming over me. I’m constantly afraid people close to me think I’m just making it up, even if they do show compassion and empathy toward my situation.

The pain is so bad that standing is impossible

Oh, hey. Remember when I said that looking at screens makes me run to the toilet? So does standing up. When a migraine hits, there is nothing to do other than be horizontal for hours or days, depending on how bad it is. Sometimes sleeping helps, but other times, the pain can be so bad it can keep you awake. And if there’s no food in the house? Well, forget about eating, because just leaving the house is impossible.

Chronic migraines severely affect our mental health

In the past year, my migraines have gotten exponentially worse, and so has my mental health. Frequent agony usually does that to a person. I get upset that I’m missing time spent with my husband, and I mourn for missed work days, events, social opportunities and even my workouts. The more frequent the migraines, the more dangerous they can be for my mental health. I get depressed, frustrated and hopeless, on top of my head feeling like it’s trapped in a vice.

We have major FOMO

We miss a lot of social opportunities because of our migraines. Because guess what happens when a migraine strikes? The world goes on without you. Work, plans, vacations, friends. They’re all put on the backburner because there is nothing we can do to stop the pain – it only goes away when it feels like it. As a result, there is a fear of missing out (FOMO) always looming. You could make exciting plans, but there’s always that “what if” in the back of your mind.

We puke, a lot

One of the worst side effects of chronic migraines is the puke. There is so much of it, all the time. Within the past couple years, getting my medical marijuana card has helped immensely with the nausea. I still worship the porcelain queen, but at least it’s not as frequently. On multiple occasions, I’ve been taken to the hospital or grabbed a last-minute doctor’s appointment because the nausea would not subside. I’ve had some episodes that were so bad that I could not speak without having to throw up.

Trust us, we’ve tried that remedy ...

I swear to god, if one more person tells me to take Motrin, I will blow chunks all in their hair! That’s how tone-deaf these recommendations are to us. I have a whole arsenal of migraine supplies in my apartment, in my backpack and in my desk drawer at work. I have multiple ice packs available at home so I can swap one out when it gets too warm. I have a neck massager for when my neck muscles get tight (usually where my migraines begin). I have salves, gels, essential oils, an emergency marijuana supply, caffeine accessible wherever I go, oh, and pills. So many pills. Whenever I hear someone near me has a headache, I am well equipped to help.

The Monthly Migraine is a series dedicated to migraine awareness and support. If you suffer from chronic migraines, you are not alone and we hope to amplify your voice through these pieces.

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