10 Things I Wish People Knew About My Migraines

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1. It’s more than a bad headache. This is said in a lot of places but it’s worth repeating. When I get a migraine, it feels like my eye is going to explode. I sometimes get dizzy and feel like I just got off a roller coaster. Neck pain is common for me too. And the over 24-hour migraine — I can wake up and go to sleep, and wake up and still have the migraine. Not fun.

2. Light is my enemy. I am extremely photosensitive, particularly when I feel a migraine coming on. My migraines haven’t impacted my ability to work but you can often find me at my desk without overhead lighting. Indoor lighting can be the worst. (Pro-tip: A good pair of comfortable sunglasses is key.)

3. Men can get migraines, too. While women predominantly have migraines men can get them, too.

4. I’m thankful for treatment options. I currently have an abortive medicine that works for me. I’m thankful for science and feel positive about future options that may become available if my medication stops working or if I get migraines more frequently.

5. No, you can’t relate if you have never had one. I
appreciate the empathy but the reality is that this is a complex neurological condition. It’s hard to relate to the light, sound, smell sensitivity and pain that accompanies a migraine.

6. I’ve stuck my head in the freezer. I’m not kidding. I have literally placed my head in the freezer. Cold works for me. Heat works for others. (PS: I’ve found better options than putting my head in the fridge)

7. I wish insurance companies covered massage therapy. I find that when I feel a migraine coming on a massage can help alleviate some of the symptoms and potentially stop it before it starts.

8. I do extra prep to travel. Changes in my routine can trigger a migraine. Before flying I make sure to stay hydrated. During travel, I make sure to stay hydrated. I always carry my migraine medications on my carry-on. And I make sure that I get enough sleep. Many people find that changes in sleep can be a trigger.

9. For me, caffeine is a blessing and curse. I walk a fine with caffeine. Too much, migraine. Too little, migraine.

10. Having migraines increased my empathy for people that battle invisible diseases. They taught me to not a judge a book its cover because we may not know the health battles people who don’t “look sick” are battling.

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Thinkstock Image By: g-stockstudio

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Migraines Vs. Headaches

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A Migraine Isn't Just a Headache

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How My Daughter's Concussion Taught Me How to Rest

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When I hear the word “concussion” I think of football. There’s been a push to focus on these injuries in sports, and I am certainly on my teen to “protect his noggin” when he longboards. But I never paired migraine and concussion. The intense, extra-ordinary pain that can literally knock your feet out from under you, leaving you sprawled flat. I never realized until my daughter called me from the emergency room.

Migraines have been a part of life my entire life. When I was a child, my mother used to get what everyone referred to as “sick-headaches,” disappearing into her room for several days, only to emerge drawn, pale and seeking a cup of tea. Migraine wasn’t in our vocabulary.

Years later, I learned about migraines when my teenage daughter was diagnosed. And I learned that trying to identify what caused them, and the best treatment was like nailing Jello to a wall. Impossible to do, and messy to boot as you engage in endless trial and error.

Ask someone with migraine what could possibly be worse than that immediate pain, and they can’t imagine. I’ve only ever had two myself but I can remember laying on the floor, unable to move, clutching a bucket.  Now add the concussion.

It wasn’t diagnosed that morning in the emergency room. Pupils looked fine, blood work was good. Two days later, the pounding head, nausea and vomiting had her back at her primary, diagnosed and sent for a CT scan.

Following a concussion diagnosis, you’re told to let your brain “rest.” No stress, no television, no reading, no homework, no tests, no puzzles, no “active engagement.” It’s easy to comply with some on that list.  The “no stress” one is the killer. My daughter is a college student in a science program. Her classes make my non-migraine, no concussion head hurt. Midterms are just around the corner. Labs are waiting to be done, and she’s like a coiled spring.

I don’t tell her to relax. Foolish advice that increases the stress level. Instead, we focus on the mundane, revel in it. I’ve rented a house for a few days, away from the campus. We look at the city skyline, sipping tea. We walk the .2 miles to the market and choose the best looking apples we can find. We eat breakfast for dinner at a local diner and walk back “home” through the falling snow. We reminisce about when she was small and family vacations and I make her favorite scones from scratch in our rental kitchen. We shared buttered scones and milky tea and it’s comfortably quiet. We hear the whistle of a passing train and she remarks that it sounds like home.

Migraines aren’t “just a headache.” There are consequences. Every day, I learn something new. This week, it was that you shouldn’t just ignore a “bump on the head.” Concussions aren’t just in sports, they can occur in the middle of the night, when you aren’t doing anything in particular.

Like many migraines, concussions don’t have a “silver bullet” to put everything back to normal. It’s a process that takes time, requiring attention, but not laser-like focus.

There are times when you have to listen to your gut, and give your brain a free pass. Realize that even with diagnosis in hand, you can’t shut your brain off. The key is giving it something else to do. While this may not seem earth-shattering, it was a revelation for a person like me that wants to get in there, find a solution and move forward.

This week I learned that was best accomplished with a trip to market, a cup of tea and a walk around the block.

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Thinkstock image provided by: szefei

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How I Explain the Stages of My Migraines to My 5-Year-Old

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When I was 5 years old the colors red, green and yellow represented a traffic light and the fun game Red Light, Green Light: One, Two, Three. For my 5-year-old the same colors represent the state of her mother’s health. Every morning my husband shares with my daughter what color Mommy is. On green days Mommy is going to take you to school, on yellow days Mommy stays in bed and Daddy takes you and on red days your Grandpa takes you and Daddy takes Mommy to the doctor. When someone besides Mommy picks her up from school my daughter will immediately run up and say, “Is mommy having a red day?” Colors are her way of understanding my health.

When I went to the ER for a particularly bad migraine after already spending the afternoon at the doctor’s office, I mustered up the very last bit of energy I had to kneel down to her level and explain that Mommy was yellow all day and was now red so Daddy was taking her to the hospital to get better. My daughter hugged me so tight I almost fell over and repeated over and over again that she was worried about me. As my heart was breaking in half I asked her what color she was. She paused and said, “Yellow because mommy is sick and that makes me sad.”

What so often gets left out of the picture is how chronic illness impacts the whole family – even the littlest members. My daughter is way too familiar with waiting rooms, medications, medical terminology and my bedroom. She often eats meals in my bedroom just to be close to me and after really hard weeks she likes to be so close she shares my pillow at night. She worries about me and is vocal about it. Some days she doesn’t want to go to school when Mommy is in bed because she wants to stay home and take care of her Mommy. She knows all too well that we need to be quiet around the closed door of my bedroom and how to behave at the doctor’s office.

My health is unpredictable and she knows it. It affects her deeply and as her parent I do my best to help her manage my chronic illness just as much as I have to manage it. Every day starts with a color and ends with a color so she can try to understand the unexplained: the life of someone with chronic migraines.

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Thinkstock photo via foto-ruhrgebiet.

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woman with head in hands, she is having an headache with text 17 sneaky ways migraine affects people

17 'Sneaky' Ways Migraine Affects People

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There’s more to migraines than just head pain. Migraines can affect other parts of your body, like your vision and sense of smell — and sometimes these symptoms sneak up on you in ways you weren’t anticipating.

We asked our Mighty community to share some of the “sneaky,” unexpected ways their migraines affect them. Other people might not realize these symptoms are due to your migraines, but they can be just as debilitating as the more well-known symptoms.

Here’s what the community told us:

1. “One of my sneakiest problems is I am prone to sinus infections, but I can’t tell when I have one because I just think I’ve had a spike in migraine attacks. So the infections can get pretty severe before I even get a clue that something is really wrong.”

2. “The strangest things will trigger me, like scents and lights and noise. So I’ll be having a good day, doing errands, and someone with too much perfume or a shirt pattern that strobes comes along, and bam, out of nowhere, it all crashes down.”

3. “The panic feeling when you keep going to the doctors or emergency and none of the medication for migraines is working.”

4. “As soon as I feel a migraine coming, whether by losing my vision or a strong gagging feeling, I have to brush my teeth to get rid of any taste in my mouth other than my very mild toothpaste taste. That small act can sometimes ward off the need to vomit.”

5. “Difficulty formulating thoughts and finishing sentences; cognitive issues when migraine is not necessarily present.”

6. “During about 40 percent of my migraines I suffer with severe constipation, I can’t go no matter what I do and I have irritable bowel symptoms… Then as the migraine begins to ease off I’m able to go to the toilet with no problem at all.”

7. “If someone take a picture with the flash on it almost always triggers a migraine. I too get the vision loss with yellow clouds or a four-inch yellow horizontal strip that I can’t see through but can see above or below.”

8. “People will suddenly seem to be talking very loud. I don’t realize I am just sensitive to the sound due to the coming migraine that I then start talking quieter to make the discomfort not as bad. I often don’t notice this until my coworkers ask why I’m talking so quiet.”

9. “You feel a migraine is coming on and you walk into a place of business and they have tons of scented candles or a person walks by with too much perfume, going to the movies and you can smell the popcorn. Smells directly affect me and have the biggest impact on me getting a migraine.”

10. “Irritability. Sometimes I’ll wonder why I feel like I’m totally on edge, even if it’s a good day, then I’ll remember it’s likely because it’s really difficult trying to do life with some form of a migraine every single day.”

11. “I lose my sense of taste. For a few hours after I have recovered from a migraine I can’t actually taste anything, it’s weird. I know chocolate is sweet but once I’ve had one, nothing.”

12. “Boredom! In too much pain to sleep but can’t open eyes to watch TV or read, and can’t stand noise. So you are just stuck lying there waiting for it to be over.”

13. “When I try to distract myself from migraines is when I make some of my worst mistakes. Internet window shopping is fun, so I get desperate for anything to take my mind off the pain, plus I am not thinking very well. This causes some odd purchases. Sometimes I don’t even remember ordering them.”

14. “I can be fine, but walk past a window on a sunny day and bam there it is! My whole family complains that my house is always dark.”

15.I can’t look at some colors when I have one. Like yellow or orange, they make it worse.”

16. “That moment you are in class trying to focus on the board, but an aura happens. Everything is normal, copying notes, and then blurry double vision, sometimes tunneling vision, stars.”

17. “The ‘hangover’ the day after the migraine… even if I treated it or not, I’m in a fog.”

Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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