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Depression and Migraine: more than just comorbid conditions

With Depression awareness month this October, I wanted to look back to my own experiences. I had almost forgotten that I once struggled with it daily over ten years ago. It held a tight grip around my heart before letting up, but perhaps not completely letting go.

I remember watching my favorite show, the X-Files. Mulder sat staring at the gun, contemplating suicide. We hear it go off and the episode ends. I wanted to disappear into the melancholy of Mulder’s universe. It seemed to match my mood a lot better than the mundane routine of 8th grade. What I felt goes beyond teen angst. It wasn’t something that would go away with the right boyfriend, a date to the prom, or an A in math class. It was as deep as my core and wrapped up in me.

For me, the depression finally started to lift when I saw a therapist. I don’t remember what we talked about, except how she said I was just a speck in the universe, and so my emotions were really very small even though they felt large. It sounds overly simple, but I found it to be a powerful lesson that still guides me through dealing with the chronic pain I now experience.

A few years ago I was stricken suddenly with chronic migraines. The migraines brought on their own type of depression. They led me to a deep, dark mood. I often cried uncontrollably during an attack. I didn’t cry from the pain but rather it was an involuntary symptom. After the attack was over, the migraine hangover would bring a feeling of immobility. I remember sitting at my chair willing myself to move, to get up and do something. Sometimes it would take twenty minutes, but I did always push myself up and into action again. I was not depressed during the worst periods of my migraines, but I did revisit many of those old feelings. In addition to the moods brought on from the attacks themselves, there was the process of coming face to face with sudden illness. All too fast I learned words like “rescue medicine,” and “pain scale.” It is difficult to describe the darkness one faces when they realize their body has become unreliable and unpredictable. One thing that got me through was mindfulness meditation as a tool to deal with the physical and emotional pain. Like in high school, I felt how small my pain and emotions can be compared to the universe around me. I also was able to find some things that help my migraines. As my migraines improve due to successful treatments, I emerge again my happy self.

I know there must be a connection between depression and migraines. So many people suffer from both. And so many of the symptoms, at least for me personally, are wrapped up with each other. Many of you out there will need to know that there are others with migraines who have battled depression, and won.

(Don’t miss our special section on Migraine & Mental Health if you are curious to learn more.)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kelbry
    2 years ago

    I cannot tell you what reading your article meant to me. I have felt the utter darkness you speak of. I have had chronic migraines for two years now, bad almost daily ones for 8 months. You stay in a dark room and no one knows what to do with you. I began to seek out counseling myself. It is difficult to describe to someone without migraines. They don’t understand the toll it takes on the body mentally and physically. It is my hope that this changes in the future.

  • chiaragtl
    5 years ago

    the best??? I mean “like in the past”. best and depression are not two words I would associate.

  • chiaragtl
    5 years ago

    I actually have 3 types of depression. “Proper” clinical depression in the past, the kind with fatigue, mood swings that is probably a symptom of migraine (it goes away when the attack stops) and some budding-let’s hope not-depression/anxiety linked to not being able to have many days pain and med-free because of migraines and that would be probably common for many other chronic conditions.
    Right now I don’t think that after years of medication, though I stopped recently, I will be depressed like in the best, and the 2nd type, though bad, goes away. I’m worried about the third type and it sneakily becoming a major depressive disorder.

  • bluebird
    5 years ago

    Thank you .
    I find that sometimes mood changes or irritability are signals that one type of migraine has set in. Mindfulness practice has sometimes allowed me to observe the experience with some distance
    I feel sad, when I am compromised by disease. I feel sad when I can’t commit to difficult but interesting challenges because my intention and energy is so often undercut by Migraine. I feel sad, when I see others more energetically vibrant and engaged in passionate pursuits.
    I feel sad, when I feel my body has betrayed me. I have to remember that Sadness will pass. Compassion for self and others helps.
    Gentle movement helps. Singing or humming helps. Expressing helps.
    connecting with beauty helps. Accepting sadness and remembering that it will not last forever and neither will the migraine
    The worst episodes of mood change occurred while taking certain RX.
    I have never felt as badly as I did taking some of the drugs I tried as treatments. It is important to know the possibility of depression as a side effect of RX and use that information in the middle of despair… if it occurs. It is important to have a trusting enough relationship with your doctor or others and to let them know if mood change has occurred during a trial of new medication.

  • Kim
    5 years ago

    I have bipolar II – which means I get the downward crash with only slight high points here and there. No huge manic highs. The thing that I find very interesting is that if I have a chronic episode where I am suffering daily migraines for a week or so, it will trigger a crash. And it’s not the blues or sadness. It’s the whole anxiety, can’t sleep, can’t focus, can’t exist full-on crash of depression. I’ve learned to expect it and prepare by eliminating stressors when I feel it starting up. As if migraines weren’t bad enough on their own, right? But there is definitely a connection in my case. Truly, though, knowledge is power, and knowing what is going on has helped me greatly with getting the proper medication and support that I need. And my husband is wonderful about providing me with help, whether it be the cold packs for my migraines and picking up my prescriptions or leaving me my space and keeping a watchful eye over me when I am down.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks for posting your story Kim!

    I think it’s pretty amazing what you have learned to do to cope with both conditions. It can be hard when you have several conditions as they seem to play into each other quite often. I find simply the lack of exercise of a migraine flare-up can lead to my whole body becoming unhappy, mentally and physically. I definitely agree taking care and knowing your stressors and triggers is very helpful (necessary really!).

    I have also read about a connection between migraines and bipolar. We have a brief article on bipolar in general, and though you likely know much about it and the connection, I thought I’d share:

    Be well,

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