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Juggling migraine with life’s milestones, unexpected challenges and crises.

Juggling migraine with life’s milestones, unexpected challenges and crises.

My son was born with a cleft lip and palate which has led to multiple medical interventions ranging from minor procedures to major 7-hour long surgeries. Now 15 years old, he is facing the most extensive surgery of his life.

In recent years, migraines have brought me to my knees, forcing me to clear my plate of all nonessentials. From letting go of my professional life to losing many casual friendships – I have removed as many optional demanding aspects from my life as possible in order to be better able to respond to the daily severe pain that comes with chronic migraine.

Initially when I simplified my life, I assumed that the migraines would improve under the logic that less stress and demand would equal less pain. Unfortunately I soon learned that the daily pain was present regardless of my load and that, for me, chronic migraine requires full-time dedication and a commitment to self-care in order to best manage the condition. For me, this means constant adherence to a strict diet; vigilance to a regular sleep schedule; and pushing myself to take brisk walks as often as I can manage. It means remaining close enough to home that I can stop in my tracks, take medication, and lie down in the dark with an ice pack to rest. Most experienced migraineurs I know live similarly highly disciplined lives out of necessity. It takes a lot of time, focus and commitment, not to mention fortitude, to manage this condition.

There is no way to avoid all of life’s major demands, of course. Nor would one want to. Weddings, births, health challenges, deaths and unexpected crises require our presence. For people with migraine, the challenge of responding fully can be difficult. At times like these, we often must set aside the rigidity of our scheduled lives such that we can be with our loved ones when they need us, but doing so puts us at greater risk for a migraine attack.

My son’s surgeries have been among the most heart and gut wrenching experiences of my life. As a parent, my job is to protect my child; however, because medical intervention is required– I must face the powerlessness of placing his life in the hands of another. It is an enormously daunting experience. I desperately need to be there for my son during the most demanding challenge of his life, but I worry, “Will a migraine force me away from where I am needed most?”

Having lived with migraines for decades, I have juggled the condition with various life crises. For the most part I have noticed that my body seems incapable of multitasking intense stress coming from multiple sources. In the past I have observed my migraines taking a backseat to whatever the larger crisis is – almost as if the condition is holding its breath as I focus on what needs doing. And then when the primary crisis is over –I experience an enormous wave of pain – what my doctor calls a “let down migraine.” It’s as if the exhalation from that held breath causes the pain to be heightened in intensity. I can be knocked down for days afterward, and it feels like I am being punished for the temporary reprieve.

There have of course been times that my migraines have not let up in crisis. I still regret not being able to be by my grandmother’s bedside when she died because I was so ill with nausea and vomiting from a migraine.

As my son’s surgery is around the corner, I am moving mountains to prepare logistically on his behalf. I am doing everything I can to ensure that he will be supported by friends and family and that he’ll have all he needs to be comfortable during recovery. At the same time, I am realizing that I must do all I can to prepare myself as well. And while it is difficult to remember to take care of oneself during a time of crisis– it is likely one of the most important things I can do to at best prevent a migraine, or at worst prepare for one. I’ll seek sleep in the hospital when I can get it, remember to breathe deep, and bring trigger-free food with me to proactively increase my chances of being where I need and want to be.

It’s an awful feeling not knowing how present I will be capable of being on such an incredibly important and demanding day. I am trying to give myself the same advice I give to my sons about their grades: “All you can do is the best you can do.” And I will do my best to be there, right by his side for this important milestone.

Have you missed important milestones due to a migraine? What strategies have you employed to navigate demanding times in your life while juggling a migraine? 

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.


  • Sarah
    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your struggles. There are many moments in my life, events, etc. that I have not been able to enjoy to the fullest, because of migraines. They are debilitating and never let you decide when they are going to come on full force.

  • Tracy Grant
    4 years ago

    Holly – I felt like crying for you and for me both! It is the constant juggling of life events that people who don’t suffer migraines, just don’t get! I don’t feel guilty anymore lying in bed in the mornings as i feel I suffer enough to be entitled to! I have given up worrying what others think now. It’s all about survival. My migraines started at 28 – I had a severely disabled daughter ( my 3rd child) at 36, who needed constant care, but fortunately for me, my migraines started to ramp up after she died at 4. i managed ok while she was alive. My forties, and now early 50’s are a nightmare of migraines. i won’t take sumatriptans, as long term they increased the pain and frequency of migraines. i am living on naproxen at the moment and praying my kidneys cope! I do hope you are migraine free on the big day for your son. No one realises the lengths we go to to try and cope. I really loved your letter and related. Thank you so much.

  • JanML
    4 years ago

    Hi, Holly: I think that you just wrote my life story! Although my migraines didn’t start until I was 25, I suffered from undiagnosed Grave’s disease and mild headaches throughout childhood and adolescence, then episodic migraines, then chronic migraines in my 30s after I’d had my two sons. I stopped working at that point, hoping that less stress would improve the migraines, but no such luck. After 20 years of suffering horrendous pain for at least several hours of every day, I finally went through menopause . . . after which my migraine pain slowly decreased until, at 61, I only suffer an occasional mild migraine (weather and, yes, stress being my biggest triggers now).

    Anyway, I identify with everything you said, including the let-up of migraine pain during crisis situations, followed by the “let-down migraine” afterwards. However, when I knew ahead of time that my presence would be expected at an important event, my strategy was to take a small dose of my abortive medication a few hours before the event. Up to my mid-40s, this meant taking a small dose of ergotamine, and after my mid-40s, a small dose of sumatriptan. Since I’m small in size, I’ve never had to take anything close to the dose recommended on prescriptions to reduce the worst of a migraine, so even with a “preventive” dose, I never went over the daily recommended dose. Of course, when I first did this, I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it always seemed to, and I never missed an event.

    In my 50s, after trying almost everything else under the sun to stop my daily migraines, I finally told my doctor of what I’d been doing occasionally to prevent a migraine, and he actually prescribed a small dose of naratriptan for me to take at night as a preventive (its effect is far more long-lasting than sumatriptan) – although he had to write an “exception” for me to do so. It wasn’t enough to completely get rid of the migraine I woke up with every morning (and certainly wasn’t enough to get rid of the migraine pain I’d suffer later in the day), but at least my “hello-it’s-morning migraines” weren’t quite as bad as before. And, since I again wasn’t taking that much to begin with, I’d sometimes also take a small dose of naratriptan in the morning if there was an event I couldn’t miss that day.

    I don’t know if my way of dealing with important events will be helpful to you at all, but I suspect that, whether or not you do what I did, you will make it through your son’s surgery. I hope his surgery goes well, and that whatever “let-down migraine” you suffer afterwards won’t be too severe!

  • JanML
    4 years ago

    Hi, Tracy . . . thank you so much for your comment! I would say that if your migraines typically intensify at the same time each month of your cycle, there is a good chance that they WILL improve after menopause (because they are obviously affected by your hormones). But like the old expression says, “It gets worse before it gets better.” As bad as my migraines were during my 30s and 40s, they were even more horrendous in my early 50s, I assume because I was experiencing even greater hormonal fluctuations as I entered menopause. I seriously considered suicide until my doctor prescribed the naratriptan to take every night before bed. I know what you mean, however, by thinking that sumatriptan ultimately increased the intensity and frequency of your migraines, as I have found naratriptan to be the most difficult drug to stop taking without returning to daily migraines. I also know what you mean about hoping that your kidneys hold out, as I worried about that, too, during the 20 years that I took 2000 mg of ibuprofen daily as well as amitriptyline, a beta-blocker, and various dosages of ergotamine or triptans. Finally, I am so sorry to read of what you endured during your daughter’s illness and death . . . you’re right – between that and the migraines, you’re definitely entitled to stay in bed in the mornings! I have not suffered the death of a child, but I have suffered the guilt of watching one of my sons suffer terribly from migraines himself, so much so that he missed half of high school. Fortunately, he has been doing well in his 20s, and I am praying that the migraines never return for him.

    Yep, no one really gets it unless they also suffer from migraines, do they?

  • Tracy Grant
    4 years ago

    lol jan i am holding out for menopause! i am coming up 53 and migraines getting worse each year so hopefully its not far away! Good to know for you it really helped. I do get them from food as well, so have to watch that. Sitting here with a sore head as went out for dinner last night to a Chinese restaurant. Asked for no MSG…. but did eat gluten so who knows. We pay for the slightest slip up. Thanks for you story too. 🙂 Its so encouraging to hear others understand. makes me feel not so alone.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Holly,

    Migraine doesn’t care what’s going on in our lives and often demands our attention. Preparation is necessary when we have chronic illness, but as you said in the end we can only do our best.

    I hope your son’s surgery goes smoothly and thanks for sharing.


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