Separating Depression Symptoms From Migraine Symptoms & Frustrations

“Is today my birthday?,” my nephew asked his mom days before his third or fourth birthday. When she said no, he said, “Well, is it my birthday season?” My sister laughed and said, “You sound like your Aunt Kerrie!”

Knowing what a big deal my birthday is to me, my husband asked a couple weeks in advance what I wanted to do this year. I was stumped. I’m on a heavily restricted diet due to migraine, so going to a restaurant is out. I don’t want to have friends over and feed them food I can’t even eat. Thinking of the carrot cake I won’t be celebrating with has brought me to tears multiple times over the last week.

Hmm, I can only think of what I don’t want to do for my birthday and I’m crying about carrot cake. As sick of my food intolerances as I am (and as much as I love carrot cake), this is not normal. This is depression.

With the daily frustrations of chronic migraine and food sensitivities, it can be difficult to distinguish what’s normal, what’s a migraine-induced mood swing, and what’s depression. And that’s with my husband, my therapist and me all watching carefully for signs of depression.

Before this latest bout of depression, my therapist and I brainstormed my most common depression symptoms to try to find my “hallmark” symptoms. We were trying to come up with ways I could tell when I was sliding into a depression. Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning is what we settled on.

I’m glad we did. While I’d been wondering if maybe I was showing some signs of depression, I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t just migraine frustration. Then I had a morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. When I finally hauled myself up, I knew it was time to increase my Wellbutrin dose.

In retrospect, I was clearly depressed before the day I didn’t want to get out of bed, but didn’t think I was because I wasn’t showing that telltale symptom. In some ways, relying on a hallmark symptom led me to overlook the other signs of depression. Still, I’m glad I had such a concrete way to know that what I was experiencing was definitely depression.

With migraineurs at greater risk of depression than those without migraine and migraine symptoms that can mimic depression, knowing your telltale depression symptoms can help keep you from sliding too deep into the depression.

I’m already feeling better. Just knowing what was going on and that I could do something about it took the edge off my symptoms even before the medication had time to work. I still won't be eating carrot cake for my birthday, but I'm already focused on what I can do (and eat), not what I can't.

P.S. I wrote this a couple weeks before my birthday, which was Sunday. My depression has improved dramatically in those two weeks and I had a lovely birthday. I even went out to dinner and ate delicious yellow cake with buttercream frosting. I chose a meal I knew would trigger less severe migraines than other foods would and took Amerge and Midrin at the first sign of symptoms. Not having a migraine at all would be ideal, but sometimes you just gotta dance. I will always choose to dance on my birthday.

Learn more about migraine and depression in these posts:

  • Expert Review: Migraine and Depression, by Dr. Dawn Marcus
  • Depressed: Migraine in a Word, by Diana Lee
  • Debunking Misconceptions About Depression, by Sarah Hackley

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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.

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