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Separating Depression Symptoms From Migraine Symptoms & Frustrations

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 Migraine.com posts:

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

Comments

  • abbey1997
    11 months ago

    I have always felt my migraines and clinical major depression/general anxiety were linked. I had multiple doctors tell me they were not or that chronic pain will cause depression. I really feel it’s more than that and has something to do woth neurotransmitters. Do you have both disorders? I really have no “reason” to have depression. Even when my migraines were not as severe or frequent years ago, I still had depression/anxiety. Thoughts?

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hi Abbey, I do have both. A hallmark of clinical depression is that it doesn’t have a reason (though some people can have episodes triggered by life events). Migraine and depression are comorbid, which means people with one disorder are more likely to have the other. One does not cause the other (in either direction), though it’s possible one disorder could exacerbate the other. I can’t stand when doctors say that chronic pain causes depression… the relationship is a lot more complicated than that.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  • half of me
    5 years ago

    I am a 51-year-old migraineur whose migraines started at age 19. My headaches have been daily or near-daily for many years. I struggle with depression/anxiety from time to time. I noticed that with two of my mental breakdowns, my migraines improved greatly for about two weeks after onset of the mental illness. After that two weeks the migraines returned to their usual frequency and severity. No medical provider has known why this is, or whether some attribute of the mental illness can be identified and used to improve the migraine situation. Of course, I am definitely not willing to be anxious/depressed to avoid migraines, since the mental trouble is a much worse torture. Does anyone have any information about why this link happens, and whether something about the relationship might be used to help migraines?

  • Steph
    1 year ago

    Thanks for your story. I think I am depressed but not sure. Kind if apathetic. Anyone tried online mental health support? If so, how did youfind them and cost? Ty steph

  • Holly Baddour moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi @2a8xch – This is a great question and one that I’m sure @kerrie will respond to. However, if you’re interested in hearing from the larger community on this important topic, you might have a better chance of having it viewed by more of our members if you placed it in our Q&A section, if you’d be interested in doing so: https://migraine.com/q-and-a/ If you have any questions about how to do so, please let us know!

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    Only recently have I realized that my depression has returned with a vengeance. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1997 and entered talk therapy at that time, but I stopped in 2008. I’m still on Effexor, along with my migraine meds, but I believe it’s time to go back to therapy. My biggest fear is that a new med will be prescribed (I’m extremely averse to gaining weight as I’m now menopausal). I’ve never heard of Amerge or Midrin: What are their contraindications for people who suffer from depression? Thanks in advance for your help, and good luck! 🙂

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    Thanks so much, Kerrie. Only now do I realize how long I’ve been back in the depression “hole” like a mole buried under someone’s porch. I need to exterminate this once and for all! Feel better, and thanks for your insight. 🙂

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Beth,

    Amerge is a triptan and Midrin is an old, non-triptan migraine abortive. Neither is contraindicated for people with depression, though serotonin syndrome can be a risk for people who use triptans and take antidepressants. The risk is very low, but it’s good to be aware of the symptoms if you take both. Here’s a good article on serotonin syndrome: http://migraine.com/blog/migraine-depression-the-newest-info-about-serotonin-syndrome/

    Some antidepressants are more of a weight gain risk than others. Effexor, Serzone and don’t usually cause weight gain — Wellbutrin can actually cause weight loss.

    Best of luck finding an effective treatment.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  • Paco
    5 years ago

    Thank You Kerrie, for sharing your insight and wisdom, unfortuneately from a long expedience with migraine. I use my smartphone for internet so please forgive any typos and misspellings. Thank you again. Paco

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thank you, Paco. Yes, I’ve had far too many years of experience with migraine!

    Kerrie

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Kerrie,

    Thank you so much for writing what I’m sure is an issue for most of us, I know it is for me.

    My telltale sign is just like yours, not wanting to get out of bed! Then I know it’s time to talk with my therapist and/or adjust my medications.

    Nancy

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, Nancy!

    Kerrie

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