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Advice at the Airport

Advice at the Airport

Traveling with migraine

I’m on the bus, headed to a train, to a shuttle, to a plane, to a car that will take me to my mother’s coastal home three giant provinces away.

Traveling with the threat of migraine is never fun, and my muscles have been seizing up since yesterday. No amount of stretching, exercise or sleep has seemed to help. I feel the pain creep up my right shoulder blade, into my neck. Even as it radiates up to my right eye, I try to pretend it’s not happening. I have a huge day ahead of me – even my subconscious should be well aware — so there’s no way this is the beginning of a full blown migraine.

Except that it is.

Public waterworks (again)

By the time I get on the train I’m already pining for a bathroom stall so I can cry, and that’s a migraine signal I can’t ignore. I pop a triptan, knowing its effects will be stunted by how long I’ve waited to take it.

I arrive at the airport and find a washroom spilling over with fresh perfume. It burns my brain! I turn on my heel and carry on. I ride the dizzyingly steep escalators to security. My suitcase feels like a pile of rocks.

As I climb the escalator to security and I can’t hold the tears back any longer. I collapse on the nearest chair, and cry as discreetly as possible (which is not very) next to some people in expensive looking business suits. They ignore me. Everything hurts.

Please help?

Feeling desperate, I approach the security staff. Is there a quiet room I can sit in for a few minutes? I have a migraine. No. I am pointed back to another identical group of chairs just down the hall in the same open, noisy, bright atrium.

There, I continue to cry because I can’t not. Mercifully, after a half hour the full-body pain begins to dull, and a full-body exhaustion takes hold. I decide to brave the washroom to clean myself up and brave the security line.

Maybe the most hilarious and poorly timed unsolicited advice of all time

There, one of security staff from before asks if I’m okay. I could kiss her. Thank you. I’ll be okay. I have a migraine.

Oh, I get migraines too. My doctor showed me how to get rid of them. It’s all about pressure. You just put your fingers like this, and rub here, hard, like this, see? Then here, then back here. Then you push on your jaw and the back of your head as hard as you can! It’s all about pressure on the muscles. Two times. It will make the migraine go away.

That works for you? That’s great. Thank you. Goodbye.

Call to action

Maybe that well-meaning security guard really has had migraines. Maybe this seemingly random massage technique does work for her. Who am I to judge? But how on Earth, in 2017 — in an age of medical revelations and widespread information about disease and disability — do people even begin to imagine that migraine has one easy, simple fix? Would she say such a thing to someone with have an asthma attack? A seizure? A heart attack?

We must not be quiet. We must not feel shame. We must not shut up, ever, until it is common knowledge that migraine attacks are often seriously debilitating with no easy fix. We must not give up until every staff person dealing with the public who hears migraine knows to offer assistance instead of advice.

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.


  • glassmind
    4 months ago

    Oh, my! How I felt I was reading my own words. You captured the experience so well.

    I have not had this experience while traveling, but it reminded me so precisely of times in my life with migraine.

    Asking for a quiet place, but no. (Once I had to have my car towed to the mechanic mid-attack. An awful place to be sights, smells, sounds! Thankfully, it was at a compassionate dealership. One employee said, “Oh, my wife has migraines. I understand”. I was given an office to myself to shut the door and lay my head down!)

    But even at the hospital where my doctors’ offices are, there is no dim, quiet place! I had one gp who said that classic phrase “Oh, I get migraines, too.” Then told me to use accupressure on my hand to make it go away. So, glad that works for her!

    I understand, though. I had my first, dibilitating, take-me-to-the-er migraine in my late 30s. My empathy before and after for anyone with even a mild headache has certainly changed.

    Thank you for increasing awareness of just how debilitating a migraine can be and how necessary accommodation.

    In the U.S. the Americans with Disabilities Act gives written command to accommodate when possible, but getting that accommodation can be so hard, especially when an illness is misunderstood.

    Thanks again

    11 months ago

    It amuses me and annoys me that so many people think they have an answer for me. I do not say anything on social media anymore, for this reason. I am a intelligent RN and have done much of my own research ( ongoing). As you say, I am sure they are well meaning.

  • JPaula
    12 months ago

    I found this article and comments supportive. I travel by plane from Boston to SF every few months. The plane can often trigger a migraine. I don’t have any real solutions (medication handy) however a blow up neck pillow and not reading seems to help. I usually download an audiobook so I can keep my neck straight.

  • rlc25e
    1 year ago

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with this. I thankfully have never had to travel alone and since I’ve been chronic have never been without someone very aware of my needs. Even when my head is splitting in half and the floor is swaying I can hold on to them and make it to wear I can collapse. I am too afraid to venture too far alone but would love to be able to travel more

  • Hadit
    1 year ago

    I have to travel with my mother in a few months. We are traveling somewhere familiar to me that is over 3,000 miles away on another continent. The thought of being on an airplane for 7 hours makes me very anxious. If I become ill with a migraine what will I do? I cannot get off the plane. Once we land, it will be hours before we reach our final destination. I’m panicking before I have reason to. My history of migraines is complex like many of you. There are too many unknowns and I am scared. Has anyone been in a similar situation? Any thoughts or words of advice? This article brought my concerns to the forefront. Thank you.

  • Newdancerco
    1 year ago

    Since you haven’t left yet…
    Talk to your doc. I have my wedding in a month and am nearly bedridden with chronic daily migraine (my fiance is a saint). She said she would start me on the steroid course the week before so I could be sure of being able to get married.
    I don’t know if that works for you or not, but your doctor may be able to do something to mitigate things, if only the worry!
    I hope your trip goes well!

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi there @Hadit, That is certainly a big trip! Understandably, traveling when living with migraine can cause a great deal of anxiety. I do have some great resources that our contributor’s have shared on their experiences and tips when it comes to travel. Let me share them with you with the hopes they will provide you with some reassurance.

    The Migraine Girl’s Tips for Air Travel, Part I: Before the Flight
    The Migraine Girl’s Tips for Air Travel, Part II: In the Air
    Spotlight: Travel and Migraine

    Sure hope some of these resources are helpful and I truly wish you ALL the best with your travels! Keep us posted and let us know how your trip goes!
    Wishing you a good day.
    -Joanna ( Team)

  • Hadit
    1 year ago

    Thank you! Thank you! I really appreciate the support and information. I will keep you posted. We are not leaving until June so stay tuned!

  • gingercat
    1 year ago

    Hi Anna – much of your recent airport experience reflects ones I’ve had (not all in airorts of course) over the years.
    I’m interested in your description of muscle pain travelling up to behind one eye. Onset of migraine for me nearly always involves my neck and upper back muscles seizing up. I have trigger points that are nearly always in the same place. No one has ever been able to explain to me the connection between these knots in my neck and back – and migraine. Is it vascular – having to do with blood flow? Or carrying your body in a certain way over decades? Or is it just another perfect storm of mysterious triggers that no one has been able to pinpoint? Would really appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks! Heather (in Canada)

  • bethk
    1 year ago

    Hi Anna,
    Thanks for your honest article. I did the airport yesterday, feeling poorly and can relate to some of your thoughts and feelings. I’m grateful for this community which helps me feel like I’m not losing my mind with this miserable disorder. I’ve been slogging through for a few days now including today, with plans to see lifelong friends tonight and wondering what time it will be over because I feel like crap today.
    Going to try to force some exercise and hot shower as soon as I can talk myself into moving.
    Well, thanks for being there , you who know the hurdles in trying to function like regular people.
    I get crazy with the suggestions from non migraineuers too.
    Well, wishing you health and vitality today and always.

  • DinaMay
    1 year ago

    I understand the writer’s exasperation at the quick-fix advice she received. I’ve been walking in those shoes for a few decades now, so I’ve received a lot of similar advice myself. But I’m hesitant to voice my exasperation. Because it seems like shouting at the people who’re trying to help is the wrong way to go. They don’t get it, their advice is not helpful, yes. But at least they’re concerned enough to care. And that’s a big deal. Really. There are so many, many more folks out there who don’t care, won’t care no matter how great our suffering is. So let’s work on educating the public but give those who care a little slack. I really do appreciate the caring people in this world. Even when they give me silly advice like “put a banana peel on your forehead.”

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    1 year ago

    You definitely make a very valid point. Trust me, I have had my fair share of horrible suggestions on what should fix my migraines. People often share stuff on my Facebook page too. I’ve learned that if it’s a “natural” solution they are suggesting to say thank you or something along those lines. If someone is suggesting something such as Excedrin migraine because that is what works for them, I explain to them that mine require prescription medications.
    The medical community needs way more research for Chronic Migraine and this involves educating the community. Unfortunately most people who do not get migraines do not have an understanding of what somebody with a migraine experiences. This is definitely something that we have to work on improving in the future. It would definitely have a positive impact
    Amanda Workman (moderator & contributor)

  • BirdMom
    1 year ago

    Just what I needed to read today! Thanks for writing.

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to comment on it! We always appreciate your feedback.
    Amanda Workman (moderator & contributor)

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