I remember during my childhood walking into our living room, and seeing my father in his recliner with a heating pad over his face. Lights out; TV off. We all knew that meant “leave dad alone.” He has a “headache” (we didn’t know the word “migraine“). He got one at least once a week. I didn’t think much of it as a child until I hit puberty, and had my first migraine, and I borrowed my dad’s heating pad. My older brother also got these “bad headaches.” The house was always stocked with aspirin and, my OTC of choice, Excedrin. I lived off Excedrin all through high school. That’s when my friends first started calling my purse “the pharmacy.” I graduated Valedictorian of my class; I’m sure I took at least 4 Excedrin the day I said my speech.
Moving onto college, I still gobbled down Excedrin, but my headaches became worse as my sleeping habits deteriorated and I tried alcohol. I went to the school’s clinic, and told them about my never-ending headaches. They immediately recognized them as migraines, and sent me off to a neurologist. I spoke to the neurologist for *maybe* 10 minutes before he wrote up a prescription for a blood pressure medicine, even though my blood pressure was perfectly normal. He said it would help with the migraines, so I gave it a try. My blood pressure dropped… and dropped… until my roommates could not get me out of bed! A call to the doctor, and he said to stop taking that (duh). Next, another 10 minute appointment, and he gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant – the latest treatment for migraines according to him. I marched to the pharmacy, and gave this one a try. He assured me this one would take up to two weeks to take effect. I will not go into great detail here, but after about 5-6 days, my friends dragged me kicking and screaming to the ER after I was self-injuring and displaying other unsafe behaviors. ER was less then helpful – they told me to “stop taking that” and “here’s some pills to calm you down.”
Gee, thanks. Needless to say, I was done with Mr. 10-minute Neurologist.
Instead, I found a headache clinic within driven distance of my college. They put me through a battery of tests – biofeedback, MRI, CT Scan, Voodoo (just kidding). At the end of it all, I was none the better, and they had no great cure. Back to my trusty ole Excedrin.
I survived this way for many years. I met my husband, and he “learned the ways of the migraine.” He drove me to the ER when I made the right signal, and bought me more Excedrin whenever I asked. I figured out my triggers: alcohol, weird smells, gotta get enough sleep, bright lights are the devil, loud noises, too many more to list. Somehow, I have worked full time since college, and I’m now in my 40s.
By my late 20s/early30s, I weaned myself off Excedrin, and I was ready to try the doctors again. I heard about these magic pills called triptans and wanted to give them a try. I spoke to my primary doctor, and *poof* I had some triptans. And they were AMAZING. I wanted to jump for joy, except the one catch… limits on how many the insurance will let us have each month. First it was 6 per month. But I have more migraines than that! Then sometimes I could get 9. I still have more migraines than that! So, off I go to a neurologist again (one that listens this time), and we try various preventative meds, but none have gotten my migraines down to a number that matches the number of triptans I can have per month. So, I’m a “Chronic Migraine” sufferer. A label no one wants. I’m now on my third round of Botox treatments, and they seem to be helping, but I’m still counting pills. I’m still the girl with the pharmacy in her purse.
And here is the kicker for me. My daughter, now 13, started complaining of headaches about 2 years ago. I immediately took her to a pediatric neurologist. Yes, she has migraines, too. I hate, hate, HATE it when I come home from work and see her curled up in a ball on the couch with a blanket over her head. And there’s nothing I can do to take away her pain.