Had Migraines My Entire Life, But They've Changed
I come from a family of migraine sufferers. Both parents had them, my daughter has them, and I recently found out from a relative that others in my dad's family had them as well.
Growing up with migraine
When I was little, my mom used to call them "sick headaches." I got car sick easily on mountain roads and never enjoyed spinning around and getting dizzy as much as my friends did. The headaches got steadily more frequent through my teen years until I had what I recognized as a full-blown migraine at 18 after helping a friend through a very stressful situation. This particular attack mainly presented as nausea and convulsive vomiting, which still happens to me to this day.
My migraine started to get worse
The peak era for my migraines was the period from 25 to 45 yrs old. I have all the well-recognized symptoms... yawning, mood swings, food cravings, aphasia, visual and aural disturbances. There was no medication available until I was well into my 30s, at which time I was offered Fiorinal with Codeine. I had several attacks bad enough to go to the ER, where I got shots of Imitrex and sometimes Emerol.
Finally, I became a regular user of both Imitrex 100mg pills and shots, ultimately replacing the shots with the nasal spray. I use the nasal spray for attacks that come on quickly like a ton of bricks with dizziness and nausea. Occasionally, I see the classic scintillating type aura: jagged geometric color-block shapes, or patterns that seem to be flowing like a river.
Working with migraine
Being a woman in the professional world was tough as a migraine sufferer. I felt like I had to deal with it quietly without drawing attention to the fact that I sometimes had to drop out of sight for a couple of days. I was in sales for most of my career. It was difficult meeting the demands of the job with its high stresses and constant expectations, never knowing when a migraine would bring my life to a standstill. Although it's a hard job, being in outside sales worked for me under the circumstances, because it allowed for greater independence and less time in the office. On the other hand, being sick on the road was no fun. I'd suddenly get a migraine and be seized by waves of nausea while making calls. I joke to people that I've barfed in many of the finest trash bins, flower beds, and parking lots in my territory. I learned to live with migraines.
I had to quit doing theater for 10 years, an activity I love, during my 30s and early 40s because I was getting sick too often to feel comfortable making long-time commitments. I find I still have to watch my stress levels doing high-demand activities, even ones that are energizing. Though I had some killer migraines during menopause, generally speaking, the migraines have lessened in severity as I've gotten older. They are still pretty frequent, just a little more manageable.
Changes in weather - cool to warm, humid to dry, dry to humid - are now my biggest triggers. Now that I'm in my 60s, I sometimes have migraine prodromes that last for weeks. Even when they don't develop into full-blown attacks, they cause me to feel nauseated and "off" for days on end. Aphasia or "word search," as I call it, is one of my most common migraine symptoms, sometimes lasting from well before to well after the actual headache. During these times I ask my colleagues to be patient with me. Vertigo is another symptom I've developed as an older person, one that my dad also struggled with later in life.
Learning to accept my life
I will say that migraines have taught me to accept myself, to respect my health limitations, and to stay within myself when I'm not feeling 100%. It's also encouraged me to stay active. I have a range of activities - gardening, tai chi, walking, the occasional tennis game - that I can do, depending on how I feel on any given day. If I don't have the energy, that's ok too. At this age, it's all about doing more of what works for me, and less of what doesn't. Mainly just trying to put the odds in my favor each day that I'll feel good rather than bad.
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