Walking Gingerly Through Life
Last updated: June 2022
I've had migraines since about age 22. The first one was preceded by a classic aura that led me to believe my eyeball was falling out. Luckily the first doctor I saw recognized this as migraine. Little did I know that the "Big M" would be my companion, going forward.
Migraine with aura followed by debilitating pain and nausea cropped up every 5 or 6 months ago, for years. I hoped and prayed it wouldn't happen on a plane, or at my wedding. Most of the time, it didn't. The unpredictability was the worst part, and at that time all I had was Midrin or Fiorinal or Advil... still, not so bad since the episodes, while horrible, were relatively infrequent.
Change over time
Fast forward a few years, around age 40, a couple of kids and jobs later, the Big M changed. Aura became a rare event, but the headaches started becoming more frequent, more painful and lasted at least three days.
40 is a busy time for most people, and for me I had my hands full working two part-time teaching jobs, taking care of the kids, and trying to be active in community events and committees. The headaches began to interfere in all that, making me appear unreliable, flaky, you know how it is.
I remember promising to drive a neighbor's child to school with mine, and at the last minute, I sent them all on the bus. Another time I couldn't pick my kids up from their activities so I had to ask a friend to go get them. I showed up to teach a yoga class and walked out, unwilling to throw up in front of poor unsuspecting yoga students. The gym I worked for fired me, and I didn't even try to explain.
I stopped working at all for a time. My husband took the burden.
Getting back on track
Around this time I was prescribed various triptans: Imitrex, Relpax, Frova, Zomig... they all worked better than previous meds but I soon learned that we are given only a limited amount, and overuse = rebound. But they did help, enough that I was able to eventually work a full-time job while making an agreement with myself to go to work unless I am literally unable to peel myself off the floor. I learned that nobody cares if you need to take a day off due to migraine (unless they have the same kind of migraine) so I'd say I hurt my back, or some other excuse since that at least was a legitimate reason to stay home (as opposed to a "little headache").
Trying something new...
My neurologist finally started talking about preventatives. I was not open to this at first, fearing side effects on my very tired GI tract. I tried acupuncture for several months and chiropractic treatment.
Both made me feel great but did not touch the migraines. I prayed. I meditated. I exercised and still do. I'm fit and healthy - but dammit, I have a neurological condition and always will.
Fast forward to 55. When migraine started to become a near-daily presence, I finally agreed to preventative meds. And what a road that was! Topomax made me nauseous. Nortriptyline made me dizzy. Neurontin, foggy and exhausted. One loading shot of Emgality caused painful bloating and cramps that did not subside for about five months. A year of overusing triptans later, I tried Amitriptyline (Elavil). I started with 10mg and bumped it up to 20mg daily. And guess what... I'm better! Way better!
Keep an open mind
If I avoid triggers like lack of sleep and alcohol and keep a regular schedule, that plus the Elavil seems to keep the Big M at bay. Don't get me wrong - I still get killer migraines, usually without aura, and they happen despite the Elavil, because of a barometer change or a bad night's sleep, or an airplane trip.
But now at least I have many more pain-free days than painful days, provided I don't press my luck. When I do need to take an abortive, I don't feel like I am overusing. I feel like I am managing. And I no longer hesitate to say I have a migraine when I need to cancel plans or take a day off, which I only do very rarely now.
My point to everyone reading this is that there are literally millions of people with migraine and we are finally making progress and our voices are being heard. Celebrities are telling their migraine stories. Meds are improving and becoming more available. It took me 33 years to find a preventative treatment that works, but I'm glad I didn't give up. You shouldn't either!
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?