What’s it like to live without headache pain? I have no idea…
Where to begin… As of this writing I am 38 years old. Migraine runs in my family. My mother has them. My brother had them as a child, but grew out of it. I didn’t start my struggle until my teens when hormone changes started. I began at the age of 12 getting a migraine once a month with my cycle. It was relatively simple to manage as they weren’t severe. I could take Tylenol or Advil to control them. At least until we determined my allergy to Advil (anaphylaxis), at which point I could only use Tylenol.
In my late teens – early twenties depression became a major factor in my life. My mother was a recovering alcoholic so I knew not to drink much. So instead of diving into a bottle, I dove into depression. I can’t begin to remember all the drugs I’ve been on to control the depression. But I have been medicated one way or another ever since.
In my early twenties, I was in a pretty serious accident at work. I had a piece of furniture that normally took 4 people to move, fall over and hit me on the back of the head. The majority of the damage was done to my cervical spine. The vertebrae in my neck were compressed and disks bulged.
For two years I suffered with non-stop headaches of some type. I tried a variety of medications (no NSAIDS were an option), chiropractic, physical therapy options. If I had a rough Dr visit, it would trigger a migraine. The tough part was treating the pain and the injury, along with the depression. Drugs interact with each other, and sometimes not in a good way. My neurologist wouldn’t communicate with any of my other doctors, and had me on prophylactic meds that my depression meds didn’t work well with. Of the three different neurologists I saw, they were all quick to medicate and send me on my way. To this day I don’t have a neurologist I trust.
When I was almost 30, I finally found a mental health provider and a pain management specialist that would work together to help me. Between the two of them, physical therapy, and medication management, I’ve been able to function pretty well.
I was in a serious car accident a few years ago, which caused us to really step up my therapy. I also work in an industry that is pretty stressful. When I’m stressed, the tension goes right to my shoulders and pinches the nerves. High stress days meant migraine. The headaches were so constant, and migraine symptoms would be gone just long enough to gain speed and attack again a couple days later. It was awful.
My doctor started talking about nerve blocks and botox. We finally settled on a procedure called Median Branch Radiofrequency Neurotomy which essentially dissolves the nerves in my neck. Three locations on each side between C2 and C5. I’ve had it done twice. This procedure took my pain from daily to almost never. It was amazing. The thought process was, the more pain I felt the more tense I would get, to the point where one little thing would trigger a migraine. Take away the pain, the tension reduces, nothing to trigger the migraine. It’s been a year and a half since I had the treatment, and it’s still working well for me.
Right now I’m managing. Not real well, but it’s not nearly as horrible as it was before the nerve treatment. When I start feeling the discomfort of tight muscles and a headache start, I take a Vicodin (pain) and Robaxin (muscle relaxer) and go to bed. I’m on 100mg of Cymbalta a day which helps two-fold. It’s helping control the depression, but also handles a bit of the nerve pain issues that would trigger my migraine. Zomig is my rescue drug, and I love Love LOVE it. It works so great when my timing is right.
Currently I get migraines with my cycle (those never went away), anytime there’s a change in the weather (barometric pressure), lack of sleep, and occasionally alcohol. I can drink Margaritas without a problem; wine (either red or white) usually doesn’t cause trouble. Give me a Bud Light Lime and I’m done for. 1/3 of a bottle gave me the worst migraine attack I’d ever had.
My symptoms used to be very predictable. I’d get an aura on the left side. It was a line that curled. It would start off small, then get long enough to curl around something about the size of a quarter. This took 10-15 minutes. Then the aura would disappear. I had 10 minutes from that point to take the Zomig before the pain hit. A number of years ago my neurologist tried a preventative medication. All it did was take away the aura. Nothing else changed. I was furious that I no longer had a warning sign. Now, I only get an aura occasionally, and it usually happens when I’ve done something stupid (like having a beer anyway…)
Light, sound, and smell are always an issue when I’m having a migraine. The headache also affects my speech. Usually about a half hour before the attack really kicks in I start having trouble talking. I can’t find words, I don’t comprehend things, communication gets severely disrupted. Usually my husband can tell before I can when a headache is coming.
I try to start with Vicodin/Robaxin and save the Zomig for really bad attacks. The insurance company and my budget make it easier to get V/R than the Zomig.
My dilemma right now is multi-layered. I’ve recently taken a new job, which moved us out of state. My new insurance won’t cover the amount of Cymbalta that I’m on. Right now I’m driving back to my current doctors and will be determining at the end of this week which direction we should go regarding my meds, but I still need to find more local doctors. It doesn’t help that I haven’t slept well since taking the new job and my commute is 30 miles, but 2 hours one way on a good day.
We’re moving this weekend to be closer to work so I can get back into a healthy routine. All of this adds to the stress I already have at work, and my migraines have increased in frequency. When I don’t feel good, my mood is poor and I make mistakes, which has not been helpful at my new job.
I know I have a bit of work to do to get my migraines more manageable, get healthy again, and not lose my job in the process. But I’m sure that with the right information and reading about what others have experienced, I’ll be able to conquer this and finally know what it’s like to go more than a couple days without a headache.