Migraines Aren’t “Just a Headache”
“Why aren’t you coming to the party? It’s just a headache,” someone told me.
No, I wanted to scream. A migraine isn’t just headache. It’s a full-body attack. It’s a thief that robs my mornings, nights, and afternoons.
I’ve been getting migraines since I was a kid, and I have medications I can take when the symptoms come on. But sometimes — for example, if I’m asleep when the migraine starts, or I don’t recognize my symptoms right away — a migraine can hit with full force.
Then I’m down and out, for at least a day. Work and social events become impossible. I get blinding pain. And I mean literally blinding: I have to put my head under a blanket because I can’t stand to look at light. Then comes extreme, unrelenting exhaustion. And very unpleasant GI symptoms: think stomach bug, only it’s not contagious.
I don’t talk about my migraines a lot because I don’t want to look like I’m not capable of doing things. Of working, reaching deadlines, or having a social life. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a struggle. I can have months where I’m migraine-free and life is a breeze, and months when I feel like a migraine is hiding around every corner, holding a club and waiting to attack.
I know I need to talk about it, because silence won’t help anybody. Migraines aren’t as well studied as some other neurological conditions. There has been a new breakthrough treatment with erenumaub (Aimovig), but fellow migraine sufferers say it can cost hundreds of dollars a month.
And there is a lot of misinformation about migraines. I attended a training by a doctorate-prepared professional who said that to get rid of a migraine, you just need to pinch your hand really hard.
I wanted to say, Are you kidding me? (For the purposes of science, I tried it, and no, it didn’t work.) A lot of times, people confuse the neurological condition “migraine” with a severe headache. If healthcare workers won’t take migraines seriously, who will?
Part of the problem is that there’s no test for a migraine. I can be in agonizing pain, but no one can check my temperature or blood pressure and say, “Yep, migraine.” You just have to believe someone; and believing that someone is in pain is hard for a lot of people to do.
Migraines primarily affect women: one in five women get them. There are a lot of theories as to why migraines occur, but they still aren’t very well understood. Knowing what causes them can lead to more treatments, and perhaps a cure.
Right now I haven’t identified any triggers; supposedly, chocolate and red wine trigger migraines, but I can get them without ingesting either. Hot weather sometimes brings them on, but I’ve also had migraines in the dead of winter.
I’ve lost many days to migraines, and I can potentially lose many more. A cure would be great. But if people understand what I’m going through, that would help, too.