My Life With Migraines
A few weeks ago, I started to feel a little weird at work. It’s hard to explain, but it was a fuzzy feeling in my brain. I was a little more tired than normal.
I took some of my migraine medication, because that’s the warning sign that my migraine is coming on. That night, everything seemed normal. I made dinner, I ate. In a bout of good thinking, I drank 12 oz of an electrolyte drink.
Then I fell asleep. My husband tried to wake me up to go shopping, but I told him I had a headache. In the middle of the night, I woke up, and threw up.
Then I couldn’t stop throwing up. I took my anti-nausea med, and threw it right back up again. I was shaking and sweating. Exhausted, I fell back asleep.
When my morning alarm went off, I started throwing up all over again. I had to call out sick in between bouts of puking. My headache was now severe. My husband asked if I wanted to go to the ER, and I considered it. But the thought of sitting in a waiting room chair for hours, under bright lights, while I was vomiting, was unbearable. I could barely even walk. I stayed in bed.
That afternoon, I threw up for my third bout. By this point I had nothing left in my stomach, so I was basically dry heaving. But after one more nap, the worst was over. I was able to munch on some crackers.
The next morning, by all measures, I probably should’ve called out again. But I had an important meeting. I jumped up, and drove to work. My abdomen was aching all day, but it was like a switch had flipped: no headache, no nausea, no tiredness. No one could tell by looking at me how sick I’d been. But after not eating a meal for 38 hours, I had lost two pounds.
A whole day was written off of my life. It’s been years since I had a migraine that bad. What happened?
In high school, especially as graduation neared, I had a problem. I kept getting sick and suffering from severe headaches. It quickly became clear, however, that no one believed I was sick.
Office staff rolled their eyes at my “senioritis.” Teachers blinked and turned me down when I asked for an extension on an assignment, because for the third weekend in a row, I said I had a “stomach bug.” They counseled me on time management.
Everyone chalked it up to laziness; I, constantly laying in bed ill, didn’t have the energy to challenge that. I couldn’t prove that I was sick: no thermometer or test could verify what I was saying.
Only when I was graduating college did I approach my doctor and ask about my headaches: the ones so bad I had to lay in a dark room all day. She confirmed my suspicion that I had migraines, and prescribed me sumatriptan, which helped, and the anti-nausea medication promethazine, which proved to be a lifesaver.
I was relieved that I could now live a normal life, but angry at how much of my life I’d missed. What if I could have taken a pill and gone to school? Would the assignments I completed, and my teachers’ impressions make a difference in my grades, in the college I got into?
I could’ve spent more time living with a better quality of life, if just one person had believed I was in pain. But no one had.
Migraines affect 37 million Americans, and they’re more common in women.
I attended a training that said that migraines were mainly psychosomatic — that is, caused by stress. While this may be one cause, it can lead to patients being written off by healthcare providers. “Just be less stressed” is hard advice to follow when you have a chronic illness.
The cause may be genetic. Since then, another member of my family was diagnosed with migraines, too. It might also be triggered by hot weather, and changes in my body’s levels of estrogen. So far, I can’t identify any food that’s a trigger, though caffeine will sometimes help relieve my symptoms.
More treatments are coming out all the time, but some are unaffordable for many patients. As time goes on, the cost may go down.
My migraines are infrequent now, but I still get annoyed when I’m struck with one, and it interferes with my life. Sometimes it feels like I got hit by lightning. Light and sound become painful.
“It’s just a headache,” people say. “Deal with it.”
Believe me, I’m trying.