All of my adult life I have been a migraine sufferer. What started out as frequent headaches ended up getting a clinical diagnosis many years later. Trauma has a way of affecting our body in unpleasant ways. For me, my mind works against me during the most stressful moments, making everyday life even more difficult.
What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?
The biggest difference between a headache and a migraine is the presence of additional symptoms and the intensity of pain experienced. Some of the symptoms migraine sufferers (me too!) experience include:
- nausea and dizziness
- sensitivity to light and/or sound
- loss of mental focus
- spots or flashing in vision
There is also a major distinction between a headache and a migraine if the level or frequency of pain is affecting daily activities. I used to think that I was just experiencing annoying headaches more frequently when I finally realized it was becoming a problem. The headaches began surfacing several times a month by the time I opened up to my doctor about what I was experiencing. I wasn’t sure if it was normal to have a headache knock me out of commission for half a day. As a new mom, I wasn’t used to putting my needs ahead of my child’s so I chose to ignore the pain for far too long.
I’ve always had a rather high tolerance for pain so I don’t let much get me down. I push through the pain and try to tough it out, even when all I want to do is cry in a dark room and be left alone. As a natural caretaker, I’m not so good at letting others take care of me either. My doctor quickly diagnosed my headaches as migraines and sent me home with a prescription and advised me that I’d need to take it at the onset of a migraine.
What causes my migraines?
There are a variety of factors that can bring on a migraine in a matter of minutes. Here are some of the factors that are fairly common:
- stress and anxiety
- birth control
- alcohol consumption
- changes in hormones
For me, I have historically been afflicted with a migraine when I have gone a long stretch without food or haven’t drank enough water throughout the day. Overindulgence can cause a migraine for me as well – too much caffeine and too much active time outside in the sun. I’ve also cut back on drinking alcohol, even in moderation, because it still causes me to wake up with a pounding headache. Stress continues to be my most frequent contributor to migraines though.
My longest bout of migraines was the final two years in my marriage before we divorced. It was a very stressful time in my life. I’ll never forget just how painfully my head throbbed as I drove the five hours from San Diego to my brother’s home in Scottsdale, AZ right after confirming with my husband at the time that our marriage was over. I got on the road just as a debilitating migraine kicked in. I’d stupidly assumed it would go away, but it persisted. Once I arrived at his home, I begged him to take care of my son and keep the kids quiet while I tried to sleep in a dark room.
The pain and nausea were unbearable and I ended up on the bathroom floor in case I got sick. The pain wouldn’t pass, even with my prescription medication, so I asked my brother to drive me to the ER. I waited to be seen for several hours, balled up in a stiff chair in the brightly lit waiting room. We eventually left, without being seen, so that I could return to the comfort of the dark bathroom at his house.
How do I get rid of a migraine?
One word – medication. I’ve had no success at all with getting rid of a migraine naturally. Sometimes, even with prescription medication, my migraine has failed to end. When I feel a massive headache or migraine begin, I take a dose of Maxalt from my doctor or 800mg of ibuprofen – NOT acetaminophen. I’ve only ever found ibuprofen to help me relieve pain of any kind. Before the migraine diagnosis, I used to take Excedrin Migraine and that also helped – the caffeine opens your blood vessels to deliver the medication faster.
Maxalt is the medication my doctor prescribed and it must be taken within 30 minutes of the onset of a migraine. It’s packaged cleverly in individual doses that are easy to keep anywhere I might need one – in my purse, at my desk, in my car. The bad part is that there have been a few instances where I didn’t have the medication on hand when a migraine showed up. It really is necessary to take the medication right away or else there’s very little hope of ending the pain quickly.
Managing life migraine-free
Thankfully, it’s been about two years since I’ve relied on prescription medication to manage my migraines. I just don’t experience migraines as often as I used to. I’ve eliminated some stressors that used to weigh on me heavily and that’s caused a world of difference. Gone are the days when I couldn’t function as a result of a debilitating migraine.
Now that I know what can bring on a migraine for myself, I try to avoid those situations altogether. I’m very aware of keeping myself fed and hydrated and taking breaks when I’m out in the sun being active. I don’t drink nearly as much alcohol as I did in my 20’s (or early 30’s) and I don’t bottle up what’s stressing me out. I talk about it and that seems to help. I also have a wonderful support system of friends and loved ones to rely on and I’m better about advocating for myself and my own personal wellbeing. I set healthy boundaries now and it’s made me healthier all around.