My Personal Story of Migraine

Childhood was blighted by migraine . I remember loving rounders but NOT loving the sun. No-one wore hats and kids didn’t wear sunglasses. Squinting in the sun I would return from the school field with a ‘sick headache’ and be in sickbay with a bowl as I turned a shade of green. The smell of school lunch would serve to increase my tendency to be sick.

Orange flavoured junior aspirin did nothing apart from making me sick and my mother didn’t believe in seeing doctors for advice. So sleep was my haven. Sleeping for 5 or 6 hours would often do the trick and when I woke up I would feel much better, in fact euphoric as my head was clear.

At senior school I was playing lots of tennis. I got through the matches but often resorted to my bed with a migraine afterwards. A cold glass of ginger beer and lime from the tennis club bar did sometimes help to raise a low blood sugar and an ice-cold ice-cream did sometimes stop the gripping head too although I know some patients who get migraine from eating ice-cream.

At 15 I was getting a headache and feeling sick every 4th Friday and this was after an afternoon of sport. At this time of the month any exercise seemed to precipitate the migraine. Looking back there was clearly a hormonal element to all this. The knock on effect was that I missed after school French conversation. The French lady in our village took it very personally!

At Medical School the Combined Contraceptive Pill triggered a humdinger of a migraine in my pill free week as the oestrogen plummeted and so I learnt to take 3 packets continuously – so-called ‘tri-cycling.’

Throughout my 3 pregnancies I felt fantastic. The migraine retreated and I felt energized and more supple even with the increased weight I was carrying around. The postnatal period was challenging however as the migraines reappeared especially with the interrupted nights.

Sunglasses and painkillers have always lived in my handbag with spares in the car in case any flickering of light through the trees, particularly on a winter’s day when the sun is low, brings it on. Food and drink are triggers – coffee, tea, brewer’s yeast in wine and beer, MSG and weirdly mango. Smells continue to be a trigger –toothpaste, strong perfume, toast and bacon.

Migraine has a threshold; it’s like a points system and once I accumulate a certain number of points (sun, smell, low blood sugar, tiredness, hormones, wrong food, wrong drinks,) it predictably takes over.

What have I learnt? Eat lots of protein to keep blood sugar steady, stick to a boring routine (difficult for me as I like change and excitement), expect to get a migraine if you lay in bed in the morning too long, and travel across time zones. If I start feeling really energetic and euphoric this is often heralding the start of a migraine and for some bizarre reason when I ‘ve been thinking ’I’m feeling really good I haven’t had a migraine for a while ‘ you can bet it will start.

I have also learnt other doctors aren’t always that sympathetic! In one job I was complaining that I always got a migraine on my half-day, the answer in jest was ‘Well Kate work the half-day then!’

Some people call ‘depression’ the ‘black dog.’ Migraine is my ‘green dog.’ I even think and can only visualize in green as well as looking green when I’ve got a migraine – most peculiar.

So advice: take a broad approach to reducing or even stopping attacks. Look at triggers including medication, get good medical advice about treatment, consider cognitive behavioural strategies (CBT) as well as learning and employing regular relaxation techniques. Stick to the ‘Barnes 2/3rds rule’ by dividing your day into 3; morning, afternoon, and evening and only arrange to do things for 2 out of the 3. This is a very effective way of pacing.

Everyone has a slightly different story to tell with migraine and there is always help on offer that can make all the difference.

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