It’s migraine awareness week. And let me tell you, I’m more than f*cking aware of them.
If you’ve never had a migraine, you could be excused for thinking it’s ‘just a headache’. And by god, that ignorance must be bliss: I wish I could be you, honestly.
But if you’ve had even one, you’ll know how brutal they are. I remember my first one (oh, because you can never really forget), back in primary school, aged 10. I was struck with a level of pain that I had never experienced before. I told my teacher I had a headache, and she told me to go and get some more water. I struggled to see how water would cure what felt like a direct punishment from God (forgive me for thinking it was that- I was very much at Catholic school at the time). Cut to the kind school caretaker walking me back to my classroom because he found me sobbing at a water fountain.
This was just the start of a regular occurrence. Not only would I be struck with 3 days of pain, but also hourly vomiting sessions: meaning I’d come out of a migraine weak and defeated. The only thing I could do would be to lie in bed and pray that God would soon have mercy.
I have, many times, tried to fight through the urge to go to bed: often to my own detriment. It’s easier to list the places I haven’t vomited: fun spots include at a waterpark, outside a gig, and on the desk at school. I have missed countless days of my life to migraines, simply lying in pain.
As such, to know me is to know that I suffer migraines: in a bad month, I can be suffering a couple of times a week- with each migraine lasting a couple of days. That’s essentially half the month. The likelihood of you seeing me get one, cancel plans because I’ve got one, or just mention that I’ve had one, is high. And while generally, at least to my face, people are kind, I am riddled with migraine-related anxiety. I hate being flaky: but I’m not much use to anyone while in agony. I have attempted to work through migraines, but I am constantly scared that I am at the mercy of a kind employer.
Those who approach me with kindness often suggest different solutions to migraines: most of which I have tried in the last 13 years. And while, obviously, suggestions are appreciated- I’d do anything to be rid of my migraines- it’s an exhausting battlefield of trying new things. Somethings are relatively simple (a piercing), some require a complete life overhaul (keto and veganism have both been suggested as potential dietary solutions) and some are ridiculously expensive (botox, at about a grand a year, available on the NHS if you can bear waiting 3-5 years for a neurology appointment). Trying, and as has happened so far, failing to find new solutions is both frustrating and costly.
I have never quite figured out what triggers my migraines, other than stress. Treatments have been relatively limited: I initially had scans and tests to rule out more concerning symptoms, but since then I’ve felt alone. I’ve been prescribed beta blockers for prevention, and drugs called triptans for relief. They do feel like a godsend, and work at curing my migraines probably 75% of the time: but doctors are concerned at the overuse of them- I need them more than I should be taking them. This is, of course, frustrating: am I expected to just stay in pain?
It’s easy to feel helpless. In my most desperate moments of being so ill I felt like dropping out of uni would be the only option (thankfully, it wasn’t), I visited a doctor asking whether there was any possible other medications, any solutions. He suggested ibuprofen. Living in constant pain did not seem to be a concern for him: this seems to be a common experience of a chronically ill person.
This isn’t just a whinge. There’s a reason for Migraine Awareness Week. On a national level, migraine sufferers find themselves overlooked by medical services: this needs to change- though this is only possible with a sufficiently funded NHS. But on an individual level, empathy is key. Know that if you have a friend/family member/employee/ that suffers with migraines, they’re not being flakey, they’re in pain. Create environments that are welcoming, too: if they see the lighting is harsh or there is a strong smell bothering them, try to understand that they aren’t being fussy: these can trigger intense, avoidable pain. And, without sounding too cheesy- try and just be kind.