Living with migraines in your 20s.

As I write this post I’m recovering from a 2 day epic migraine fest. The pain has subsided well enough for me to be looking at a screen without feeling like I’m going to chuck up my breakfast, but I still have a very dull ache in my left eye-socket. To be honest, I always have a dull ache somewhere, it never goes away, and that’s what life is like when you live with chronic headaches. I know people talk a lot about unseen disabilities, so I thought I’d add my 2 cents to the pot and talk about my own experiences of living with a somewhat debilitating illness.

I’ll take you back to Thursday afternoon when this one first reared its ugly head, so you can understand what my migraines are like. I was sitting at work in my 2nd client meeting of the day when I felt the beast descend. To put it simply, it felt like an elastic band had wrapped itself around my brain and was squeezing it tighter and tighter until it felt like it was going to pop out of my head. Next I was hit with an uncontrollable wave of tiredness, my eyes felt heavy, my vision felt blurry- and then the nausea hit. So there I was, sitting there trying to discuss the intricacies of digital marketing; listening to talk of ROI, analytics and sales data but every time I moved I thought I was going to faint and every time I spoke I thought I was going to be sick. We got through it, thankfully without any puke involved, and eventually the meeting  finished, with the client none the wiser! I told my lovely manager what was happening and that I needed to go home. We whizzed to the train station and I found myself a quiet seat in the corner of the train and shut my eyes. Fast forward half an hour, in what felt like five seconds, and I had been picked up by my superhero Dad (who is well used to rushing to my migraine emergencies). Ten minutes more and I somehow found myself throwing up by the side of the road. Unfortunately, this happened to be outside a rather beautiful religious place of worship… Soz to whoever is up there looking down, please don’t put a black mark against my name because of it! I went home and fell straight to sleep, and that’s pretty much brought us to where we are now…

To give you some context, growing up I had always got more headaches than the average person—the mild, try and treat them with an over the counter pain medication and they’ll disappear type. I knew I was different to all my friends, in that my body wasn’t as robust as theirs, but when I hit puberty things really ramped up a gear. Over the years my migraines have been attributed to so many different things, my sinuses and allergies, my periods, stress. I’ve tried loads of different methods to manage them, through prescribed medication, but also self-medication with a can of full fat coke and a couple of squares of dark chocolate if I catch it early enough. And to be honest with you I’ve kinda got the routine of treatment down (it always ends in sleep!). But it got me to thinking, there are so many articles and blog posts online which talk about the physical symptoms of suffering with migraines, but nobody ever talks about how it makes you feel emotionally.

The best way to describe how my migraines make me feel is just pure frustration. It’s not like a common cold where you can usually work your way through the illness, these are debilitating! They render me completely useless, and there’s nothing more frustrating than that. I was talking to a friend at work about it the other day and summed it up as so frustrating that my body just can’t keep up with my brain. In my head I feel really strong, (almost) always positive and up for a fight and a challenge, but for whatever reason, at the first sign of stress my brain is like ‘k no thanx bye xoxo’ and shuts my body down. It is infuriating feeling like you can’t be the version of yourself that you so desperately want to be. However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over the past 10 years or so it’s that you have to listen to your body and accept that, annoying as it is, your body does know best and you have to respect that.

Another thing that comes hand in hand with the pain is a feeling of intense isolation or loneliness. There’s nothing worse than having to cancel plans or having to go home when you’re out because a migraine strikes. I often feel like there’s this stigma attached to it, that people will think I’m pathetic because I can’t push through it, or think I’m just flaking on them because I can’t be bothered to get out of my PJs that day. And whilst I am very partial to a cute pair of PJs, this is not the case. I’m lucky that my friends get it, and they never make me feel guilty for running out on them, but it does still hurt (literally and emotionally). By now I’m pretty well versed in the art of having ‘FOMO’- the fear of missing out, for those of you who aren’t up to date with the lingo, but that doesn’t stop it sucking when it happens.

I’m also lucky that I work for a great company, who never make me feel bad for being ill. After all, it isn’t my fault that I’m susceptible to illness, or that these little buggers of migraines choose to make their nest in my brain. But that doesn’t stop me putting that pressure on myself. It doesn’t help when you have deadlines to meet, or projects to finish. But again, I’ve come to recognise that adding this stress only makes it worse.

I don’t really know what I wanted to achieve with this post, other than sharing another aspect of my life with you all, and to show you that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in this corner of the internet. However, in case you came here looking for some actual sage advice (soz, that you just got my ramblings…) I thought I’d round this off with some tips on how I deal with my migraines. Remember, I’ve never had anything even slightly resembling any form of medical training, I’m a digital marketer.. But here are a few things that work for me:

  • Get yourself somewhere calm.
    • Turn off the lights.
    • Put on some soothing music (I like to go for Bon Iver or The Staves).
  • Try temperature therapy.
    • I favour cold compresses, but heat can work just as well.
    • One particularly weird method I’ve tried is simultaneously having an ice cube in my mouth and a hot water bottle on the back of my neck. Apparently this confuses your body and causes it to almost shut down and then re-start, good as new.
  • Drink caffeine!
    • I touched on this earlier, but if I catch a migraine in time, having a can of full fat coke can do wonders for me.
    • But be careful, as too much caffeine can trigger migraines or make them much worse, so you’ve gotta find your own balance.
  • Eat sensibly.
    • Don’t go too long without food! Make sure you’re eating little and often throughout the whole day.
    • Keep a food journal- certain foods could be causing your headaches! Things to watch out for are (unfortunately) cheese, chocolate and caffeine. For me, I’ve worked out that one of my triggers is alcohol which is why I’m a proud tee-totaler.

I’d love to know, if any of you suffer with headaches, how you deal with them? Please leave me a comment below and share your thoughts, opinions and tips!

I’ll speak to you soon.

Lots of love,

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7 Comments

  1. May 28, 2016 / 3:03 pm

    Sorry Liz to hear about your migraines, must be a real pain. Really good to tell others how you are feeling – it will also make them feel that they are not alone xxxxxxx

  2. Darryl
    May 28, 2016 / 4:14 pm

    Good piece Lizzi, I share your pain, well that’s actually not true, as the only non-sufferer in my house (you know the other four).
    I have often found myself as the completely inafectual carer, but as a “man” felt responsible to find a cure, so not inexpensive brain scans later, I have learned, that most of the time being nursy simply involves fetching and carrying and staying out of the way.
    I must admit to being less than symperthetic sometimes at the last minute cancellations and have been guilty of thinking “great, what do I do while you spend the day in bed”.

    It won’t surprise you that I haven’t found a cure and you’ve covered most of the hints and tips, I’d just like to agree with your “eat sensibly” …. Breakfast is a must, giving your body something to burn off really does seem to help along with staying hydrated and most importantly… Pace yourself, burning the candle at both ends doesn’t work for anyone. Stay strong , you certainly are not alone .

    • May 28, 2016 / 5:10 pm

      Thanks Darryl! Really appreciate the comment 🙂

  3. May 28, 2016 / 5:49 pm

    It sucks so much. I get BPV which is type of vertigo-migraine every few months for about 3-4 days solid and it normally starts with sore ears, that’s when I know an infection or something is setting in. So at least I get some warning as it ramps up over a day or two.

    Once it kicks in, I can’t move my head to any orientation without my eyes unfocusing and rolling into the back of my head. Without any balance, my legs give in and if I’m whether I’m outside or half-way down the stairs, my legs stop knowing what to do and I’ll flop to the floor. It’s like a seizure only I stay conscious.

    Best option? Sleep. Sleep until it goes away. Can’t eat, will puke so just don’t. At best, stay in bed and read but that can cause motion sickness as my eyes fly from one side to the other and back too quickly (where “quickly” is a period of time between 5-10 seconds!!) and worst of all there’s nothing the doctors can suggest to fix it so it’s just a matter of not doing whatever needed doing in that time.

    Lizzi I’ve always felt kinship with you as your body seems to let you down about as often as mine does and I’ve got to say you’re a real trooper for always just getting on with it.

  4. Emily
    May 30, 2016 / 9:44 am

    You literally have just summarised my life! There is nothing more frustrating than your body constantly letting you down and I feel so much guilt it’s unreal. I’m also very lucky, my boss is a fellow migraine sufferer so he understands my need to leave the office, and my pain is so transparent he’s never in any doubt of my suffering. I have completely cut out caffiene and 90% of the time it’s small on medication so can’t drink alcohol anyway. But I don’t have any day to day food triggers. Thankfully after being fobbed off with stress, a bad diet and dehydration for many years I have finally found a decent doctor who works with me to medicate accordingly. I’ve seen more neurologists and had more scans than I care to remember but I’m currently in a very good condition so hopefully that will last a bit longer! It may sound selfish but it’s nice to know that there are other people my age going there rough there rough he same thing, because you are right it is so lonely!
    Emily (Roff/Watson) 🙂 xx

    • May 30, 2016 / 9:46 am

      Great to hear that you’ve managed to get to a good place with yours! It is comforting to know that others are going through the same thing, it’s amazing to see just how many people have been affected by the same thing!

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