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How Planning Helps Me to Manage My Migraine Symptoms

Reading time | 5 mins

My name is Ciara O’Rourke and I’m 40 years old. I am a wife, a mother, a nurse, and a migraine sufferer. The reason I include migraine in this description of myself is because I need to consider this every day. The condition is just as much a part of my life as being a mother or a nurse is.

My history with migraine  

I started to suffer with migraine in my early 20s. The attacks came sporadically at the beginning and weren’t as common as they are now. I soon realised that my migraine symptoms were associated with my menstruation cycle and came at almost the same time every month, so I quickly learnt when to expect them.

I certainly didn’t have headaches on a daily basis back then. I felt like I was somewhat in control of my migraine, but how wrong I was! I call this the ‘Golden Age’ of my journey with the condition because although I was having attacks, it felt like they were manageable and limited to a certain time in the month. Yes, I did need to take days off work and yes, I did feel symptoms like severe pain, nausea and vomiting, but I did still feel in control of them.

At the time, I was attending college and working part-time in a busy city centre bar while trying to keep up a busy social life on the side. Although my migraine attacks interrupted the odd day at college or the odd night out, they weren’t having a particularly adverse effect of my life as a whole.

Stress brought on more attacks

By the time I was in my late 20s however, my migraine had got much more frequent and severe in nature. The more serious attacks continued to occur around the time I had my period each month, but I was now also experiencing severe migraine symptoms whenever I felt stressed. I realised that lack of sleep and skipping meals also contributed to them.

And then to top it off, the daily headaches started to commence.

As the name suggests, these were headaches that occurred every day. Although they were less severe and allowed me to continue to function and work, they began to impact on my lifestyle and my mental health. I pushed so hard to get through a day of work that by the time I got home, I was completely exhausted.

Migraine impacted my family life

Eventually, I was unable to partake in the daily tasks that are involved in being a wife and a mother. I started to miss out on date nights with my husband.  I couldn’t take the children to their extra-curricular activities and I couldn’t help them with their homework. I was missing out on spending quality time with my family and felt like I couldn’t be there for them.

As a result, my evenings now usually consist with me going straight to bed in a darkened room, recovering from a busy day at work. It also typically includes several bouts of severe nausea, vomiting and having to ensure complete silence as noise can also affect me (which isn’t always easy when you have three young boys). I do try to get out of bed for the children’s bed time and cuddles, but this isn’t always possible.

As you can imagine, this has really affected me. It felt like migraine had taken hold of me and started to negatively impact on so many parts of my life. I genuinely felt like most important relationships in my life were being affected and there was nothing I could do once migraine took hold.

Planning ahead and taking control  

It was at this point that I started to look at my daily routine to see if there were any areas I could plan and organise better, to help reduce the impact of headaches on my life. I decided I had to change my mind set, so instead of just looking at all the negative effects of migraine, I had to start thinking proactively about what I could do to control my symptoms and take back some ownership of my life.

So that’s exactly what I did. I sat down and started to plan and organise my daily routine and diary. Every Sunday I mapped out the following week, trying to plan and anticipate my daily routine, noting down everything from attending work, meeting friends, going on nights out (if any – these weren’t very frequent since becoming a mum and my migraine attacks worsening), and most importantly, spending time with the children. I’d highlight the busiest days of the week and try to ensure that I had things like meal preparation, organising the kids and a good night’s sleep all allocated to help try to minimise the risk of getting a migraine attack from the stress of it all. I finally started to feel like I was taking control of my headaches.

Even if I’m feeling like I’m not going to have a migraine attack on one particular day, I still need to plan for the eventuality that it still might happen. For example, before I leave the house each day, I always make sure to have my trusty fully-stocked medication purse on hand - which goes with me everywhere I go. I also plan meals in advance, as skipping meals or going for long periods of time without food or a drink is a big red flag for me.

These things may seem like common sense to others but believe me, going without one or a combination of these things could leave me paying a huge price later on that day.

The takeaway

Of course this doesn’t always work, as you can never fully anticipate every eventuality, all the time. I still experience daily headaches and migraine attacks on an ongoing basis, but I do feel somewhat better knowing that I am taking an active part in trying to control my illness.  

While planning doesn’t remove the risk altogether, it feels as though I am helping myself to get through the day in some way.

UK/MED/19/0200 August 2019