Nurse, wife and mother of three Ciara O'Rourke explains how pre-planning helps her manage a busy lifestyle when living with migraine.
My name is Ciara O'Rourke, and I'm 40 years old. I am a wife, a mother, a nurse, and a migraine sufferer. I include migraine in this description because I need to consider it every day. It's a massive part of my life - on par with being a mother and a nurse.
My history with migraine
I started to suffer from migraine in my early 20s. Initially, the attacks were sporadic - nowhere near as frequent as now. I soon realised that my migraine symptoms were associated with my menstruation cycle. They arrived at almost the same time every month, so I quickly learnt when to expect them.
I didn't have headaches daily back then. I felt like I was somewhat controlling my migraine, but how wrong I was!
I call this the 'Golden Age' of my journey because the migraines were manageable and limited to once a month.
Yes, I did need to take days off work, and yes, I did feel symptoms like severe pain, nausea and vomiting, but I still felt in control.
At the time, I was attending college and working part-time in a busy city centre bar while trying to keep up an active social life on the side. Although migraine interrupted the odd day at college or night out, they weren't ruining my life.
Stress brought on more attacks
However, by the time I was in my late 20s, my migraine had gotten much more frequent and severe in nature. The more severe attacks continued to occur when I had my period each month. But now, I was 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 began.
As the name suggests, these were headaches that occurred every day.
These attacks were less severe. I could function and work, but they seriously impacted my mental health. I pushed so hard to get through the working day, I was exhausted when I got home.
Migraine affected my family life
Eventually, I couldn't partake in the daily tasks that come with being a wife and 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 missed spending quality time with my family and felt like I couldn't be there for them.
As a result, my evenings usually consist of going straight to bed in a darkened room and recovering from a busy day at work. It also includes several bouts of severe nausea and vomiting, and I must have complete silence. Noise can affect me (which isn't always easy with three young boys). I try to get out of bed for the children's bedtime 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 impact so many parts of my life. I felt like the most important relationships in my life were crumbling, and there was nothing I could do once migraine took hold.
Planning ahead and taking control
At this point, I started to look at my daily routine to see if I could reduce the impact of my headaches with planning and organisation. I decided I had to change my mindset. So, instead of dwelling on the negatives of migraine, I had to be proactive and think about controlling my symptoms. I had to take back some ownership of my life.
And that's what I did. I sat down and started planning and organising my daily routine and diary.
Every Sunday, I mapped out the week to come, trying to plan and anticipate my daily routine. I'd note down everything from my work schedule to meeting friends to going on nights out (if any - as a mum with migraine, nights out can be rare). Most importantly, I prioritised spending time with my children.
I'd highlight the busiest days of the week and ensure I made them easier with meal preparation, organising the kids, and a good night's sleep. Stress can trigger migraine attacks, and that's the last thing I wanted - a busy day to cause steps back. I finally started to feel like I was taking control of my headaches.
Even if I'm sure I won't have a migraine attack that day, I still need to take precautions, just in case it happens.
For example, I always make sure my purse is fully stocked with medication before leaving the house. I also plan meals in advance, as going for long periods without food or a drink is a big red flag for me.
These things may seem like common sense, but it's easy to slip up. Trust me, going without these things can mean a massive price to pay later on.
Of course, this doesn't always work, as you can never expect every eventuality all the time. I still experience daily headaches and migraine attacks on an ongoing basis. Still, I feel somewhat better knowing that I am taking an active part in controlling my illness.
While planning doesn't remove the risk altogether, it feels as though I am helping myself get through the day somehow.
NPS-IE-NP-00461 July 2022