When we talk about how much chronic migraine affects us, we tend to think of the big stuff, like holidays cut short or cancelled nights out.
But, as Ciara O’Rourke explores, we forget how much chronic migraine impacts day-to-day things. How many of us have battled choosing between 15 extra minutes in bed or having a proper breakfast? For busy nurse and mum-of-three Ciara, too little sleep and not enough food can both be migraine triggers.
Today, Ciara explores how much migraine affects her daily routine – and vice versa.
Recently, I've found myself thinking about the pieces I write for this blog.
I tend to write about the Big Life Events (or the big stuff that happens in my life, anyway) and how chronic migraine impacts them. Of course! These are the events I remember the most, the ones I get the most upset about when I think about life with almost daily headaches.
But it's not the significant life events that have impacted me the most. They can make the best stories, but they're not a true reflection of my life with migraine.
It's the small things that build a life, with or without chronic migraine
The real difficulties arise in the mundane, day-to-day activities that don't deviate much from the routine. Many people get bored with the same old, day in and day out.
But - for those without migraine - imagine doing what you do now, but with an almost constant headache. Or other prodrome or postdrome symptoms that try their best to wreak havoc on your day.
For those who live with migraine, you'll know that getting through everyday life can be the hardest thing for us.
My daily routine is essential for managing migraine symptoms
I'm a nurse full-time, married, and have three boys.
Work starts early, so my boys are usually still in bed by the time I leave. Typically, I tiptoe out and start the 30-minute journey at 6:30 a.m. I take my migraine medication before I start, as things tend to get very busy very quickly. I have daily reminders on my phone for every dose, as it's easy to lose track of time or forget.
I must also eat before work, as skipping meals can trigger symptoms. I need to give myself time in the morning to eat, wake up, and not feel overly rushed, or my mood is sour (as is my physical health) for the rest of the day.
Swapping to regular work shifts changed my life
My work varies between the office and clinical duties. Thankfully, my hours are pretty standard unless there's an emergency.
Regular working days and hours are vital. I remember working on wards, doing irregular hours, which was terrible for my health. My migraines were more frequent and lasted longer.
Likewise, my breaks need to be regular and structured. It's easy to think, "I'll skip my snack or my lunch," when you're busy, but that can sap your strength for the rest of the day. Working in a hospital means eating a full meal isn't always possible. Still, most of the time, I won't allow myself to make excuses.
As for where I eat, I'll try to get a table in the staff canteen. I used to have a horrible habit of eating at my desk and scrolling through work emails and data. I didn't give myself enough space for a mental break! Few emails are so important that they can't wait half an hour.
Lunchtime is also a prime opportunity to connect and chat with my colleagues. When the weather's nice, I can take a walk to blow away the cobwebs. It's a healthy activity I want to make into a regular habit!
Being present for my family is extremely important to me
Most afternoons, my boys are engaged in some form of afterschool activity. Athletics, drama, swimming, art, or GAA (Irish soccer). My husband, Shaun, and I share the responsibility of ferrying the boys to their clubs.
If I'm honest, he probably takes the lion's share of this task. Some evenings, I don't have the spoons to watch from the sidelines or stand by the pool!
But the days I can, I will. Not seeing the boys before work means the evening car journeys count as bonding and catch-up time. Many people with migraine know how much the condition saps our energy. We can feel guilty when we're too wiped out to be consistently present.
The evening is prime family time
The evening routine consists of organizing and cooking dinner and sitting down to do homework. As the boys get older, they understand what needs to get done and how to do it.
And I hate to admit it, but they also understand that Mummy has days when she can't help. They're now pros at getting on with homework without causing too much fuss. They still have their moments (anyone else had an all-out war over spellings?), but for the most part, they get it.
During autumn and winter, I really enjoy TV shows like The Great British Bake-Off and Strictly Come Dancing. After a busy day, my family all curl up on the sofa and watch these programs together. Life can be about simple pleasures, and this is one of them.
I'm exhausted by bedtime - but my routine keeps me as healthy as possible
By 9 p.m., it's time to start putting pyjamas on and preparing for the next day. School uniforms need to be ready, and lunch bags get prepared. By the time that's over, the kids are exhausted - and so am I! As I start work early, late nights are a no-no for me. Not enough sleep makes my migraine symptoms so much worse.
This routine can deviate, but I keep to it as much as possible. I rely on this system and the help I have from my husband and kids. Without them, I couldn't continue as I do.
Sounds cheesy, but teamwork makes the dream work
My husband and I make a great team, always looking out for one another. My work and family mean everything to me, and both get most of my focus.
Many people have asked me how I manage to work full-time and have three young children. The honest answer? It can be tough. But I don't do it all by myself. Shaun is as hands-on as I am.
And the day I stop is the day that migraine wins. I love my job, and more importantly, I love my family. Being a mum is my most outstanding achievement, so I want to do everything possible to enjoy it.
No, my day-to-day life wouldn't be classified as "exciting." But the days without migraines are all "wins" for me. I won't let my condition take me over.
And when chronic migraine does get hold, I know how lucky I am to have such an incredible support system. I'll always get through as long as my family is by my side.
NPS-IE-NP-00655 January 2023