With COVID-19 still at the forefront of our minds, we may be guilty of neglecting our other health issues. Ciara O'Rourke shares how the lockdown initially eased her migraine symptoms – only to be shocked by their severity when she resumed her fast-paced lifestyle.
The last two years haven't been easy for anyone. We have all been affected somehow, even those who managed to steer clear of the dreaded coronavirus. We've all had to make sacrifices and adjust how we live as we’ve gone through the pandemic.
Distancing and isolation from friends and loved ones have taken their toll on many. New variants every few months mean restrictions constantly change as we try to settle into new routines. This uncertainty gnaws away at us: how long will this go on? Will any progress always be two steps forward, one step back? What if we never return to "normal"?
Managing these added worries and pressures wasn't exactly a cakewalk as a migraine sufferer.
But, if I'm honest, some of these lifestyle limitations actually benefitted me and my chronic condition.
The new lifestyle forced me to slow down
Most of the time, the lockdown's social restrictions were boring at best and worrying or depressing at worst. As a nurse, many days have been hectic, stress-inducing, and upsetting. My social life was a break from the pressures of long, demanding shifts.
However, with limited opportunities for making plans, the lockdown forced me to slow down and spend more time with family at home. I was astonished by how much my cleared schedule helped my migraine.
Making, looking forward to, and keeping social plans can take incredible effort - especially with a chronic condition. For the first time in years, I realised that relaxing wasn't about cramming activities into all my free time. Resting after a busy day at work was doing wonders for my health.
I'd missed my old, fast-paced life
Yet, as the summer months of 2021 approached and restrictions lifted, I was itching to see my friends again. Netflix had proved a great companion, but I couldn't wait to get out of the house!
A friend and I decided to go for a shopping trip in Belfast, Ireland, with drinks in the evening and an overnight hotel stay. The thought of being able to browse through shops instead of ordering online filled me with glee.
The morning of the trip, I took my migraine medication to help stave off any chance of getting an attack. I drove up, met my friend for lunch, and started our shopping trip. Soon, it was 5 P.M., and we'd been out all day. It had been busy, but I was revelling in the feeling of normality. My friend and I had booked a swimming session in the hotel pool for 5:30, so we hurried back for that. We had dinner reservations for 7 P.M., so we rushed to transform from ladies who swim to ladies who fine dine.
The dinner was lovely. I realised how much I'd missed chatting and enjoying a friend’s company. By 10:30, all the activity had left me thoroughly exhausted, and we went to bed.
Doing too much, too soon
The following morning was an early one. My friend and I were driving down to Newry for some more shopping, and we wanted to avoid the crowds. I still felt tired, but otherwise, I was okay. I figured the packed schedule and excitement of the day before was the cause.
However, it was a different story once I got to the shopping centre. It was like a switch had been flipped. I felt a headache approaching, and the tiredness turned to fatigue. My guilt and common sense battled each other. I knew my friend had a list of things she wanted to get that day, but the severity of the oncoming migraine meant I couldn't push through.
I called my husband Shaun, and he advised me to get home as soon as possible.
Migraine came back with a vengeance
At this stage, the migraine had progressed. My head was aching, the fatigue was getting worse, and I felt like I was going to be sick. My best bet was to pick at some food and up my fluid intake before hitting the road.
The trip turned out to be one of the worst of my life. I hadn't been driving long when the feelings of nausea were so intense that I had to pull over to vomit. I cleaned myself off and, for a while, felt well enough to continue. I hoped that being sick would lessen my symptoms enough for a smooth journey home.
I pulled over another five times on the trip back, with the hour and a half's drive taking closer to three. Thankfully, I made it back home intact - tired, unwell, with brain fog that only allowed me vague recollections of the journey - but all in one piece. I spent the next two days in bed, recovering from cluster headaches and other migraine symptoms.
Managing migraine needs constant vigilance
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. At the time, though, the experience knocked me for six. I hadn't had a migraine attack that bad in a while, and I'd felt so prepared. I'd taken my medication and got an early night. Wasn't that enough?
Yet, I recognised how many assumptions I'd made as the days went by. You never get comfortable with migraine, but you get used to the symptoms and forget their impact. COVID-19 was at the forefront of everyone's minds, including my own. I'd stopped thinking about the importance of managing and preventing my migraine attacks.
In short, I'd been complacent and took on more than my body could allow. I should have planned the trip properly and not just relied on medication to get me through. Though I'd had an early night, I'd neglected breaks, regular meals, and keeping up my fluid intake.
On Day Two, I'd convinced myself that rushing along and saying I was "fine" would keep the oncoming headache at bay. In reality, if I'd stopped for a drink and something to eat, the day could have gone much better.
The last thing I wanted was a migraine ruining our trip or letting down my friend.
I can't say that COVID is going anywhere soon. The future can look daunting with the threat of new waves and variants.
But, as some restrictions lift, we have to ease ourselves back into everyday life, not expect an immediate shift. Our bodies are far more sensitive than we think. Sometimes, stubbornness and willpower can override "warning" signals designed to keep us safe.
When it comes to migraine or any chronic illness, we can't get complacent. Symptoms can still take the wind out of our sails, and I found out the hard way.
NPS-IE-NP-00425 May 2022