"Every migraine attack causes me a loss. I waste time and lose precious moments with my loved ones. Sometimes, I even lose professional opportunities."
Migraine is a painful condition – physically and emotionally. For Anita*, every migraine attack means missing out on life for days at a time.
I have been suffering from migraine since the age of 13.
Migraine has influenced my daily life since my school years. My peers made fun of my frequent bouts of illness. Thankfully, my parents knew my condition was no joke, and they often wrote to the school to explain my absences.
I thought the stigma would stop during my working life, but in some cases, it became worse.
My illness became so severe in a previous job that I'd fallen asleep at my desk. That didn't go down well.
Yet, over time, I met people who understood migraine and how serious the condition can be. I remember how, by sheer strength of will and a minor miracle, I once managed to crawl over for a job interview during an attack.
I was met with some surprise by the interviewers because I looked like a corpse. Deathly pale and fighting nausea the entire time.
Luckily, a person on the interview panel also lived with migraine, so she understood and appreciated my effort to attend.
Luckily, for many years now, I've been working at a company where everyone knows and accepts me - migraine and all. No one’s angry when I phone and say I can't come in. They know how my attacks work.
My migraine attacks last for days at a time
My migraine attacks are drawn out over a number of days. The pain hits hard on the first day but lessens on the second. I use the second day to recover, only to be greeted by more pain on the third day. The pain moves around now, usually from one side of my head to the other or the front. I only start to feel more like myself after the third night.
Interestingly, a key sign of my symptoms fading is a craving for certain foods. I would be hungry, but I want sour, spicy fare more than anything else.
After the cravings comes a sudden surge of energy. It almost feels like an adrenaline rush because I'm so glad the headache's gone. My will to live rises again, and I work so hard that I manage to catch up with everything I've missed. It's like I stopped existing for a few days, and now I want to prove my presence with force.
I miss out all the time – and people guilt me for it
I get angry, too, especially when the pain comes. Imagine feeling an attack coming, knowing it’ll snatch at least three days out of your life. I have no option but to abandon any plans I’ve made with my family and friends.
My children are often disappointed because I cancel promised outings last minute. Their mother effectively becomes "closed until further notice."
Likewise, my husband doesn't understand. "How can you stop functioning due to a headache?" he'll ask. "You just take a pill, and it's all over in a few minutes."
But those who've never had a migraine will have no idea how it feels. Still, though, the pile-on of feelings can get to me. I'm dealing with pain, missing out on something I was looking forward to, and feeling guilty for disappointing my relatives. On top of all that, I'm met with complaints and misunderstandings from those I made plans with.
It's not my fault when I can't go to the cinema. It's not my fault when I skip plans with friends or drop out of some family celebration. I want to go. Migraine, not me, is responsible for all these losses.
I've missed so many special events that it's difficult to remember the last time I went to one.
Migraine takes away any spontaneity
My attacks are usually cyclical, so I try to plan around them. I want to be the person who can spontaneously go to big events or whisk off for a weekend's travel.
Migraine makes me a prisoner, and missing out on such things is my punishment. Instead, I must plan everything and give myself enough margin to deal with "unexpected events."
This disease takes a lot away, and not everything can be under my control. My migraine is primarily linked to my endocrine cycle, but many other stimuli can trigger an "off-the-clock" attack.
Hormones aren’t my only trigger
Stress is one example, but it's impossible to always avoid stressful situations. You can't predict what’ll come up every given day.
Likewise, I find some foods highly migraine-inducing. For example, two sips of red wine are enough to get me laid up in my darkened bedroom. Yellow cheeses and chocolate are also off the table - especially the dark, bitter chocolate I like a lot.
I managed to adapt to coffee, although the neurologist advised against it. Coffee can raise blood pressure and hence the pain in my head. I’ve had to start paying more attention to what I eat and drink.
This doesn’t affect everyone with migraine, but I also have great sensitivity to smells.
Food aromas are fine, but perfume can break me down. My husband still only uses the one fragrance I can tolerate after however many years. I've also avoided sitting next to people on the train because of their perfume. It's nothing personal, but I don't want an attack on public transport.
*Anita chooses not to use her real name for privacy reasons. Life Effects Europe will publish more of her story soon.
NPS-IE-NP-00724 April 2023