It’s a perfect, balmy morning in San Diego, and I’m sitting in my garden with a cup of tea inhaling the green serenity of our little spot of heaven. Sounds great, right? Except that I feel 100 years old, which is pretty depressing considering I’m only 50.
As I look around, everything feels like it’s in slow motion. Including me. As I slowly raise my tea cup to my lips, the gentle trickle of the water fountain next to me matches the pace of my thoughts. Everything I do, and think, is slow. Even my breathing feels slow. And it’s frightening.
That was yesterday and it marked the fourth consecutive day I’d had a migraine. I’d taken my prescription medication but while it had thankfully zapped my piercing brain pain, this space cadet feeling was new.
I remember feeling a creeping sense of dread through my numbness, that the medication which manages my migraines might be wearing off after having taken it for a few years now. Have I become immune to it? Is it going to stop working? Is it making me high? And what on earth will help next?
A bit of background…
For almost 5 years now, I’ve lost 2-4 days per month out of my life, bedridden in darkness when a migraine descends. That’s equivalent to one month per year – in bed. Some days my migraines would be manageable, other times they would disrupt everything.
And every time I’ve been curled up, with my aching brain keeping me awake yet somehow rendering me immobilized, I’ve vowed to research everything about this bone-crushing pain once I feel better. From why migraines occur, to statistics, to alternative cures as opposed to meds, and to how and when on earth I might be free from them.
And then I feel better. And not just better. I feel alive again. I can speak and laugh with my family. I can get daily mundane tasks done with a grateful smile on my face, and feel excited about getting back to life after long, depressing wasted days.
I can live in the light. Literally. And when that happens, despite my best intentions, I can’t bear to even think about migraines, Google the word, or even email the doctor about them.
But after five years of this, I also know that another migraine will be coming. The darkness will block out my light of day, and I’ll usher my daughters away when they come with a handwritten ‘get well’ card and place their favorite teddy bears under my aching head, because my brain can’t even take the sound of their sweet voices.
My deep-rooted anxiety of them thinking me being sick is normal is the worst part. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a boring old migraine,’ I tell them over and over. Last year I was wheeled into Urgent Care when the pain got unbearable, vomiting into a bowl while simultaneously cheerily waving them goodbye calling ‘See you later!’.
My daughters know I lost my mum when I was 22. Mum was only 3 years older than me at the time. I wonder if my girls worry, without daring to ask them in case they don’t. At least my fears of having a brain tumor have finally subsided, thanks to three head CT scans over the past few years.
How the migraines began
I never in my life dreamed I’d be the pill popper I’ve become. My mum taught health and nutrition for a living and as a teen, whenever I had a headache she would gently massage the base of my skull and then give me a tissue with lavender oil on to sniff and rub lavender on my temples. Only if this didn’t help, and it nearly always did, did she give me OTC headache medicine.
I had regular headaches through my adult life on and off but I never remember having an actual migraine until my forties. And for that fact alone, I know I’m truly lucky.
I was around 45 when they first started and my daughters were 2 and 4 years old. On the first day of my menstrual cycle, I started to get piercing headaches on one side behind and all around my eye. OTC meds never helped and my eye would water from pain and the relentless pressure, but I pushed on through, as any mom of two young kids will tell you they have to do. This continued like clockwork for months.
My doctor finally diagnosed perimenopausal migraines due to timing of them. At least back then they were predictable. She prescribed medication that would stop pain signals being sent to the brain by narrowing the blood vessels, and told me to take it at the onset. I struggled with this for a long time. I kept thinking the pain might go away and I took it too late. But it never worked. And no wonder – two years later, a neurologist would tell me the doctor had prescribed me the pediatric dose.
I was desperate and when my aunt who’d suffered from hormonal migraines for years visited from England, she bought me soluble over the counter codeine medication that’d worked for her.
Miraculously, it worked for me too, and it changed my life. It worked mid migraine which was a game changer and it erased my migraines just fifteen minutes after taking them. The packet said it could become addictive but I never felt that become a problem.
It literally saved my sanity. Until Covid, when my family could no longer visit and I couldn’t fly home. I ran out. I didn’t ask anyone to mail them after my English friend who’d bought some back told me that they were illegal here and that she’d opened the box and dispersed the tablets in her family’s various suitcases for the flight. I had no idea.
Covid also coincided with my last soluble codeine suddenly making me feel nauseous and I knew that was a problem. Plus the migraines had started occurring mid cycle. This was because I was ovulating my doctor told me, which can also induce migraines. At least I’d had an element of control before if that only meant I knew when to expect them. Now they were coming every 2 weeks.
I didn’t know how on earth I could hold down a full-time job and I constantly had to cancel plans. I started to feel depressed and begged my doctor for a new plan. She referred me to a neurologist who was a wealth of information, including the prescription dosage disaster.
What my neuro said
She agreed my migraines were vascular and linked to blood flow. She upped my prescription to the proper dosage and thankfully it started working, most months anyway. I often still have to lie in darkness afterwards as I feel so physically fragile and scared that the migraine will return. My neuro warned me not to take more than 9 per month or they could cause a stroke so I record all my meds intake meticulously.
She then gave me this list of options:
- Take magnesium supplements (250mg daily) and vitamin B2. I now take them both.
- Keep a migraine diary. I do this by recording all migraine medication taken and it definitely helps.
- If I wake with a migraine use a prescribed nasal spray (like this reader’s story). I tried this once and sniffed it too hard as I was congested, resulting in me swallowing it. It didn’t help and tasted so disgusting I couldn’t bear to try again.
- Have a magnesium infusion. This would be done in three sessions, one every month for three months and each session would take 3 hours. It was a big time commitment but ultimately I didn’t do it as it was during Covid (pre-vaccine) and I didn’t want to be in a hospital at all if possible back then.
- Try acupuncture. I was shocked that this was covered by my health insurance but really hopeful. My husband has had chronic neck pain for years and swears acupuncture is the only thing that’s ever really helped.
- Botox. This is only prescribed if everything above hasn’t worked and it can be administered in the forehead or back of the neck for migraines.
Where I’m at today
I’m determined to come off my migraine meds but I need an alternative option so life is manageable. I’m still on the fence about a magnesium infusion, especially since reading they’re recommended for people who experience aura with migraine, which I don’t. I’ve never had Botox, and while I’m definitely not ruling it out, I don’t feel this is the reason to try it in my forehead. I’m keen to try it in my neck when I’m allowed though.
I did try acupuncture and will publish the results soon. I also want to look into taking a low-dose birth control pill that Dr. Kathryn Macaulay spoke about here.
Considering the pain, anxiety and disruption migraines inflict upon my life, having at last started researching them for this website, I actually feel lucky considering my migraines are supposedly hormonal. A friend recently told me when she was just 12, she got such bad migraines that she vomited in the street once. The thought of a child going through this pain truly breaks my heart.
I hold out great hope that my own migraines will subside or even disappear as both my aunt’s and this reader’s did once I reach menopause.
It could be wishful thinking, but it’s good enough for now.
I’ve shared my story in the hope that it helps or at least resonates with other migraine sufferers. When I asked a migraine-related question in my local Facebook group, I was flooded with answers from other women who suffer from them also. There are so many of us living with migraines, whether they be caused by menopause or something else. I would love to hear your coping mechanisms or solutions like this reader here in case it can help other readers, even if your migraines are not menopause-related. Have you had a magnesium infusion, and did it work? Did acupuncture work for you? Did Botox help? Or any other more natural therapies? Please write it in the comments or email here if you would like your story published. Thank you so much!