Migraines are a specific type of headache that cause numerous other symptoms and usually last much longer and are more painful and severe than a tension headache or sinus headache. In fact, I don’t believe they belong in the “headache” category at all. I am a migraine sufferer. Everyone is different, but for me, my migraines are truly debilitating and last two to three days typically.
Since around college, I remember getting severe headaches that no amount of medication would alleviate. For years, I thought they were sinus-related because of how much my face hurt. But about 12 years ago, my ENT informed me that I was indeed suffering migraines.
The Warning Signs
My migraines often start off with “face ache,” which is a pressure in my nasal area and then spreads up into my eye sockets and rounds out in my temples. It is often accompanied by severe neck muscle tension and then a stabbing pain in one quadrant of my head so severe that I cannot function. Nausea and weakness set in, and then I’m done for the day. I also suffer insane sensitivity to light and sound. I don’t experience the aura that some migraine sufferers get, but I do cringe at the soft whisper of the car’s air conditioning buzzing. It literally hurts to hear the whoosh. Also, my hair follicles ache, which sounds insane, but it’s true.
What It Means For Me
What it means for me, as a working mom, is that I am utterly and completely “out for the count” when a migraine hits. I have to leave work, call in reinforcement for my kids, and retreat to a cold, dark room until I get some relief… usually a day or two later. It is horrible. I missed social events, had to take too many sick days from work, and felt like I was unavailable for a lot of things I enjoy in life. For a brief period, when I was a single mom, I would panic realizing a migraine was starting up and knowing I would have to call in a family member or babysitter to help out. The helplessness and the stress of having a migraine can often spin you into a further migraine. It’s a vicious cycle.
What Can You Do About It?
I have had great misfortune in finding medications to help me. And I have tried it all. Because migraines are very commonly related to hormone cycles (roughly three times more women suffer from migraines than men), I have tried multiple birth control options to minimize the rise and fall of hormones in my body. I have tried preventatives like Topomax, which is a known seizure medication that can help alleviate migraines, but it had terrible side effects and wasn’t good for me. I have tried every Triptan (a class of tryptamine-based drugs used as abortive medication in the treatment of migraines and cluster headaches) in existence and found some relief, although the medication “hangover” that can last an additional day is often not worth the migraine relief. Also, after a decade of taking Tripatans, but my body suddenly rejected them about two years ago, and I spiraled into a pretty difficult skin reaction that took two years to diagnose and heal. Seriously, it’s been a hard road. Botox Injections: I tried that too. Lots of tiny needles all over your head: 35 to be exact. Yes, it hurts. I did find that it reduced the severity of my headaches but did not improve how frequently I got them or how long they lasted. It just wasn’t for me.
After switching neurologists a few times and doing countless tests and head scans, I am very thankful to report that I have found some relief. I arrived at a doctor who took one look at me and said, “You can’t live like this!” and finally understood just how hard my road with migraines has been. Because I have so much difficulty with medications and because I was literally willing to try anything to get my life back, I jumped at the chance to try a fairly new injectable drug called Erenumab (Aimovig). There are two other injectables that I have been told also work well, but I don’t have experience with them. The shot comes in a little pen that looks like an EpiPen and is very easy to administer. It burns like hell for 10 seconds and sometimes makes a tiny bruise at the injection site. I administer it myself monthly, and it’s so so worth it! Ten seconds of discomfort for literally zero migraines. I have had three or four small-scale headaches since I started the shot nearly two years ago, and that’s it. Sweet relief – this works! If you want to know more about how Erenumab blocks your CGRP receptors (the train station depos that carry migraines around your head), you can read more here. If you are a migraine sufferer who hasn’t yet found the answers, I urge you to find a doctor who will help navigate the difficult waters of migraine life and consider trying the injectable option. It took me well over a decade to get there, but I am happy to report I am well and can be the wife and mother I need to be.