Living with Migraines

I was 15 when I had my first migraine. It was a typical Tuesday afternoon, and I was in the middle of class when it hit me. One moment, I was listening to the teacher give their lecture; the next, I was gripping my pencil, eyes squeezed shut, as a piercing pain drilled into my temple. It was so quick and short, like a wave of electricity shocked my brain and I could feel it behind my eyes. I remember the lights seemed too bright, and every noise felt like a hammer to my skull.

That was the beginning of my relationship with migraines.

Looking back now, I realize how unprepared I was for what was to come. High school is tough enough without having to navigate it through a haze of debilitating headaches. At first, my parents and I thought it was just a one-off event; just a bad headache due to lack of water or stress. But when the migraines started coming back, week after week, we knew something more serious was going on.

The Early Years: Struggling to Understand

In those early years, my migraines were a mystery. We visited countless doctors and specialists, trying to find answers. I went through a battery of tests—scans, blood work, neurological exams—all of which came back normal.

It was frustrating, to say the least. Here I was, in excruciating pain, yet every test told me I was perfectly fine. It was easy enough for doctors to chalk it up to stress and anxiety, something else I was dealing with at the time. After years of trying to find answers, and different medications to try to stop them, I gave up and just accepted they’d come and go. Over time they weren’t as frequent but still would hit me every few weeks.

One of the first things I learned about migraines is how isolating they can be. Not just because of the pain, but because people who haven’t experienced them often don’t understand how debilitating they can be. I missed out on so many things—school events, hanging out with friends, even family gatherings. I remember one particular incident when I had to miss my best friend’s birthday party. I was all dressed up, ready to go, and then, out of nowhere, the familiar throb began. I spent the night in a dark room, trying to will the pain away, feeling guilty and alone. I’d get eye rolls and scoffs when I would say I’m feeling the auras coming and that only made me feel worse. My best friend was always supportive and often would opt for hanging out with me in the dark room, scrolling on her phone while I waited out the worst of the pain so we could carry on with our plans.

Learning to Cope: Finding What Works

Over the years, I’ve had to become somewhat of an expert in managing my migraines. It’s been a long journey of trial and error, but I’ve found a few things that help. I started developing the intuition on how bad it would be that day, and how I could manage it to keep moving.

One of the biggest game-changers for me was keeping a migraine diary. A neurologist suggested it when I was younger, and at first, I was skeptical. The idea of documenting my migraines at 17 seemed like too much work for little payoff, but once I picked up the habit in my 20s, it turned out to be incredibly useful. By tracking what I ate, how much sleep I got, my stress levels, and other factors, I was able to identify some of my key triggers. It gave me the valuable information I needed to minimize their outbreaks, and give myself a pain-free life for longer periods of time.

Triggers and Management Techniques

  • Diet: For me, certain foods in excess are a no-go. Red wine, aged cheeses, and chocolate are the big offenders. I still enjoy these things in moderation, though. I also learned that skipping meals can trigger an attack, so I try to eat regular, balanced meals.
  • Sleep: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is crucial. Too much or too little sleep can set off a migraine, so I try to aim for a consistent seven to eight hours a night. Nowadays, this is less of a trigger for me, but I definitely recommend trying to get consistent sleep for anyone trying to identify triggers and see if this helps.
  • Stress Management: Stress is the major trigger for me, as it is for many people with migraines. I’ve tried various stress-relief techniques over the years. I also make a point of scheduling some “me time” every week, whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or just relaxing with some music. Back in University and then my agency days, I was overworked and always tense with stress, and migraines. This was when my anxiety was also at an all-time high and knew I had to change things before I burnt myself out. Therapy and self-prioritization helped manage things, and I have since tried to not let the little things take over my mind and cause too much stress. Much easier said than done, and stress still plays a big part of my triggers.
  • Medication: Finding the right medication was a lengthy process. I’ve tried everything from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription drugs. I tried daily preventative medication (antidepressant) but found I felt groggy and numb. These days, I have a prescription for acute attacks that I try to only take when things get really bad and focus on preventative practices. It’s not perfect, but it’s manageable.

Navigating Adult Life with Migraines

As I transitioned from high school to college and then into the working world, managing migraines became even more challenging. In University, the late nights and irregular schedules often triggered migraines. I had to learn to balance my academic responsibilities with my health needs. This meant sometimes missing out on late-night study sessions or social events to make sure I got enough sleep.

One of the hardest parts of living with migraines is dealing with them in a professional setting. I’ve had to be open with my employers about my condition, which isn’t always easy. I once had a boss who didn’t understand why I needed to take breaks in a dark, quiet room when a migraine hit. After a particularly bad episode where I had to leave work early, I decided to have an honest conversation with him. I explained how migraines affect me and how I’ve lived with them for years, and what accommodations I needed to manage them. To my relief, he was understanding and supportive.

Finding Community and Support

One of the most valuable things I’ve discovered is the importance of community. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly validating. My cousin gets them quite frequently as well, and we worked together at the same company, so having that constant support was very helpful. My community has been a lifeline, especially on those days when it feels like the migraines will never end.

I’ve also found that educating those around me is crucial. Friends and family may not fully understand what it’s like to live with chronic migraines, but when they see how it affects my daily life, they become more supportive. My partner, in particular, has been a rock. He’s learned to recognize the signs of an impending migraine and knows exactly what to do—whether it’s fetching me medication, making sure the room is dark and quiet, or just being there for comfort.

A Few Anecdotes and Lessons Learned

I remember one time when I was determined not to let a migraine ruin my plans. My friend and I had tickets to see our favourite band, and I had been looking forward to it for months. Of course, on the day of the concert, I woke up with a migraine. I was devastated. But instead of giving up, I decided to try something different. I took my medication, put on my darkest sunglasses, and brought earplugs. Surprisingly, I managed to enjoy most of the concert. Sure, it wasn’t the ideal experience, and I looked quite silly wearing sunglasses at night in a dark venue, but it taught me that sometimes, with the right precautions, I can still do the things I love.

Another time, I was at a family gathering, and I felt a migraine coming on. My aunt (who also suffers from chronic migraines) noticed I was unusually quiet and asked what was wrong. When I told her, she suggested I try a home remedy she’d read about—peppermint oil. I was skeptical, but she insisted. She rubbed a few drops on my temples and the back of my neck. To my surprise, it helped ease the pain. Since then, I’ve added peppermint oil to my migraine toolkit. It’s not a cure, but it does provide some relief, and I associate the scent with her and find comfort.

Looking Ahead

Living with chronic migraines is a constant battle, but it’s one I’ve learned to manage. There are good days and bad days, but I’ve come to accept that this is part of who I am. I’ve learned to listen to my body, to advocate for myself, and to never give up on finding ways to improve my quality of life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to be kind to myself. Migraines can make you feel powerless and frustrated, but beating myself up over something I can’t control only makes things worse. Instead, I focus on what I can do—whether it’s trying a new treatment, making lifestyle adjustments, or simply taking it easy when I need to.

In the end, living with migraines has taught me resilience. It’s made me more empathetic and understanding of others’ struggles. And while I wouldn’t wish this condition on anyone, it has shaped me into who I am today—a person who is stronger, more patient, and always hopeful for a brighter, pain-free future.

To anyone out there battling chronic migraines, know that you’re not alone. It’s a tough journey, but with perseverance, support, and a bit of trial and error, you can find ways to manage and live a fulfilling life. Remember to celebrate the small victories and never lose hope. There’s always a way forward, even on the darkest days.

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