When I was a young girl, maybe 10 or 12, I went to a friend’s birthday party. I was so excited to spend the afternoon away from the farm with no mom or dad, brothers or sisters. I remember getting dressed, the ride to her house, the anticipation of playing party games, drinking Kool-aid and eating cake and ice cream. I don’t recall going to a lot of kids’ birthday parties that weren’t for my five siblings, so this was special. Not for long though. I couldn’t have been there for more than an hour or two when my friend’s mom had to call my mom to come pick me up; I had a splitting headache that was so bad I was throwing up.
I had just experienced my first migraine headache.
Unfortunately, no one recognized it as that. Episodes like this went on for another 15 years before I finally realized the headaches were a problem that I needed a doctor’s help to overcome. I started seeing a chiropractor in my late 20s, which helped immensely. I have always carried most of my stress in my upper back, shoulders and neck and my chiropractor helped get my spine adjusted along with showing me the benefits of stretching my muscles and trying to relax. I still see a chiropractor today and don’t plan on stopping.
But I’m a high-strung person, so relaxing isn’t what I do best. And over time I realized that it was the buildup to big events — like anticipation about a birthday party, a family reunion or a long-awaited weekend away — that could trigger a migraine and cause me to either skip the event or not enjoy it at all. Extremely stressful days at work (usually the end of the week) also could be disastrous — I remember in particular one 16-hour Friday that was so intense it resulted in a migraine that lasted from Saturday through Monday, completely wrecking a holiday weekend. Another stressful week also ended in a weekend-long migraine, leaving me holed up in my dark bedroom while husband and the kids put up and decorated the Christmas tree. I could hear them laughing and having fun, but there was no way I could get out of bed to enjoy the day with them.
By the time I reached my mid-30s, the excruciating migraines were happening almost monthly. While I had learned to deal with the pain (much of the time), I realized that I didn’t want to have to get through a migraine. It was, frankly, exhausting. And really, why should anyone have to? I talked to my neurologist about the pain and asked him to help me deal with it. After a long talk and numerous neurological exercises, he prescribed a commom migraine medicine called Imitrex (generic is Sumatriptan) that I was to take at the first sign of a migraine. To say the least, it has been a life-changer for me. It took awhile to adjust the dosage properly, but I have figured out how to administer it so that I can catch 90 percent of my migraines before they actually turn into migraines. I’m down to maybe one bad migraine (usually lasting 1 day or less) a year.
I’m writing about this now because daughter was diagnosed with migraines today. I feel bad, given my history, that I didn’t figure this out on my own — and sooner. For about the last 3 or 4 years, she has suffered from bad headaches about one week out of the year. We chalked it up mainly to allergies because the headaches usually occurred about the time allergies were also affecting husband and me. Allergy or sinus meds usually helped. But this time, the headaches lasted a little longer and were more intense (probably one long migraine headache, doc says). Neither allergy nor headache meds helped. Plus, soccer training has started and the temperatures have been in the 90s, exacerbating the headaches. So she went to the doctor today. And I was a little embarrassed when her doctor, almost immediately after she told him her symptoms, asked if anyone in the family had a history of migraines. The light bulb went on. Why, when it was right there in front of me, didn’t I think of migraines?
She’ll keep a migraine journal for the next couple months, and hopefully we’ll figure out her triggers (in addition to stress and hyper-excitement, mine also include the start of menstruation, chocolate and caffeine, so it’s likely hers could be similar). She’s also got the benefit of an Imitrex prescription to help knock out future migraines. Although I wish I would have seen it in her earlier, I am glad we found out at age 16 and not 25 or 30. Migraines inflict pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And migraine medicine (not to mention awareness) has come a long way since I was a kid, so hopefully daughter’s road will be much less bumpy than mine.