Migraine – a pain in the head

Migraine: (noun) a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head, may be accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and disturbed vision.

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Migraine Awareness week takes place this week, and its primary aims are to raise awareness of this debilitating condition, but also to address some of the stigma surrounding it. Across the world one in seven people are affected by migraines, making it the third most common disease globally. Yet it is so often misunderstood, and many sufferers find themselves struggling through their day rather than take more time off work.

My own experience

I have suffered from migraines for almost 20 years. My triggers were straightforward to figure out, but not so easy to manage. My migraines can be triggered by cheese, chocolate and the big bad word – stress! Following an absence from work due to a particularly unpleasant migraine, I mentioned that they can be caused by stress. This resulted in all kinds of alarm bells going off, a referral to occupational health and funnily enough, created extra stress for me to endure. Needless to say, that this course of action was neither necessary nor helpful, but procedures must be followed, especially if you mention the ‘s’ word.

Migraine at Work

This year the Migraine Trust are focussing on helping employers to better support those who endure this condition. Some of their suggestions include flexible working conditions, understanding that this condition is a neurological disorder where each sufferer may experience vastly different symptoms and making reasonable adaptations to workplaces. These are all positive steps towards supporting individuals and helping them to manage their migraines without clocking up absences.

Triggers

The triggers for a migraine are as varied as the symptoms experienced by individuals. Here are a few:

1.    Dehydration

2.    Sleep (too much or too little)

3.    Stress

4.    Caffeine

5.    Low blood-sugar

6.    Food

If I don’t eat enough or at regular intervals I will end up with a headache. The same goes for drinking plenty of water throughout the day, so you’ll never find me without my bobble bottle. But I can be on top of my game with food prep and drinking water when a deadline looms or something else increases my stress levels. That’s when the migraine will strike, leaving me floored and feeling unwell for several days after the initial headache has subsided.

This is the side that most people don’t see, the part of the migraine which endures after the pain has dissipated. This is what makes migraines different from tension headaches – they can affect your whole body and cause you to be out of action for a few days.

Medication

There are a wide variety of medications on offer to help treat or even prevent a migraine, but they don’t come without a price. Many of the medications I have been offered as preventative have had side-effects which proved worse than a once-a-week migraine. That’s saying a lot about the medications. Now I only take my medication after an attack has begun, and as soon as I possibly can, to give myself the best chance of preventing it from becoming debilitating.

Self-help

Last summer I suffered from a particularly difficult migraine time, with one headache beginning pretty much after the last one stopped. It was exhausting. A bit of research suggested increasing my magnesium levels may help, and I began taking a supplement. It didn’t help but it made me feel like I was doing something. Often with migraines we can feel out of control, especially if you can’t know 100% what has triggered the latest attack. I don’t take any supplements now, but I have found some other ways to help me prevent future migraines.

My prescription

Sleep

I try to get an adequate amount of sleep, keeping the same bedtime and getting up time throughout the week. This was very challenging, but now when I head to bed my mind is ready to switch off for sleep and not over-sleeping has helped me to get a better quality of rest overnight.

Food

At the weekend I prepare for the week ahead. I make soup for my freezer, and healthy lunches and snacks which will stay fresh in the fridge, making my life easier but also stopping me from being tempted during the day. At school there is always chocolate somewhere, and by the end of a busy week it can be very tempting to have ‘just one wee bit.’ Sadly, one small piece of chocolate does not equate to a small migraine.

Fresh Air

I’m currently teaching more outdoors than indoors, this has helped me to get some Vitamin D and to get some fresh air into my lungs. Taking Jackson for his walks are also another nice way of resetting. This has also helped to manage my stress levels, as I have a means of distancing myself from whatever is going on and when I return I have better perspective.

Meditation and exercise

I’m not sure if this is helping or not, but it is making me feel better. Sitting in meditation and watching my breath helps me to slow down and I can start my day in the right way. I feel more settled, calmer and more resilient. Making the time to exercise is also helping, as I can focus on releasing knots of tension in my neck, upper back and shoulders. I can manage these tightness’s myself and take control of my recovery. Yin yoga with my bolster is a particular favourite, as I don’t have to move too much and I can place a weighted eye mask on to help relax.

Moving forwards

I will probably always be susceptible to migraines, and I know that there are certain areas of my life which increase my risk of an attack more than others. I’m working on creating more balance and have made small changes which are having a big impact. It’s one step at a time, and I know that I’m doing everything I can to help myself. I also know that I am not alone in trying to manage this condition, that helps.