Whether you follow me online, or we’ve chatted in person we’ve more than likely discussed migraines.
Oof! I always say I wouldn’t wish a migraine on my worst enemy they are truly aw-ful, and what’s really tricky with migraine is that unless you’ve had one it’s really hard to truly understand their magnitude. Lots of folks get headaches in their lifetime, and while those are also no fun, a migraine really is something entirely different.
And something you never want to say to someone who suffers from Migraine is “it’s just a headache” because rest assured it’s absolutely anything, but “just a headache”.
Migraine is often misdiagnosed and stigmatized, and this June in honour of Migraine Awareness Month in Canada we want to help #UncoverMigraine.
My hope is that, in sharing my experience it will encourage those who suffer with migraine to do the same because in sharing our stories we can all learn from each other. Migraines are complex, and the learning curve can be STEEP at best.
WHAT IS A MIGRAINE ???
A migraine is much more than a bad headache. This neurological disease can cause debilitating throbbing pain that can leave you in bed for days! Movement, light, sound and other triggers may cause symptoms like pain, tiredness, feelings of depression, nausea, visual disturbances, numbness and tingling, irritability, difficulty speaking, temporary loss of vision and many more.
I can’t count how many times I had to call in sick for work, or cancel plans with friends because of migraines. There’s a lot of stuff you can “push through” but a migraine just isn’t one of them.
And while the symptoms can present differently for everyone it’s important to know your own individual triggers.
For me, sleep is absolutely crucial, it’s also important I’m well hydrated, keep my caffeine intake low, and make sure I’m eating regular meals. If it sounds like a full time job: it is!!
HOW LONG CAN A MIGRAINE LAST??
Migraine is a complex neurological disease that lasts 4-72 hours. It can be defined by symptoms such as moderate to severe pain intensity, nausea, vomiting, photophobia and phonophobia.
HOW MANY PEOPLE SUFFER FROM MIGRAINE?
An estimated 2.7 million Canadians have been diagnosed with migraine
BREAKING THE STIGMA
Naturally because I share SO much of my life online of course I talk about migraines too. I really think it’s important for the people who follow me (and the people in my personal life) to really understand I’m a real person, and crappy stuff happens to me too. If folks only see sunshine and rainbows on my social media all the time they’ll think that’s my entire life.
It always surprises me when I share anything about migraines on my social media just how many people reach out to say “I get them too” or if the weather is particularly gloomy they’ll say they are struggling too. I never realized just how many people suffer with migraines until I started posting about it. I absolutely love my community because we’ve all learned so much just by talking, and sharing our experiences with each other!! <3
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET A MIGRAINE?
For me, my migraines pretty much always present the same, but if I can catch it quick enough I can usually prevent a full blown attack. Knowing your warning signs is absolutely KEY to managing migraines.
For me, it usually starts with aura (light flickers) — I always compare it to when you look at a light, and look away, but you can still see the light in your eye?? This is what experiencing aura is like for me, and it can happen out of nowhere at any time or any place. If this sounds anxiety inducing: IT IS! With aura you may see spots, wavy or jagged lines, or flashing lights. Eventually it goes away, but for me this means I am about to get a migraine.
I see little flashes of light, and I know I need to act fast, and take the necessary precautions —this is where you need to speak to a professional to help you learn the proper steps to take. I have found great support from my family doctor, Neurologist, as well as my Naturopathic Doctor.
*It’s also important to note you can experience aura, and NOT have a headache. This is more common for people 50+ *
If I miss the warning signs, or sometimes it’s just too strong, I’ll lose partial vision. So what that looks like is that, say I’m reading a sign I won’t see the last letter of the word. This is when I know I’m in trouble.
Shortly after experiencing aura — and then vision loss — the pain will start to travel from one side of my forehand to the other, and it’s REALLY intense. I always explain it as a tsunami of pain, as it comes across my forehead like a wave. I also feel very nauseous (some people vomit with Migraine, and sometimes for hours on end— it’s awful).
Sometimes the pain stops quicker than other times, and there are other times where it feels like I have a hangover for days, and even weeks. It’s just a super yucky feeling and very disruptive. I’m always completely and utterly exhausted after a migraine, and I usually feel dizzy and nauseous still, and it’s almost like I can’t think straight.
HOW DOES IT IMPACT YOUR LIFE?
Having migraines sometimes means you need to say “no” to things, and sometimes it can be sudden which means you disappoint people if you happen to have plans. Like when the weather is bad I have to really be careful because I can usually feel a migraine looming, so depending on how I’m feeling I really have to prioritize just how badly I want to do the things I set out to do. Like is it worth me getting a migraine, and then being miserable for days on end?
This is why education and awareness is so SO important because the people in your life need to understand just how serious migraines actually are, and it’s not something you can or should “push through”.
It’s not that I don’t want to go to your birthday dinner or the family BBQ: it’s that I’m quite literally experiencing tunnel vision, unimaginable pain in my head, and also feel like I’m going to vomit: so leaving the house or even my bed just is NOT an option.
Without understanding the full picture it can seem like you’re “a wimp” or you just “always cancel” “you’re a flake” etc. It’s really really important that people in your life GET it, and understand it’s most definitely not a choice. Trust us we’d much rather be doing quite literally ANY else, other than having a migraine, and then also feeling SUPER guilty about letting people down on top of it.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Migraines can come out of nowhere which is why they are so often misdiagnosed and ultimately untreated. You can be knee deep in a full blown attack, and have no clue what’s happening or how to fix it. If you start to regularly have signs and symptoms of migraine make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches. Keep a record of your attacks, and how you tried to treat them. Having everything documented can help you figure out patterns, and triggers, so you can learn to avoid doing things that are going to cause you pain.
I know on rainy days I have to take it easy, so I won’t have that extra cup of coffee, I won’t consume alcohol, maybe I prioritize a nap that day, and likewise when I’m at specific times of my cycle.
SOME COMMON MIGRAINE TRIGGERS
✔️ Changes in or an irregular sleep schedule
✔️ Hormones (for folks who menstruate– the week before your cycle there’s a natural drop in progesterone, and migraines can be more prevalent around this time if your progesterone is already low)
✔️ Caffeine, alcohol, dark chocolate, red wine, artificial sweeteners, and black tea
✔️ Changes in the weather (those gloomy rainy days can be the worst)
✔️ Strong smells (perfume, gas, paint etc)
Some things you can control (what you consume etc) while others like the (weather, and hormone cycles) unfortunately less so, but you can choose to extra kind to yourself during these times. And it can make a big difference, as I find it’s most often a perfect storm of a bunch of things that bring on a migraine rather than it being just one single thing.
DO SEEK SUPPORT
Even if you have a history of headaches, see your doctor if the patterns change, or your headaches suddenly feel different in any way. If you get a headache and describe it as “the worst you’ve ever had” you need to see a professional ASAP. If your loss of vision lasts longer than 20 minutes you need to get your butt to the emergency pronto.
Migraines are serious business, and it’s so important that folks know how to handle them. It can be SO alarming when one presents itself especially if you’ve never experienced it before, but knowing what’s an emergency vs what’s “common” can really help mitigate the anxiety that invariably accompanies a migraine.
Whether you suffer from migraines or a friend or family member does I hope you found today’s post helpful. My goal from today’s post is to educate and increase understanding of migraine and the impact of this disease, empower people diagnosed or yet to be diagnosed with migraine to advocate for themselves and reach out for support.