I don’t remember the first time I had a migraine. I think it’s probably for the best; I still sometimes feel like I’m dying when I’m in the middle of an attack, even as a sensible adult who knows they probably aren’t dying. The fear and panic I felt as a child sticks with me, but that first attack is lost somewhere in my memory.
I’ve been having migraines since I was about eleven. The frequency of them has always varied, but they’ve never been away long. I think, at their best, my migraines were limited to maybe one every two months. Most of my life, however, they have inflicted agony on me a few times a month.
At the moment, I’m having at least two a week.
I’m almost thirty, and a cisgender woman. ‘According to the Migraine Research Foundation, women are three times more likely to get migraines than men. Furthermore, Mayo Clinic affirms that 17% women experience migraines as opposed to 6% of men. The general consensus regarding migraines seems to align with migraines being a predominantly female illness.’ (Source) I think about this a lot. If migraines affected all genders equally, would there be a cure for them? Would we know more about them than we do now?
My official diagnosis is ‘chronic and atypical migraine’. What that means is that I get a load of them, and I have some symptoms that aren’t common in migraine. Migraines are very individual things; they follow a vague sort of pattern, but people who suffer often find that their symptoms are individual. A lot of people experience visual disturbance, but I find that I rarely do; for me, visual aura only occurs when I am in the throes of my very worst migraines.
I think my migraines are ruining my life.
I spend a huge amount of time in pain. When I’m lying in bed, unable to do anything or even speak to the people I love the most, I consider this. Over my lifetime, in the almost twenty years I have suffered from migraines, how many things have I had to cancel? How many experiences have I missed out on? How much more productive could I be if I didn’t spend a considerable chunk of my life in my bed, in the dark, in agony?
This last one is the crux of the issue, the main cause of my feeling like they are ruining my life. I am an ambitious person. Professionally, I’m quite content, and quite lucky that I’ve achieved what I have despite my condition. However, I want to write, and I want to organise, and I want to do more things that aren’t just work. My ability to do so is hugely impacted by my pain. Often, I can just about limp through a day at work, then spend the evening in bed with the lights off. I am functional, by some definitions of the word, but I am not satisfied.
I am bitter and furious, struck by how unfair it all is. It is hard to accept this. The word ‘disabled’ is used by some of my healthcare providers, by some people who suffer with migraine, but it sticks uncomfortably on my tongue, and I resist it.
Migraine is an invisible condition. I used to read about people who suffered with other invisible illnesses and feel sympathy for them, ignoring the fact that I, too, have an invisible illness.
Sometimes, when I feel a migraine brewing, I ignore it. I try to pretend it isn’t happening, some part of me believing that if I resist it enough, it simply won’t happen. I often don’t even mention to my family or friends when I’m suffering from a mild episode. I think part of me fears their rejection; maybe they’ll become fed up of my migraines, annoyed by how frequently I require help. Some part of me worries that they’ll resent me.
I’ve tried all sorts of medication, painkillers, herbal remedies. Some things help a little. Nothing I have tried stops the migraines from coming- my treatment plan is all about managing them, not curing them. I suspect I’ll suffer from them forever. My whole life will be dictated by these invisible attacks of pure pain. My doctor tells me that they might stop when I hit menopause, leaving me with twenty or so more years of them, roughly as long as I’ve already had them.
They affect my mental health. Sometimes I wonder what the point of being here is if so much of my time here is controlled by this condition.
I want to be responsible for my own happiness. But these migraines are ruining my life.