I started getting migraines when I was about 12 years old. Seeing as I am now 21, that is almost 10 years full of medicine, pain and experiences missed because I was suffering. It also means 10 years full of learning about my own body and what helps my migraines and what doesn’t. To preface this, I am not a doctor, nor am I going to school to be one. Everyone’s migraine story is different and so just because something worked for me, may not mean it will have the same results for you.
Let me start with the basics: the difference between a migraine and your everyday headache. According to Penn Medicine, “Migraines are a neurological disease that involve nerve pathways and chemicals.” Penn Medicine further explained, “The changes in brain activity affect blood in the brain and surrounding tissues, causing a range of symptoms. In addition to severe head pain, migraine sufferers may experience some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, increased sensitivity to light, sound or smells, dizziness, extreme fatigue.” They also go onto say that while “headaches usually have easily traceable causes, migraines have common triggers but no one cause.”
For me, those migraine triggers were certain foods and bright classroom lights. I spent every day of my high school years, and the first three years of college, having a migraine. To put that into perspective, that’s over 2,500 days of being in pain and I couldn’t take it anymore.
My first line of defense when it came to migraines was painkillers. Your typical Tylenol, Ibuprofen and Excedrin. Those worked great for a while. I even had some prescription pain medicine—a combination of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and codeine (a narcotic)—that I could take if I was really in pain. I tended not to take that one unless it was an emergency because of how strong it was. However, I have had several migraines that painkillers couldn’t even touch. For example, when I was a junior or senior in high school, I had a migraine so severe that it genuinely felt like someone had taken a jackhammer to my skull. I could barely get out of bed and walk to the bathroom because of how severe the pain was. I spent the entire day asleep, or face down in a pillow, taking painkillers on a cycle to try and get the migraine to calm down. Thankfully, the severe pain only lasted a day before it turned into a dull ache that managed to last for the next three.
Finally, when I was a senior, I decided enough was enough and I finally talked to a doctor about what could be done. She prescribed me a medicine called amitriptyline—an antidepressant and nerve medication that works by affecting the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. I took it for about six months before I stopped taking it. One of the unfortunate side effects of this medicine is even though it is an anti-depressant, it can still make you more depressed. That is what happened to me. I went from being a straight-A student to being put on academic probation because I had no motivation to get out of bed or shower, let alone go to class. So, I decided very quickly that I would rather deal with the pain of migraines instead of flunking out of college.
In my junior year of college, I went to a new doctor and a neurologist. This time, I got put on a medicine called Effexor XR. I thought I had found my savior this time. I went from having migraines every single day to having maybe one every other week. I regarded that as a win. The only problem was I lost 30 pounds I didn’t have to lose because I had no appetite, developed a severe tremor, tachycardia (high heart rate), my anxiety skyrocketed and I developed a tic. So, maybe not so much of a win because my migraines may have been gone but the rest of my health was quickly going south. This past August I stopped taking Effexor after almost a year on it because my family and friends were concerned about my health and the shell of a person I had become because of it.
Now, before I get to the more positive side of things, let me mention that not once had I had any sort of testing done other than a blood panel. No MRI, no CT scan, no X-rays, nothing. There were no tests run to see if something was potentially causing my pain.
A few months ago I decided to take a different route and see a chiropractor instead after seeing all those videos on YouTube of people getting cracked like glowsticks and their problems seeming to go away instantly. I didn’t think I had anything to lose. My experience was so-so. I felt like it helped some, but I didn’t get any insane relief. Then, however, I started working for a different chiropractor. My experience getting adjusted this time around was so different. I actually had x-rays done and an exam covering my range of motion and examining my spine. Turns out, I have barely any curve in my neck and have bone spurs on my spine because of how out of whack my posture is. I’ve started getting adjusted three times a week to put a curve back in my spine and correct my posture and I’ve gone from constant migraines, to barely any at all. And without having to take medicine with awful side effects.
My journey with migraines has been long, and it’s still not over. Hopefully, they don’t come back the way that they used to. What I do know is that I am happy that I’ve found something that works for me, and hey, Dr. Fenn, if you’re reading this, my spine and I say thanks!