I’ve woken up with a headache everyday this past week. It’s an experience that would be concerning for most people, but for me, it’s just another week. Over two years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic migraines. It’s a condition where a person will have 15 or more headache-days a month for at least three consecutive months, with 8 of those 15 days meeting the migraine criteria. This means I’ve spent the better part of two years dealing with headaches, strange auras, and other sensory processing issues that come with migraines. It’s been a tough journey, and things aren’t looking up anytime soon.
My first migraine story is really not that exciting. I just woke up one day with a migraine, and my life was changed forever. You would think I would have a more exciting story, considering this first migraine would be the beginning of a chronic illness I’d be dealing with for the rest of my life. But that’s the truth. I woke up one day, and my brain never went back.
I would spend the next two years visiting doctors who could never pinpoint what exactly was wrong with me. I was prescribed different medications, from antidepressants to anti-seizure pills, only for them to not work or make my symptoms worse. I found myself so reliant on Excedrin Migraine that on days I didn’t take it, I would get a headache. After a conversation with a neurologist, I decided to stick to Aleve, which lessened the pain but not the secondary symptoms.
A migraine is not a normal headache. Sure, your head feels like it’s being split open, but there are so many other symptoms that accompany it. These symptoms are different for everyone, no two migraine attacks are ever alike. For me, I usually feel nauseous, I begin to hallucinate flashing lights, and I become super sensitive to light, sound, and smell. However, due to my chronic condition, I don’t feel these symptoms all at once. Sometimes I’ll have a headache-free day and still see the flashing lights. Other times, I’ll have a headache but won’t be nauseous. The less symptoms I feel, the better my day is. I don’t need to worry about how my brain will process information, compared to the debilitating days where I feel all of the symptoms.
Unlike someone who has episodic migraines, the triggers for chronic migraines are harder to pinpoint. I have basic triggers: stress, getting too little sleep, and needing to consume caffeine before noon. But sometimes I’ll wake up after getting a full eight hours of sleep and have a migraine. Or maybe feeling the sun on my skin was too much, and that upset my brain. Anything could be a migraine trigger for me: from a Friday night out, to a quiet night in.
I do my best to not let it define my life, even though it does get difficult sometimes. I try to take it one day at a time, finding the positives in the little things: opening my curtains in the morning, listening to my music as I walk to class, and even just getting out of bed without feeling nauseous. The thing is, my chronic migraines could disappear later on in my life. When is that later for me? It could be tomorrow, or twenty years from now. Or never. And I will never know until I get there.
“Chronic Migraine: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments.” Cleveland Clinic, 16 July 2019, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9638-chronic-migraine.
“The Basics of Chronic Migraine.” American Migraine Foundation, 21 Sept. 2020, https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/chronic-migraine/.