I think it’s safe to say that most people have experienced a headache from time to time. Usually, you just pop a Tylenol and continue with your day. But far less people commonly experience migraines. Migraines differ from headaches in a few important ways. First, migraines tend to be a more severe pain than those that accompany headaches, and they usually only affect one side of the head. Second, headaches that last longer than four hours can be classified as a migraine. I struggled with understanding the difference between headaches and migraines for a long time, but once I understood that the pain I was experiencing was in fact migraines, I could start to look into how to treat them.
My journey with headaches and migraines started in my early years of high school. I would experience a dull headache that would last the entire day. At the time, I didn’t understand that this was a sign of migraines. Since the pain was tolerable, I usually didn’t say anything or even take any medication. For the next few years, I struggled to figure out what was causing these “headaches” and consistently failed to find any connections between common triggers of headaches such as sleep, caffeine and stress.
For a long time, I hesitated to tell anyone that I was having consistent headaches. I thought that if I could just figure out what was causing them, I could fix the issue and not make a big deal about it. I had imposter syndrome. I thought, I know people who have migraines, and my pain is not comparable to theirs. I should be happy I can still do daily activities. But during my junior and senior years, my “headaches” started to look more and more like a traditional migraine. Most of the time, I could get rid of a migraine by taking over-the-counter migraine medicine like Excedrin and taking a nap during my student assist hour, but as the year went on, I found myself begging my dad to call me out of school early because I just wanted to go home and lay down.
Once I started my freshman year of college, my migraines got exponentially worse. No amount of Excedrin would get rid of my migraines and I often found myself either miserable in class or skipping them altogether. I knew that I could not afford to keep missing class because of my migraines, and more importantly, I needed to seek help for the pain that I was dealing with (now on a daily basis).
My roommate finally convinced me to book an appointment at the school’s wellness center and the rest is history.
In high school, I felt like migraines were just something I had to live with. I walked around with them to the point where I learned how to smile while feeling like my head was about to explode. No one should have to live in chronic pain. If you are currently struggling with gaining control of your migraines, the best piece of advice I can give to you is to not downplay your pain. Try keeping a journal of how often you get migraines and how severe they are. That way, you can see how many days you have been affected. The more information you can give your healthcare provider, the better equipped they will be to help you.
Lastly, migraines are still vastly misunderstood for the number of people that they affect. Approximately 12% of the population suffers from migraines. Please consider donating to the Migraine Research Foundation here.