Strength

Migraines often leave me feeling weak and pathetic; I am a victim of my own body, always in pain. I have spent the night at the Emergency Room because of my Migraines, I am on Federal Disability because of my Migraines, and I have had to cancel many many plans because of my Migraines. The self-loathing I experience on a daily basis is intense and never ending.

But recently I realised that I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. 

I broke my foot a few weeks ago. It had fallen asleep and I was determined to walk on it; I fell on top of it and broke a small bone. Of course, because it was a small fracture I did not know for sure that it was broken – it was swollen and bruised, but the stereotypical protruding bone was missing. Amazingly, I was still determined to walk on it; after all, I had shopping to do. And walk on it I did, albeit with a limp. It was not until the next day that I decided to get an X-ray, which showed the fracture. 

This was not my first broken bone, and it was not my first time ignoring a broken bone. Fifteen years ago I broke my wrist rollerblading and ignored the break for a few days, only getting it checked after I fell on it again. Just like my foot, my wrist hurt, but I could move it, and so I assumed that it was just a bad sprain.

This latest break had me re-thinking my feelings of patheticness – why does a headache immobilize me, yet I can walk on a broken foot or write with a broken wrist? 

The answer is simple – I do not just get headaches, I get Migraines. Migraines that hurt so much that all other pain is miniscule, including broken bones. Many reports even have women claiming that Migraines are worse than childbirth; while I have not experienced childbirth myself, I do not doubt it. 

Migraines wreak havoc on a body, and cause an immense amount of pain; more pain than I have experienced from anything else. 

And yet, I survive. 

And if I can survive a 10 day Migraine with peaks of Level 10 pain, I can survive anything.

Medical Marijuana

There are many different types of treatments out there for Migraines, and many different pain killers available. In my experience, the best pain relief comes from Medical Marijuana (which I will call MMJ). 

Marijuana consists of over 100 different chemicals, called cannabinoids; the most prevalent and well known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC is the part of marijuana that causes a “high” feeling, while CBD helps pain and nausea. Over the counter CBD products are not a good substitute for MMJ though; because there are no regulations or testing done on “herbal” CBD products, they are not always effective. 

Although marijuana is a Schedule I drug – the same as LSD and heroin – many states are now legalizing it for medical use, and some are legalizing it for recreational use too. Because it is still a highly controlled substance, getting MMJ can be both difficult and expensive. 

Most doctors cannot provide MMJ certification, requiring patients to find specific clinics that specialize in it. The initial appointment can cost over $200, and then there is a fee to register yourself and get your MMJ card. Once you have your card, it can be difficult to find a dispensary nearby with products that you like (just last week I drove 2 hours to get my MMJ). The medicine itself is expensive – my average is $100 a month – and insurance does not cover it.

So if MMJ is such a hassle, why do I consider it the best option? Because it works.

I have tried Triptans (an abortive Migraine treatment), narcotics, and over the counter pain medicines. MMJ works better than any of them – it works faster, and it is kinder on the body. Because MMJ works to stimulate chemicals that the body naturally produces, it is effective at removing pain and nausea associated with Migraines. Unlike most medications, I do not experience rebound headaches with MMJ, and it is not physically addictive like narcotics are. 

MMJ is not for everyone though. Some people have bad reactions to edibles, MMJ in food form. Because it can be difficult to portion control edibles, many first timers experience too strong a “trip”. Others may have negative reactions to certain types of MMJ – Sativa (an “upper”) gives me awful headaches once it wears off, almost like a bad hangover. Vaping MMJ is the fastest way to get it into the system, but can cause throat and lung problems, especially in people with asthma. 

Despite all the complications and difficulties, I still recommend everyone try MMJ. It is important to listen to the recommendations of your doctor and your dispensary – ask as many questions as you can to find the right product for you. 

Source: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/medical-marijuana-faq

Alone

I have had Migraines since I was seven, and for years I felt so alone. 

When I was diagnosed with Migraines, my little sister (who I will call K) had already been diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Compared to Migraines, JRA is more “visible” – joints swell up, inflammation markers in the blood rise, and JRA can cause joint damage. She also developed other health issues, which all presented with obvious physical symptoms. Migraines, on the other hand, are truly invisible; there are no outward signs or conclusive tests. 

To make matters worse, my parents didn’t get Migraines. They ran in my family – my maternal grandfather and aunt got a few a year – but they completely skipped my mother. To make matters worse, I got them a lot. 

Sibling rivalry is normal, but what grew between K and me was entirely different. She resented me for being healthier than her, while I resented her for the attention she received because of her health. I wasn’t jealous that she was sick; I was hurt that nobody recognized that I was sick too. I always felt so alone – my parents were sympathetic and understanding with K, but never with me. K had special 504 plans while I had to fight the school nurse to go home with a Migraine. Our family vacations were catered to K’s health requirements, while my parents did not (or could not) hide their frustration when a Migraine interrupted plans. 

As I got older, I developed more health issues – I was in my early 20s when I was diagnosed with R.A. myself, as well as Fibromyalgia. Rather than bring us closer together, my new diagnosis further divided us – K felt as if I was competing. When I received Federal Disability, she accused me of giving in to my conditions, rather than fight for my health. Our fighting became worse, and now we don’t even talk.

My anger, hurt, and resentment have long since faded away. I no longer blame my parents for their misunderstandings, and their understanding of my Migraines has greatly improved. I don’t blame K for her anger – she has lived a hard life – but I am disappointed and frustrated. I keep hoping that, as she gets older, she’ll come to her own acceptance of our similar and different conditions. Together, we could be great allies.

But until then, I am still alone.

Botox – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

We’ve all heard of Botox – beautiful people use it to stay beautiful. But Botox injections can also help with Migraines. Botox has become a common treatment for Chronic Migraines, which means 15 or more headache days a month.

I have been using Botox for a couple of years now, So while there aren’t a lot of statistical reports on the benefits of Botox, I can share some anecdotal information. 

The Good:

    Botox works for me. Every 3 months, I get injections that paralyse the nerves in my head, preventing them from causing pain. While my Migraines are not gone, the intensity of them has definitely lowered, making life a little easier. 

The Bad:

    It is a LOT of needles. On average, about 32 needles. While they don’t go too deep, it is painful. For me, the procedure involves my forehead, my temples, the base of my head, and my neck – basically a lot of sensitive areas. It hurts a lot, and that pain can last a few hours. 

The Ugly:

    Botox is addictive, in a sense. Once your body responds to the medication, you will feel it when it wears off. This means that at the end of 3 months, my Migraines get worse. This can be frustrating, as life does not always run smoothly. Doctor appointments can be delayed a week, or even a month, due to shipping problems, insurance coverage, or prescription renewals. 

As frustrating and painful as Botox is, it is still worth it. 

Over time, I’ve learned how to handle the injections better. I use a muscle relaxer, an anti-anxiety pill, and a lidocaine cream – the combination helps to numb me to the pain of the needles. 

I recommend Botox for anyone with Chronic Migraines, but I suggest you start the treatment prepared. 

Guilt

My biggest problem with Migraines comes in the form of guilt – I always feel guilty. As a wife, I am constantly relying on my husband to work and pay the bills as well as do the necessary chores. I worry about having a child because I dread the days I will let them down. 

Turns out, I’m not alone. 

According to Clinical Science News, 1 in 10 Migraine sufferers delay having children because of their guilt. 78% of Migraineurs reported feeling as if they would be a better partner if they did not have Migraines, and 44% reported that Migraines prevented them from having a relationship. These numbers are both depressing and validating. 

Part of the problem – the root of the guilt – comes from the public stigma of Migraines. Despite advances in the understanding of Migraines, many people still think of them as “just a headache.” Not everyone understands why I can’t just push through a headache and do what needs to be done. They don’t know that I spent all of my energy just calling them to cancel; they don’t know that I’ll spend all day in bed, aside from the occasional trip to the bathroom to throw up. 

Migraine Buddy – the leading Migraine tracking app – suggest four things to combat the guilt.

  1. Take Control

Migraines often feel like an attack on our bodies, and can leave us feeling out of control. It is important to take control where we can – our treatments. If your doctor doesn’t seem to take your Migraines seriously, find a new doctor. Try treatments – pharmaceutical or homeopathic – and see what works. Remember: this is your body; you DO have some control. 

  1. Join a Community

Especially with the stigma of Migraines, it is easy to feel alone. No one truly understands Migraines unless they get them too. Find blogs (like mine) to follow, join Facebook support groups, or Migraine based chat forums. Isolation adds to guilt, making it feel like this is just your problem. That’s not true – You are not alone. 

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

It is really easy to blame yourself for your Migraines, especially when it feels like others blame you. Even if others don’t seem to understand, you need to do what is right for you. While it is important to push yourself when you can, learn when you need to take it easy. Do what you need to do to get past a Migraine, and love yourself for your strength. 

  1. Advocate

Talk about your Migraines. Explain to others what’s really going on – both the science of a Migraine and what it feels like to you. When people make snide comments or seem dismissive, educate them about the reality of living with Migraines. You will always be your best advocate. 

It is really easy to know what to do, and much harder to actually do it. While I’ve done some of these steps, I’m still struggling with others. Being kind to myself – and not blaming myself – is the hardest for me; I think it is the hardest for most. But guilt can cause stress, which can trigger a Migraine, so it is important to try to let go. We are all doing the best we can, and we need to accept that ourselves before convincing others. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/172921/pain/migraine-takes-toll-intimate-relationships
  2. https://migrainebuddy.com/migraine/2019/7/12/migraine-guilt-understanding-amp-letting-go

Still Learning

I’ve had Migraines all my life – I was diagnosed at age seven. 

I’ve often wondered if my Migraines started earlier than that, but simply went undiagnosed. I was often sick as a young child. I was sick for every holiday, vomiting and unable to attend any big social event. Other days, I would wake up sick, stay home from school because I was throwing up, and then wake up after a nap completely fine. I never complained about my head, but these attacks sound like Migraines to me. 

While I never complained about my head, I did complain about my hair. I would cry when my mother brushed or washed my hair, saying my hair hurt. I never had any proof that this was connected to my Migraines – nor any reason to suspect so – but I was convinced. 

And then, the other day, I heard about Allodynia. 

Allodynia is a condition where small simple touches can cause extreme pain. With Allodynia, the nerves that carry pain receptors misfire, sending pain signals in response to touch or movement.  According to the American Migraine Foundation, “40% to 70% of people experience Allodynia when having a migraine attack.” 

There are three types of Allodynia: static, dynamic, and thermal. Thermal Allodynia is pain as a response to mild changes in temperature, and Static Allodynia is a result from light touch on the skin. Dynamic Allodynia, though, is pain with movement across the skin, and many describe it by saying “my hair hurts.”

My discoveries about Allodynia, and possibly having it as a child, fascinate me. This condition is similar to Fibromyalgia, which I was diagnosed with at 24. As sad as it is to think that I may have had pain since infancy, it is refreshing to have answers. I finally have a valid theory about my childhood pain, and now I can tell my parents that I was more than just an over-dramatic child. 

Sources:

  1. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/allodynia-when-touch-hurts-but-shouldnt/
  2. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/what-to-know-about-allodynia/