The end of November saw one of those anniversaries that I would rather hadn’t existed. It was now a whole year since that fateful morning when I woke up with the migraine that just never left. 366 days this year, and 16 passed without me being migrainey or having a headache. A grand total of 4 days off ill, and 0 days of college, because you reach a point where you learn just to get on with life.
My first migraine came along when I was 6 years old. It was December and I couldn’t stop being sick, the lights made my head hurt and I just slept for 4 days. I basically missed Christmas. Three years in a row this was the case, but at the time my parents just passed it off as stress and exhaustion lowering my immune system against winter bugs. A few years passed with basically nothing, then I hit puberty. By the time I was 13 I had a headache about 3 times a week, which is when we discovered I needed glasses. After getting my glasses things settled down for a few months, but then the headaches came back.
When I was 14 the headache was accompanied with completely losing the ability to see from my left eye. That’s when the doctor introduced my to the word migraine, but assured me that it was probably just while my hormones were awol and that they would stop when I grew up. They never stopped.
I missed a lot of school, and when you’re studying for exams falling behind in school is lethal. The more I was off, the more I fell behind. The more I fell behind, the more I got stressed. The more stressed I got, the worse the migraines got. The worse the migraines got, the more I was off. It was a vicious cycle that was reflected in my grades. In fifth year, I had a 7 week block without a full week at school simply because I was too ill. I bumped into my Higher biology in the morning and got told I was sitting my Unit 3 prelim that afternoon – I’d missed an entire unit. I was barely even there in sixth year, but some part of me still thought that it would be better to try and fail than to just drop out altogether. Apparently I was wrong.
Things picked up a bit after I left school, I got ill maybe 3 or 4 times a year but when I was ill I was really, REALLY ill. One morning late in 2008 I woke up completely paralysed. There is nothing more terrifying than waking up and realising that you can’t physically move. For a good ten minutes I just lay in bed and cried, scared beyond belief and completely confused at what was happening. Then I got really bad pins and needles in my feet, and as the sensation spread up my body the paralysis left. I’m incredibly glad to say that that was both the first and last times that has happened, but that saw the start of me getting pins and needles in my legs and arms. Ever heard of headacheless migraines? Neither had I until then. This was also round about the same time I started ‘blacking out’, I’d pass out for anything between a few seconds and a few minutes, then I’d come round and just want to sleep for days. I was referred to a neurologist and had an MRI scan, but nothing. “Just migraines” they told me. I reached a point where I didn’t want to leave the house anymore incase it happened. Then things sorted themselves out.
Now getting migraines 3 or 4 times a year isn’t so bad, so I didn’t really mind last November. I assumed I’d be ill for a few days, maybe a week or two, then things would sort themselves and for the next few months life would return to normal. This time it didn’t. By February the doctor decided to try preventative medication. Nothing was working. In May I was having a good day, then I was shopping with Mum and suddenly I got a sharp pain in the right hand side of my head. It felt like somebody had stabbed me. 20 minutes later I started being sick, the pins and needles kicked in, and my fever started rising. The next day was the first that I had taken off work, and a phonecall from my Mum to NHS 24 saw me taking an out of hours trip to A and E (because apparantly it’s not a good sign when you think somebody is wiggling a knife in your head, who knew?!). Apparently there’s more than one type of migraine- there’s one’s which are caused because the nerve ending’s in your brain are too sensitive, the other is caused when the blood vessels in your head become inflamed for whatever reason and assert more pressure on your brain that usual. I’m now lucky enough to suffer from both, aren’t I lucky?
7 different types of medication, various dosages, all for 16 days of freedom. Do I let migraines rule my life? They mean that I shouldn’t have caffeine, alcohol, that I should have a routine in my life. They mean that I can never tell how I’m feeling from one day to the next. I’ve lost friends, I’ve failed exams, I’ve nearly lost my job more than once. Despite all this, I still wouldn’t say that I do. If anything I’d say it’s made me a stronger person.
What causes migraines? Most scientists seem to think it’s genetic, but not in my family. What triggers them? Anything and everything seems to trigger mine which is more annoying than anything, because at least if we could pin point a trigger I’d feel more in control. Will I grow out of them? Hopefully.