My Migraine Journey – Émilie Courval

* Editor’s note: This story was first submitted in 2018 and has been edited for clarity.

IMG_8047 - Emilie Bortolussi-Courval.JPG

I’m 19, I’m from Montréal, Canada, and I’ve been living with chronic migraine for the past two years. I also have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I’ve beaten depression twice, I’m gifted, and hypersensitive. I just finished my two years of college, and now I’m going to university in either nursing or cognitive neuroscience.

My Migraine History

I’ve had episodic migraine all my life. I just don’t think I’ve ever known what it was. My mom had them in her 20s, and my aunt and cousin both have them occasionally.  I remember specifically the first time I actually realized I got a full-blown migraine. 

I was 12, playing in a soccer tournament, and I started to get an aura. It was in the middle of summer at 30+ °C. There were about 3 minutes left in the game, and I couldn’t see from my peripheral vision because the aura was blocking it. The last whistle blew, and we finished speaking with the coaches. I went to my mom and told her I couldn’t see anything. Then, I was hit with a massive headache, and my whole body was aching. So that was the first time I realized I got a migraine. I guess the sun, the really hot temperature, and dehydration triggered the migraine.

Since then, I continued to have episodic migraines. I remember during another time, I was in my science lab in secondary III (the equivalent of grade 9 in Québec), and we were dissecting a pig’s heart. The lab reeked of formaldehyde, the preservative liquid. I got an aura, then I was hit with another huge migraine, and it felt like all the sounds around me were incredibly loud. The odour of the formaldehyde triggered the migraine. 

My migraine transitioned from episodic to chronic very gradually, but it all started in my last year of high school. My grandfather passed the day I had to take my graduation pictures, and since then I had daily headaches, but I didn’t think much of it. Once I graduated, I went to college (by now I’m 17). I did all the scans, blood work, you name it, basically everything under the sun. 

I was seeing different specialists three times a week, so my grades suffered because I never had time to study. I had spent a week in the hospital during the end of semester so a neurosurgeon and neurologist could do tests to find out why I was in so much pain. That’s when I was diagnosed with chronic migraine. I started Botox injections, I was put on a few meds to control the pain, and I was given emergency medication in case of a migraine. During that time, I was diagnosed with depression and GAD. Then the diagnoses changed once I saw a second psychologist, to GAD, depressive symptoms, and PTSD. After that, I saw a third psychologist, then my family doctor suggested I go see a neuropsychologist. The latter found out, after 5 hours of testing, that I was gifted and hypersensitive. It explained a big part of the migraine. 

I don’t always have an aura before a migraine. However, I realized that when I get really stressed/anxious, I get a migraine during this stressful period, as well as right after I stop stressing. During a migraine, I am very nauseous, sensitive to light and noise, and I can’t concentrate. I experience the rare cluster headache, and that basically feels like too much pressure in my eye, and it feels like it’s going to pop out of my eye socket. I get migraines around 15 -20 times per month, but it really depends on the month (if it’s during midterms/finals at school, or if I’m on spring break, etc.). Chocolate, dairy, MSG, fried, and processed foods trigger migraine, for me. 

The People Around Me 

My family is understanding of my chronic migraine. It’s funny because we’re all kind of tired of hearing about it, so we turn it into a joke to lighten the mood. It makes everyone feel better. The same thing happens with my friends. It’s pretty funny. When I get an intense migraine, I take my cocktail of meds to lessen the pain, and I usually look pretty beat up. It makes me look like I just went dumpster diving and my friends, family, and I all joke about how awful I look. I laugh every time. 

The Effect of Migraine on My Life

Migraine has really made me think about everything I’m going to do in a day. I try to avoid triggers as much as possible. At school, it has really affected my ability to concentrate, and my marks have suffered. Thankfully, my dream university is very understanding of my extenuating circumstances, and their student-aid program is amazing. I can’t drink any alcohol, I’ve never gone clubbing, to bars, or concerts. I’ve gone on dates, but the guys I’ve gone on dates with don’t really like the whole not-partying lifestyle. I’ve been clear about my condition on the first date. Maybe that’s not how most people do it, but I’d rather get it out of the way as soon as possible, to avoid any further potential conflict. 

What I’ve Tried

I’m currently doing Botox injections every 3 months, I am on Celexa for the anxiety/depression, Elavil (for the migraines). Cambia, Almotriptan, Zolmitriptan, Metonia, and Tylenol are for emergency medication. I’ve been on Topamax while I was at the hospital (I completely lost my appetite, so I stopped taking it), I was also on Inderal (it was a depressant, so my replacement neurologist told me to stop taking them). I’ve tried osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. Physio helps tremendously. Therapy has also gotten me through some tough times while I was in a lot of pain. Also, seeing the neuropsychologist was truly life-changing for me. I came to him when I was broken, and he showed me I could pick up the pieces and I could put them back together. His help really taught me that I am worth it.

How I Cope On Unbearable Days 

When things are unbearable, I am in my bed, with the lights off, the curtains drawn, with my ice helmet on my head and my heating cushion on my back. I just sleep, and I ask my family to speak a bit more quietly. 

To the fellow migraineurs, it gets better. I know, right now, you may not see how your life can get better, but it will. I’ve been in your shoes. It takes a lot of time, I know it will. But there are people around you that want to help you. And when you think time is testing you, just know you are getting stronger by the minute. Take the time that you need to recover. You are worth it, you can be loved. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and how you manage to put on a brave face every day despite everything life may throw at you. It will get better. You are loved. 

– Émilie Courval

Thank you, Émilie, for stepping forward to share your migraine journey with the community.

When you share your stories, it not only helps others but you heal in the process too. If you would like to share your story and let your voice be heard like Émilie, you may do so here:

With love, Jenny and the Migraine Buddy Team

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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