Migraine Journey Wednesdays (Vol. 2 - Debbie Miller)

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I’m Debbie and I’m 34 and I’m from England, UK. I got my first migraine when I was 17 or 18. 

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I’d had a glass of wine with my lunch at my grandparents house and by the end of the day I had what I thought was the worst headache I’d ever had. I didn’t know it was a migraine at the time. Over the next few years, they began to increase in frequency and severity. They were a presence during my final year at university and when I graduated and started paid employment. I still thought they were bad headaches or sinus headaches, as I’ve suffered from spells of sinusitis since childhood. I received my diagnosis at the age of 24 - by that point I’d been sent home from work a few times as I needed to be in the dark or because I’d been very nauseous. 

My Family’s and My History with Migraines

My mum suffers from migraines (I’m the fourth generation of migraine sufferers in my family, so there is definitely a genetic link) and she encouraged me to go to the doctors. I just so happened to see my surgery’s migraine specialist (I was lucky - migraines were this GP’s area of interest and so he was very knowledgable about migraines). I think I was prescribed painkillers that had an anti-sickness ingredient. A year later, I was at my worst. I was suffering from three or four migraines a week and I used to live in perpetual fear of them. “I can’t do this in case I get a migraine” was a common thought. I’d been through a hard break-up and was being bullied at work and I was at the lowest I’d ever been. 

My GP signed me off work for a week to see if stress was a factor - I did not get a single one that week (I’d practiced self-care a lot that week too; buying some books and enjoying them). I was later put on a low dose of antidepressant to help me manage my stress levels - this helped, but didn’t eliminate all my stress-related migraines. My GP also alerted me to the fact that food can be a trigger (helped by the fact that I’d gone out for a Chinese with my friends and needed to take the following day off with a migraine) and so I did lots of research into common triggers. I found out that I am intolerant to orange juice by accident - I’d been ill and missed my weekly trip to the grocery store where I always bought a carton of orange. I didn’t have a migraine that week. I’ve since learned that citrus fruits are a no go as well as over-ripe non-citrus fruits.

By this point I’d tried beta-blockers, antihistamines, pretty much everything short of anti-epileptic medication. My migraines had reduced, but not gone. Then I began training to become a counsellor and entered into personal psychotherapy. It has been the best thing for my migraines as I’ve learnt to deal with my emotions as well as stress in a much healthier way and so my body no longer needs to give me pain to realise something isn’t right - I’d been exposed to trauma from a young age and was prone to anxiety and depression as well as making unhealthy friend and relationship choices. Therapy helped me in a way no medication ever could. I now only get one migraine a month - menstrual migraines and I can’t find a solution that works for me! But compared to how things were 10 years ago, when I was getting around 20-30 migraines a month, I can take it. I never thought I’d have so much success in fighting my migraines and I would like people to know that there is hope for everyone.

The People Around Me 

My mum and my best friend’s mum gets migraines too. In the past, when I wasn’t making the best choices in terms of friends and relationships, people weren’t understanding. They didn’t think you could be ill for that long with them or suffer from so many other symptoms related to migraines. I’m now friends with some lovely people who accept me no matter what.

The Effects of Migraines on My Life

I used to get 3-4 migraines a week. I would literally be migraine-free for an afternoon and then the next one started. I’ve had to call in sick due to migraines and cancel plans with friends.

What I’ve Tried

Beta-blockers (made me feel lethargic and not very ‘me’), anti-depressants (helpful in managing stress-related migraines), triptans (I reacted to these in a bad way!), cold compresses (great!), anti-sickness pills (amazing - I could not live without these!), psychotherapy - the best treatment for me.

On Days Things get Unbearable

Being in a dark room or if I’m at work, making a ‘blindfold’ with a scarf I carry around! Breathing exercises, reading a light book (when I am able to tolerate reading), knowing that there will be an end and thinking of the things I’ll do once it has passed.

Some Advice for My Fellow Migraineurs 

There is hope. There are ways to reduce your migraines. Keep researching, keep seeking support and keep looking after yourself - self-care and not beating yourself up about being ill is very important!

Thank you, Debbie, for stepping forward to share your migraine journey with everyone. If you would like to share your story and let your voice be heard like Debbie, you may do so here: bit.ly/2rJcpMR  

With love, 

the Migraine Buddy team 💜 

Healint Singapore