When Migraines Steal Your Time

Get an Action Plan, Because You Have Living to Do

There are some clubs you’d never want to be involved with - I recall here my limited run in the well-meaning but ultimate disaster “Teach Preschoolers to Knit Club” circa ’09 – but chief amongst them must be the isolating club reserved for migraine sufferers. Migraines do more than cause often excruciating pain and nausea; they’re also time thieves. When I think about all the things I’ve missed out on because I was alone in a dark, quiet room with an ice pack on my head, I could almost cry. Migraine sufferers – and I am not alone here; there are an estimated 2.7 million Canadians who experience migraine – and we are a diverse and varied crew. We – sadly – are accustomed to missing birthdays, long-planned parties, dinners out, and all manners of family fun. One of the most frustrating parts about migraines is that as much as you can try to avoid certain triggers (like caffeine withdrawal, hormonal changes, alcohol, stress and anxiety, changes in weather or barometric pressure, or some foods or additives), ice packs don’t always cut it. Getting properly diagnosed by medical professionals is the best step to finding relief.

No headache is enjoyable, but while many headaches can be managed with over-the-counter medications and home cures, migraines often call for special attention. It’s difficult to fully describe the feeling they impart; any attempt of mine would seem hyperbolic, but I’ll give it a shot: at best, you can count on a day of throbbing, blunt pain across your head, sort of like an army of 1000 trolls with hammers trying to beat their own pathway out while simultaneously shrieking and stomping their feet. Oh, and their hammers are on fire. Sounds like a good time, no? And that’s not even accounting for many of the other symptoms associated with migraines: sensitivity to light, sound, and movement. And who can forget the wonderful nausea that pops up to join in the “fun.” And then there’s the aversion to smells, stiff neck, tender and tired general feeling…

Here’s a formal description of what’s happening during a migraine episode: “Migraine is caused by the activation of a mechanism deep in the brain that leads to release of pain-producing inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head.” It’s a real party. And unfortunately, this isn’t the type of headache that some over the counter management will always resolve. Not sure if your headaches are migraines? You don’t need to experience all the symptoms I do, or that your boss does, or your mom does, because everyone’s experience is unique. There’s a quick quiz you can do here to see if your headaches fit the migraine profile.

If you – or someone in your family – gets migraines, you understand how the issue seeps out into the rest of your life (with about one in eight people worldwide who suffer, you won’t have to look far to find someone). As a mom, my kids knew that if I was coming on with a migraine, there was about to be a lot less fun coming down for the next few days. I remember one episode in particular, while we were out on a family camping trip. A sing-along with friends around a campfire was suddenly minus one alto voice because I was curled up in a sleeping bag with a cooler ice pack wrapped around my head with a camping dishcloth. In short, it sucked. I laid there and cried (which made it worse, of course) because my head was stopping the rest of my body from fully participating in what should have been a S’mores filled night to remember. Luckily, that one only lasted the night. Some migraine sufferers are in it deep for a few days. Proper diagnosis is key; getting seen by a medical professional is paramount to ending the suffering.

Let’s do the worst kind of math: migraine math. A weekly migraine sufferer (not at all uncommon for frequency) can “lose” over a week of their time every two months! That’s a full week of smiles, laughter, soccer or swim meet, family dinners, and any other number of family memories in the making. And there’s a ripple effect: your friends, family and work mates are affected, too. Time laying alone in a dark room isn’t living your best life. Get up, get help (it’s available!) and get back to the action.