Help! There’s an Elephant on My Head: A Day in the Life of a Migraine

Written by Adele Paul on June 26, 2017

There's nothing fun about migraines.

As a working mom of three young kids, there’s nothing I dread more than facing a day with this debilitating condition. In a life full of demands, it’s challenging to find the time and space necessary to properly care for myself when a migraine rears its ugly head.

If you’ve been there, you know that migraines have their own special way of trumping any other demands life may have for you on any given day. I like to think of them as the in-your-face, bossy elephant in the room you couldn’t ignore if you tried.

This is what it’s like when one shows up for the day …

6:58 a.m.

Before I’ve even opened my eyes, I know she’s here. I can tell by the crushing, steady pressure in my head that ol’ Mellie is back. And yes, she’s such a regular that she has a name. An elephant can move with surprising stealth, especially at night, and unfortunately, she’s picked today to make her unwelcome appearance.

7 a.m.

Spent that last two minutes laying perfectly still, hoping against hope that perhaps Mellie’s arrival had been a dream or that, by some miracle of nature, she’d vacate voluntarily. No luck.

I dread opening my eyes — I know the inevitable pain that will follow — but I’m driven by a need to address the old elephant in the room before she settles in for good. I have some experience with these types of elephants, you see. And over the years I’ve learned a few tricks on how to deal with them effectively. Mellie the Migraine may be formidable, but she’ll meet her match in me.

7:02 a.m.

I’m stuck between a rock and, well, an elephant’s butt. If I reach for my trusty headache remedy — which I keep on my night table for just this type of situation — I know it’s not going to be pretty. Just the slightest movement is likely to initiate Mellie’s wrath.

But if I don’t, I fear the escalation that might incur. You see, at times, when I’ve opted to just nap rather than medicate, I’ve woken to an entire elephant party on my cranium. Those memories are enough to force me into action.

Ever so delicately, I rise slightly. Mellie groans. I take my meds, water, and eat a few crackers to ease my stomach as swiftly and with as little movement as possible.

7:14 a.m.

My husband comes in to get dressed, but when he sees Mellie with me, he doesn’t utter a word. He reverently retreats and brings me a cold pack. I’m silently grateful.

7:42 a.m.

The last 40 minutes were the worst. Did I say 40 minutes? Because it felt like 40 days.

Once you’ve taken something for a migraine, all you can do is hope and wait. The cold pack helps with the discomfort, but there’s no moving or shifting under the weight of elephant, you see. You have nothing more to do than count the seconds ticking by to the chorus of pulsating drums in your head.

7:46 a.m.

I’m tentatively pleased to say that Mellie took the bait! The meds are kicking in, and she has shifted enough that I can rise long enough to help get my kids off to school. Mellie raises her eyebrows, indicating that she doesn’t approve. I stick my tongue out at her and carry on.

8:21 a.m.

The kids are off to school and I consider my breakfast options. I can hear Mellie’s faint movements. I can tell she’s not happy. Her ominous presence always puts me off food, but I force down some toast and yogurt and try to distract myself with some emails.

9:13 a.m.

Mellie busts into the living room, announces she’s not yet ready to vacate, and demands that I retire to the darkness and quiet of my bedroom.

11:15 a.m.

You’d think a busy mom would relish the chance to have a two-hour nap during the day. This is not that kind of a nap. I wake feeling a thousand times worse. I NEED to move. All that weight on my head and two absolutely still hours later, my neck is stiff, my body is aching, and my right arm has fallen asleep.

11:17 a.m.

After two minutes of psyching myself up, I decide to go for it! In one fell swoop, I rise, shake the maximum dose of meds into my hand, gulp down the water, and force down some crackers.

Mellie trumpets and threatens to invite her friends over. She whines, stomps angrily, and sneers at me to get back down. I obey, but she’ll have her revenge. This is the climax of her wrath. I’ve insulted her with my movements, and she crushes my head punishingly as if she had a point to prove. I roll some peppermint oil on my head as a peace offering and submit.

12:06 p.m.

Attempts to sleep in my current state of discomfort have been futile, but I’m tentatively hopeful that Mellie has been swayed by the last round of meds.

Unfortunately, the rules say that I just keep lying here, so I do.

12:29 p.m.

My husband comes home from work and brings me a fresh ice pack, a cup of tea, and a sandwich. I’m vaguely hungry, which is a good sign. And as I’m delicately consuming his offerings, I notice a faraway look in Mellie’s eyes — like she has somewhere else to be, or perhaps she’s just dead-bored of hanging out with me.

I know that look, and I’m almost giddy with hope — but I know from past experience just how fickle an elephant can be, so I employ one final trick …

3 p.m.

I’ve spent an entire day with Mellie and it’s quite enough.

The second I open my eyes, I know my power nap has succeeded. Mellie is gone. Call it dumb luck, call it fate, call it whatever you like, but I like to call it victory. More often than not, my time spent with Mellie ends with a gigantic nap like the one I’ve just had. I don’t know if she gets bored while I’m unconscious or what it is, but when you sense an elephant’s imminent departure, I find it prudent to just seal the deal with a solid couple of hours of sleep.

There’s always a bit of a stupor to push through after Mellie’s visit, but today, I’m thankful that she’s taken her leave in time for me to greet the kids coming home from school. Later, Mellie!

I’ve personified my migraines into a (somewhat) lovable elephant, which helps me get through days like these. But in all seriousness, migraines are no joke. They’re debilitating to say the least.

And as a mom, I can certainly relate to anyone who finds the daily grind unforgiving when it comes to making time to care for yourself when a migraine hits. But as difficult as it is, giving yourself the care you need is so important. For me, a combination of napping, medication, some peppermint oil, and time alone works well. You might find something else does the trick for you.

Whatever the case, best wishes in sending those elephants packing. And if you have a loved one who lives with chronic migraines, know that they could use your love and support. When an elephant is sitting on your head all day, it’s nearly impossible to do anything else.

Wishing all those with firsthand experience living with migraines an elephant-free day!


Adele Paul is an editor for FamilyFunCanada.com, writer, and mom. The only thing she loves more than a breakfast date with her besties is 8 p.m. cuddle time at her home in Saskatoon, Canada. Find her at www.tuesdaysisters.com.

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