I can’t be sure that I remember my very first migraine, but I do have a memory of scrunching my eyes closed as my mom pushed me along in my stroller. The street lights were splitting into long lines and hurting my little head.
Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine knows that each attack is unique. Sometimes a migraine leaves you completely incapacitated. Other times, you can cope with the pain if you take medication and preemptive steps early enough.
Migraines don’t like to share the limelight, either. When they visit, they demand your undivided attention — in a dark, cool room — and sometimes that means that your real life has to be put on hold.
The American Migraine Foundation defines migraines as a “disabling disease” that affects 36 million Americans. A migraine is much more (so much more) than a regular headache, and people who experience migraines navigate the condition in a variety of ways.
My attacks meant that I missed school quite regularly as a child. There were many occasions when I felt the telltale signs of an impending migraine and realized that my plans were going to be derailed. When I was about 8 years old, I spent a whole day of a vacation in France stuck in the hotel room with the curtains drawn, listening to exciting shrieks from the pool below as other children played.
On another occasion, toward the end of middle school, I had to have an exam postponed because I couldn’t keep my head off the desk long enough to even write my name.
Coincidentally, my husband also suffers from migraine pain. But we have very different symptoms. I experience disturbances to my vision and intense pain in my eyes and head. My husband’s pain is centered at the back of his head and neck, and an attack for him almost always leads to vomiting.
But aside from the severe and debilitating physical symptoms, migraines impact people like me and my husband in other, perhaps less tangible ways.
I’ve lived with migraines since childhood, so I’m used to them interrupting my social and professional lives.
I find an attack and the following recovery period can easily span several days or a week. This presents a series of problems if an attack occurs at work, on vacation, or at a special occasion. For example, a recent attack saw my husband wasting an extravagant lobster dinner when a migraine came out of nowhere and left him feeling nauseous.
Experiencing a migraine at work can be particularly stressful and even frightening. As a former teacher, I’ve often had to take solace in a quiet spot in the classroom while a colleague arranged a ride home for me.
By far, the most devastating impact migraines have had on my family was when my husband actually missed the birth of our baby due to a debilitating episode. He began to feel unwell right around the time I was entering active labor. Not surprisingly, I was busy with my own pain management, but I could sense the unmistakable signs of a migraine developing. I knew immediately where this was heading. I had watched him suffer enough before to know that the stage he was at was unrecoverable.
He was going down, fast, and was going to miss the big reveal. His symptoms progressed from pain and discomfort to nausea and vomiting quickly. He was becoming a distraction to me, and I had a very important job to do.
Fortunately, my migraines have begun to wane as I have aged. Since I became a mom three years ago, I’ve had only a handful of attacks. I also left the rat race and started working from home. Perhaps a slower pace of life and a reduction of stress have helped me to avoid triggering my migraines.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad to be able to accept more invitations and enjoy all that a full and vibrant social life has to offer. From now on, I’m the one throwing the party. And migraine: You’re not invited!
If migraines are affecting your quality of life and even robbing you of precious special occasions, you’re not alone. You can take measures to prevent migraines, and there’s help available for when they set in. Migraines can completely disrupt your life, but they don’t have to.
Fiona Tapp is a freelance writer and educator. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, HuffPost, New York Post, The Week, SheKnows, and others. She is an expert in the field of pedagogy, a teacher of 13 years, and a master’s degree holder in education. She writes about a variety of topics, including parenting, education, and travel. Fiona is a Brit abroad and when she’s not writing, she enjoys thunderstorms and making playdough cars with her toddler. You can find out more at Fionatapp.com or tweet her @fionatappdotcom.