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How I Manage Living With Migraines

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The Headache Disorders community observes Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM) each June in the United States, and as some of you know, headaches have been a big part of my life. Beginning in early childhood, I started suffering from migraines so severe, I would temporarily lose the ability to speak or see. The intense pain -- usually on the right side of my head -- and vomiting would then follow, and many schooldays, play dates and holidays were missed, spent in a dark room trying to escape from my own body. I was too young to truly understand what was happening to me or why. My migraines started when I was 5 years old. It was scary and something that I largely dealt with alone in bed.

Sometimes, the words "migraine" and "headache" are used interchangeably, but not every headache can be considered a migraine. Migraines have other accompanying symptoms, and sometimes they're more debilitating than the headache. Sometimes migraines occur with no headache at all.

For me, it usually starts with something in my vision: telltale ziggy lines in my left peripheral, a subtle way that I just can't seem to focus 100 percent, sounds are just ever-so-slightly different. Small enough changes that I can convince myself it's nothing. But it's never nothing.

I start thinking that maybe I haven't eaten and my blood sugar is low. I'll get some juice. I'll be fine. Then, a strange, quick pain hits the back of the head and in a split second is gone. It's just a muscle thing, I think. More stretches, more yoga. I have that heating pad in the closet. I should use that at night.

The next several hours, everything intensifies. My left hand gets numb and won't move. My arm gets numb and won't move. My left side of my tongue gets numb. The pain starts. The vomiting starts. Medication. Bed. Vomiting. Bed. Vomiting. Sleep.

Waking up -- is it still here? Yes, but weaker. It's fine, it wasn't that bad. Go back to sleep. Wake up. Is it still here. Yes. Repeat half a dozen times.

The next day I wake up -- is it gone? Yes? It was fine. It wasn't that bad, I tell everyone I can. "I think it was from the salad dressing," I tell my husband, "I won't eat that again." Maybe it was the change in weather. There's a brief elation that the storm is over. But then it hits me. It's not really over. I make the mistake and bend over. I turn my head too fast. I end up back in bed at 2 p.m. I sleep, but the pounding is stalking my dreams. It's 4 p.m. The kids come in to check on me. "Will you play Legos?" It's been almost two days.

The next morning I resurface. I rush down to breakfast and try to make up for lost time. I look at the past two days of homework, messages, work I've missed. We tend to think of the intense pain period -- the "attack" -- as the worst of it. But the doctors and professional help provide a strategy for that. Take this and then this, then do this. I have learned how to get through it. But it is the time around it -- before and after -- that is incredibly stressful, exhausting and, in many ways, just as painful.

Migraines steal these days. The rest of the world keeps going and you are left in a dark room trying to go somewhere deep in your mind where it doesn't hurt, until it leaves. For me, it's been more than 30 years of this, so naturally, I've had to find ways to cope. Here are some things that have worked for me, personally; I am not a doctor or health-care provider, so please consult your own health-care expert to see if they might work for you:

Daily Vitamin: These vitamins contain two ingredients -- vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and magnesium -- that have been shown to help reduce headache suffering, and have helped me. Talk to a doctor to see if they might help you.

Aromatherapy Balm: One of the benefits of owning a company is that I can create products I want and need -- this balm draws on therapeutic essential oils that may help ease tension and promote a sense of balance and well-being. I apply to my pulse points any time my head pounds or I feel stressed.

Sleep Mask: According to the Mayo Clinic, "Migraines are often triggered by a poor night's sleep." This sleep mask has a nice weight to it that blocks lights and soothes my tired eyes.

Heat Therapy: It's been shown that a hot bath before bed can help induce a better night's sleep. I find that taking a hot bath or shower before bed helps get rid of tension, relaxes my muscles, and helps prepare me for a deeper sleep. Hot ginger tea also warms my body, preparing me for bed and (hopefully) a good night's sleep.

Eating Habits: The Mayo Clinic notes that "eating habits can also influence migraines," so I'm very careful to eat regularly (at the same time each day, without skipping meals) and avoid foods that may trigger my migraines (chocolate, caffeine, blue cheese).

These days, fortunately, I feel less alone in my quest to manage my migraines. I meet people nearly every week that have similar stories of pain and suffering and as in so many situations, it is a great comfort to share a build a community. Do you suffer from headaches or migraines? I would love to know what strategies have helped you through. Wishing you all a happy, healthy summer!

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