I got diagnosed with chronic migraines in 2009. It didn’t really occur to me that my depression could be worsened because of them until 2018. I was staying at a crisis shelter and my dad came to take me out on a walk. I was talking about my migraines and he just said “well no wonder you’re so depressed! Anyone would be if they were in pain everyday.”
And I was like …duh, that makes sense. 🤯
I mean I knew the effect of chronic pain on mental health. But I hadn’t learned that information until years of already being used to my pain. So I didn’t apply that knowledge to myself for some reason? I’m not sure why either. I also downplay them a lot; I usually just call them headaches. But they are much more than that. Health Line has a great article on deciphering migraines from headaches, it’s here.
I experience migraines symtoms everyday. Right now, maybe 15-20 days out of a month. Usually it’s more than that (thanks Botox!). I still experience migraine symptoms everyday. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Every. Single. Damned. Day. My migraines always take form in pain in or behind an eye, seeing spots or blurry vision, being irritable, and pain in my temples. I also experience nausea, light sensitivity, smell sensitivity, eye lids swelling and aura. Sometimes I get just aura and no pain. It’s something called a silent migraine. It’s no where near as painful but it still puts me in an awful mood and I get a weird taste in my mouth which is very annoying.
Here’s a really recent picture of me with a migraine. Minimal eye swelling but this is after my daith piercing. Since getting it, my migraines have been less intense, less frequent and less swollen.
And here’s a really awesome and super flattering picture of what a migraine usually does to my eyes. It’s painful, it’s blurry. I usually hide it with glasses. My swollen eyes like hot compresses and frozen spoons.
The most well-known characteristic of migraine with aura is the bright light. For me, it’s like someone is shining a flashlight in my left eye. It also feels like awful brain fuzz. Sometimes, I question my sobriety (I’m like, “did I smoke some pot then get high and forget I smoked?”) It’s just an aura migraine. It can also feel like tingles or numbness in fingers/face or having an unusual sense of smell, taste or cravings. With my aura, I experience sensation that makes my eyes feel large, heavy, swollen and drooping. It always feels like my eyeball is on my cheek. Also, I get a weird taste in my mouth. It tastes like when you’re dehydrated… I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s an awful taste and it drives me crazy and makes me self conscious of my breath.
This past year, I’ve really tried to notice how everything impacts my mood, including my migraines, and I’ve noticed that I do have a mood shift just before I get a migraine. I get very irritable and cranky, I crave a coffee, I feel destructive. It always comes out of nowhere and I never know why I suddenly feel like this.
My longest migraine streak was 42 days, until my longest migraine ever happened in June 2018. I was actively tracking it at this point for my neurologist in hopes of getting coverage for botox. I stopped counting after 65 days. It was probably somewhere around 70. Maybe a little lower, maybe higher? I couldn’t bare to keep counting after that; it just felt pointless. At least it coincided with when I had to prove migraine severity, ugh.
During this approximate 2 straight months of pain, my vision was blurry, I was getting auras once to twice a week. In fact, it impacted my vision so much that I do need glasses now. I should wear them full time.
My worst migraine started in my sleep (2009). I was crying from pain before I woke up. Then I woke up and experienced my most intense migraine pain still to date. It happened at a time when I was abusing over-the-counter pain killers so my mom had banned them in the house (rightfully). This migraine felt like one of those old school spy movies where they have to get through a room of lasers without getting burnt by them… except all the lasers were going through my brain. I woke my mom up in the middle of the night crying, so I scared her and she called emergency. It was the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life.
Like this, except the box is my brain.
The list of migraine triggers in honestly horrifyingly long. Way too long. And I wanna say I’ve got maybe 80% of them? But some of them include:
Lights. Different lights in a room (warm vs cool), high beams, flashing lights, anything bright really.
Lack of food
Lack of sleep
Certain foods. Anything fermented or aged (cheese, soy sauce), chocolate, spicy foods
Red wine, some teas. Anything with tannins.
Weather changes and barometric pressure
What I’ve tried
Over almost 11 years of living with chronic migraines, I’ve tried a lot of different preventative methods and treatments for migraines. It’s impossible to remember all of the meds I took spanning 11 years. Though, I do remember amitriptyline (elavil) was the first preventative med I ever tried. I was on this one for quite some time until I started to feel that it was making me more depressed (which sucks cause it’s an anti-depressant) so I had to come off it. I’ve also tried Topiramate (topamax), propanolol, atenolol, and cymbalta as preventative medications. None worked. The propranolol (blood pressure medication) worked briefly (like 2 weeks) and then my head started feeling like my brain was swelling.
I’ve tried a few of the Triptans – Imitrex and Maxalt being two – triptans have NEVER worked for me. I’m not sure why, but none of these guys ever does it. Plus, they were awful little wafers that dissolved on your tongue and they were absolutely naaaasty. The only thing to get that taste out is to eat so much peanut butter that you almost choke on it.
Another thing that tasted like utter trash was Cambia. This was a powder that I’d have to dissolve in a small cup of water then chug. It tasted like black liquorice. Gross. It was more effective than the triptans, though only if I caught the migraine right from the start. Sometimes a migraine just hits me already full blown and, at that point, there is nothing left to do but accept defeat.
Other things that I have tried:
Peppermint and other essential oils. I’m obsessed with essential oils but they work on headaches, not so much migraines. Although, sometimes the peppermint burning sensation still feels nice… so I definitely will continue to use them.
Getting an eyeglasses prescription. This was the first thing that was recommended to me when I was 16 years old. So I went to get my eyes checked. Perfect vision but got glasses for reading and computer related activities. (Now I need them more but… more on that later)
I have been with my neurologist, the absolute best and HBIC in my Hamilton, for about 7 years. I started receiving Botox treatments for my head in 2018. It honestly was great. Once I got accepted, I was able to do 3 sessions (9 months) and then I really started noticing a decline in the frequency and intensity of my migraines for the first two months after my session. The last month (third) before my next session always still killed. I was getting 15-20 migraines that month.
In 2018, I came across a dentist that specialized in migraine related dentistry procedures. So, of course, I tried it. I underwent a teeth/jaw realignment procedure. This was about a few weeks before my first botox session. And it helped quite a bit. Maybe it was combo of the two.
I’ve tried a nerve block needle. Essentially, this is an injection that targets the specific area and tries to shut off the pain receptors. So, since mine was a migraine, I got that awesome needle in the back of my head. It did not help. I continued to have that migraine for several weeks.
I used to have 2 coworkers that swore by Magnesium supplements. I’ve tried it but honestly I didn’t notice a difference. They, however, would take a magnesium supplement if they felt a migraine coming and it’d go away. But they said you needed to build it up in your body or something? I don’t know. I tried it though.
Caffeine. It does the trick for a headache, sure, but not a migraine. Not for me, anyway.
Getting a massage. I carry a lot of my stress in my neck and shoulders. Because of that, it pulls on my head and I experience tension migraines. I have tried getting a professional massage. But they warn you sometimes that massages can cause migraines… and in my case, it did.
What’s working for me right now
Daith piercing. Luckily, I work at a tattoo and piercing studio right now and my boss knows the right spot to pierce. She did it one day when I was complaining of a 10 day migraine. She said “give me that ear, girl!” So I did what the boss lady said. And honestly, as soon as the needle went through, I felt such an immense relief of pressure in my head and I was stunned at how well it worked. Of course, it hurt again once the earring became sore during healing but afterwards, it absolutely helps. It has decreased my frequency and intensity of migraines. I got this pierced in October 2019, two weeks before my botox appointment. That appointment got cancelled and my neurologist is still fighting it. But my migraines, without botox, with this piercing, have been manageable. I highly recommend. Read about from Health Line.
During an attack, my new prescription for morphine sometimes (about 50%) of the time work.
CBD. I haven’t worked out exactly how much (mg) works for me but if I take enough CBD edibles, I’m good. Or even CBD drops in my coffee.
Smoking good old marijuana.
I radically accepted that I would live in pain for the rest of my life a long, long time ago. Accepting it has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, mentally. I no longer stress about my migraines. I just expect them and plan for them; I keep my pain killers on me at all times. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect my mental health—it totally does. If I’m bed-ridden because of a migraine attack, I’m a little bit more depressed and sometimes I feel like I just want to end it all. But I’ve learned that pain can’t kill you and I’ve survived every migraine attack I’ve ever experienced. Reminding myself of that has kept me going strong all these years.
What’s your go-to method for dealing with or managing a migraine? Leave your tips in the comments below. Cause I’m willing to try anything.