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Migraine is so much more than “just a headache”

It wasn’t a surprise to anyone when I experienced my first migraine at age nine. I was the fifth generation of women in my family with the condition. I’d seen my Mum have migraines for as long as I could remember, but nothing prepares you for a migraine.

I experience migraine with aura, so start with symptoms including blind spots; ringing in my ears; numbness; and sometimes difficulty talking. Then I am hit with a severe throbbing pain on one side of my head; stomach pain; nausea; vomiting; sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch; dizziness; vertigo; confusion; and a feeling of being completely out of control. This can last for days.

Throughout my childhood and teenage years my migraines were horrendous, but relatively infrequent. I knew I needed to avoid certain triggers, like dairy or flashing lights, but I didn’t miss out on too much growing up. However, just after I turned 25 my migraines suddenly increased. By the summer of 2017 I was experiencing a migraine almost every day and was diagnosed with Chronic Migraine. Overnight I went from being active, healthy and happy, to being almost completely bed bound. I could no longer work, socialise or even cook my own meals and I felt that I had lost everything. Migraine is so much more than “just a headache” - it can take away years of your life and redefine your whole identity.

I tried a number of medications and treatments without any success, I was referred for Botox in 2018 which helped me have some clear days at long last. But the most effective thing I have found has been cold water swimming. Going for a dip in the sea can take away the pain, in a way that not even morphine has ever managed. This could be due to something called “Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control”, the idea that pain inhibits pain and being active around water, has been shown to increase wellbeing.

This disease is so disabling, isolating and take away so much hope. I would advise other migraineurs to never suffer alone, talk to healthcare professionals and connect with others going through the same thing.

Author credit: Beth Francis

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