I have suffered from headaches since I was 4 or 5 (those are my earliest memories of having one), since then they have come and gone, sometimes they are manageable, other times what I would consider severe, and they can be regular or they can be further apart.
When I was 5 I would get the occasional one, I recall a period when I was 8 where I got a headache every day for a week, always in my sleep, but I wasn’t too distressed and they resolved. However, once I turned 18 they got worse. I was waking up with them, I couldn’t lay on the lounge and watch tv because I would get them, and being in the sun in the glare or in a room with fluoro lighting would also set me off. At this time I would take panadol and neurofen and head to bed, sometimes for 2-3 days, listening and feeling my head pounding, I felt every pound wishing I was doing anything else but waiting for it to pass. I found it so debilitating.
I’m not sure how it first came about, but eventually, I found codeine, I would take panadeine forte to take the edge off. However, at this time I was getting them weekly and eventually, they didn’t help. I moved to mersyndol which has a calmative, that helped put me to sleep and for a while, I would wake up with no headache, but I soon adapted to that too. I tried a few different medications supposedly that worked for some people, none of which ever seemed to work for me, the biggest dilemma I found was that I had to take these medications at the first sign. My headaches seem to come on in my sleep, they get worse and eventually wake me up when they are raging, but at this time those first line options are no longer useful. I have eventually been able to come back to panadeine extra (which has a lower dose of codeine), I use this when I need to, as a last resort. I have since also discovered aspirin, which I find quite effective, however, I have now been suffering a headache for two days. I thought I would wake up and it would have improved, I have taken more panadeine forte and aspirin than I would normally (usually one or two doses fixes it), and I have had to resort to alternatives that I know help. I have a migraine stick, which is a roll on of peppermint oils, it changes the sensation of the area, makes it cooler, also an ice pack can be helpful for this. I find a change in position is sometimes necessary, for some reason I have to sit up because laying down only makes it worse. There are other treatment options besides medication, I find that yoga helps me to prevent them a little, and in the early stages of a headache it can alleviate the pain completely, I have even tried meditation exercises that can help relax my head and relieve some pressure.
Where to now? I have a referral to see a pain specialist who deals with migraines commonly, I have previously had a chat to him on the ward at work, he wants to try a few medications to prevent them, and worst case there are always botox injections. I don’t know how I feel about any of these options, but after 16 years of headaches, I’m starting to feel like enough is enough.
Those who don’t get or have never had a migraine just don’t understand exactly what it’s like. As a nurse I am always assessing the pain of others, we use a pain scale you may have heard of before 1-10 with 10 being the worst pain imaginable… The flaw with this is an individuals’ perception. I don’t believe I have ever experienced a true 10/10, since migraines are the worst pain I have ever had, and I can function ok with them (while my head pounds worse when I bend over and move my eyes I could still manage if I had to), but at worst I would still probably only rank my pain at a 7. However, the pain of a migraine, though bad, isn’t the debilitating part, it’s the relentlessness of the heavy pounding and never getting a break for the duration. At least with an injury, there is usually a position you can get into, with my headaches I have to get into certain positions and avoid other positions to prevent escalating.
The most debilitating part is the effect it has on your quality of life. When I first started to get headaches that I consider went beyond a “normal” headache – which I would consider curable with a couple of panadol – I would be left to lay in bed from hours to days. My only reprieve was finding a position that left my head pounding a little lighter, I would lay there and do my best to dry and relax my head, minimise eye strain and drink plenty of water. Crying is no good either, that just increased the pressure and made my head pound harder.
In my experience migraines not only affect me physically, they affect my work and my downtime. At work when I go in with a headache, nurses say to me I should just call in sick, but I don’t think they realise how often I get them, and that I would never have any sick leave if I did that, so I try my best to manage them there using the migraine stick and aspirin. If you haven’t suffered from severe headaches you can’t understand the gravity of what it does to you, it makes you sick, it brings you down, I used to spend so much time in bed in a dark room, that now I try not to let them get in my way. If I stay in and go to bed it must be bad. And, now that I get them at work almost weekly I feel as though I need to get serious about seeing the pain specialist, as I am getting them after a busy work week and they are ruining my days off. Although, I guess it does force me to sit and relax, even if that involves trying to manage the pain as well.
However, the take-home message is that I need to be doing some more regular yoga, and if that doesn’t help maybe a chiro or physio might not be a bad option to try.