We’ve heard alot this week about mental health. The young royals as they are politely called have been promoting their mental health charity and opening up about their own experiences of mental health issues. I’m not knocking them. It’s a good thing. Open conversations on this front are a wonderful thing.
Can we add migraine to the list please.
Name me a famous migraine sufferer who is campaigning for better rights for migraine sufferers? Did you even know that migraine sufferers are affected in life by way more than just their migraines? I had a migraine yesterday. I’m in the process of getting over a migraine – it will take three days. Probably not the best time to write it but what the hell. It’s about time you all knew!
You probably can’t name a famous migraineur in the way you can a famous mental health sufferer. We don’t have a Ruby Wax or a Freddie Flintoff or a Prince Harry. Why? Because migraine sufferers try to keep their condition under wraps or at least downplay it otherwise we may be looked over for that new job or other opportunity. People think you’re unreliable if you get migraines. They can strike at any time. Can they really rely on you? Basically all the same stigma’s that mental health patients suffer. Infact migraine and depression go hand in hand. Don’t believe me? I could write pages and pages on how I personally have been a victim of this but I’ll just share my favourite one. The one where my boss sat me down in an appraisal and told me that I had surpassed all of my objectives but wasn’t able to give me a promotion because “I was great at my job…when I was there.” I had missed 3 days of work in a year. For the vast majority of my migraines I had vomited in the loo, then sat at my desk, taken the drugs and forced myself to carry on. Glad he appreciated that.
Real migraine is not just the crappy headache that people associate with migraine but a full blown neurological condition which I along with 1 in 7 people in the UK suffer from and twice as many women suffer than men. That means more mums than dads. That means more kids watching their mothers throw up, holding their mums hair, stroking their mums head whilst she lies on the floor waiting for the drugs to kick in so she can take them to school. Yep, been there done that. It’s shit. My 7 and 4 year old already have coping mechanisms for when my migraines kick in. This means as well as having the usual guilt complexes of being a working mum I have to carry around the extra one of knowing that at any point I may have to put on my children the burden of looking after me until my husband can get to me.
My migraines are currently a week long process. Three days before I get the migraine I go into a prodrome phase. Once this starts the migraine is inevitable but it’s hard for me to spot that I’m in this phase without the benefit of hindsight. I struggle to form sentences. Part of my vocabulary goes missing, as if somebody has deleted words from my brain. I forget names that I’ve known forever, including those of my own children. I also become incredibly hungry, wanting to eat sugary food. Some might say I’m a little short tempered too.
On day 4 I go into the migraine. Most of the time I get ‘the headache’ but not always. For me the headache feels like somebody is squeezing my right eyeball. I feel sick but nowadays I rarely vomit. My entire body aches, as if I’ve run 10K the day before. I have very little energy and just want to sleep yet find it really hard to stop my brain from working. That said if I attempt to do anything intellectual I’m stuck. I can’t read anything and take it in. I can’t write anything that makes sense. I can’t concentrate on anything for very long. Sometimes I’m hit with an uncontrollable urge to cry for no apparent reason. My pin numbers delete from my head so if I have no cash I have to get money from my husband (thank-you to whoever invented contactless!) I’m lucky that I’m not massively affected by light during my migraines. Every migraineur is different and every migraine is different. If I take the drugs at the right moment the migraine is over in a few hours and we move onto the next stage. If I miss the window the migraine lasts for three days. I still have to work and take care of the kids during that time. I drug myself up to the eyeballs and carry on. I drink coffee which helps and keep my sugar levels up which also helps. Eating helps. I will never be thin.
I then move into the postdrome which for me takes 2 to 3 days. The pain in my eye comes and goes and is mostly rebound headaches from the amount of painkillers I’ve had to take to get through the migraine. It will also move around my head. Bizarrely I welcome this – it’s a sign that I’ll soon be feeling normal again. The sugar cravings die off so I try to incorporate starchy carbs and some veg back into my diet otherwise I’ll suffer from stomach cramps. I still ache but only as if I’ve run a 5K and my brain starts to slowly regain some function. I usually have some sort of emotional response too. This time round I’m really angry. I have no real reason to be. Nothings happened other than I’ve had a migraine. In my weakened state I need to be really mindful I’m not taking that anger out on my husband or the kids because they don’t deserve it but equally I can’t run it out of my system because I still feel too ill. Sometimes it’s sadness and I sit and cry. Very occasionally it’s joy. You’d think that would be nice but it’s a bit false and slightly hysterical.
By the time this blog publishes I should just about be feeling better after a whole week of feeling crappy and a good dose of agony in the middle which made me late for work.
Through all of this I have carried on because I refuse to give in to it. I WILL NOT be defined by my condition. Sometimes you might need to give me a little bit of leeway to manage my life and the effects that the migraines have on me but I more than compensate for what you give me with what I give in return. Every migraineur I’ve ever met does the same.
I’ve been moved this week by the support that I’ve received through this migraine, from the endless glasses of water that my 4 year old has brought me to the customers allowing me to be a little flexible on starting times for stories. The kids have helped me to tell the stories when there were parts I couldn’t do because I couldn’t move my head and my husband brought me the biggest bottle of lucozade he could lay his hands on. This is how it should be. It wasn’t like this when I was in employment and I, like countless other migraineurs found it incredibly tough. I felt devalued.
Turns out it was their loss!
So spare a thought this week for those suffering from mental health issues but maybe add migraine to that list. If somebody you know has a migraine you now know that they are probably going to be unwell for several days. Are they back at work? Probably – why do you think that is? And should they be?
PS All human beings are capable of suffering from migraine just the same as we’re all at risk of diminished mental health. For many migraine suffers an attack is a reaction to emotional stress which is of course a known trigger for depression. The human brain is an amazing complex powerful organ and it could be that depression and migraine are just two different ways of coping with the same issue. Without more research we’ll never know. Both are worthy causes. Make sure you’re taking steps to keep you’re own brain safe!
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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure. She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. Infact 85% of the kids who come through STORY STORKS are right where they should be or ahead in terms of progression through the reading book scheme once they get to school and the ones who are behind are trying hard because they know that it’s worth it – that to read is to unlock a whole world of fun and adventure and learning and imagination and they might take a bit longer to get there but they’re determined that get there they will.