Migraines have been on my mind a lot lately, both literally and figuratively. I started another period of cluster headaches about a month ago, and as I’ve talked with friends about my migraines I realized that I’m often finding myself defending my migraines (at least it feels that way). The truth is that a decade ago I wouldn’t have believed my migraines either. The idea that someone could have a migraine every day and push through and even have a smile on their face at times; I never would have believed it. I spent the first 25 or so years of my life with acute migraines, the kind that show up occasionally and hurt like hell leaving me unable to do anything but crawl under the covers. Then in my late 20s I had my first period of chronic migraines; that time it was due to a medication I was taking. Once I figured out what was causing them I was able to push them back to their occasional status.
Then in 2008, I got braces and I spent almost five months with chronic migraines. For most of that time I didn’t do anything but lie on the couch in pain; even so, I drove myself to my dr appointments; because I didn’t have a choice. That was when I first learned how to push through the pain. When we finally figured out it was the braces causing massive TMJ issues and started treatment, the headaches got better but they were still there. The truth of the matter is that I’ve had more days with migraines in the last 6 years than I’ve had without.
Then in 2010, I added a whole new kind of headache to the mix. Something happened and all the sudden it felt like I was being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick. This combined with the numbness and tingling in my arms and hands sent me to a neurologist to get checked for MS. That came back clear but it eventually lead to a diagnosis of Cluster Headaches, along with a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. So, now about twice a year – usually in the fall and the spring, I can count on the return of the clusters. This is when I go from taking migraine meds about 5-6 times a month to trying to figure out how to get enough meds to make it through the month. I didn’t start tracking my migraines until the latter portion of the cluster I had last winter (it started the last week of February and went through April); the first month that I tracked was only a partial month and I logged 15 migraines. Those are only the ones I logged, which are only the ones that reach a point that I consider them medication-worthy. This is like Elaine in Seinfeld and the Sponge “is he sponge-worthy?”. I ask this about my migraines, “Are they Relpax worthy?” Luckily, my Neuro was able to prescribe a second med for me so that increases the amount of medication I have on hand when these clusters hit.
My friends who suffer from some pretty awful acute migraines, have a really difficult time understanding how I can be in this much pain and continue to do what I need to do day to day. I think it’s because eventually you just don’t have a choice. When migraines hit infrequently, you can afford to take the day off and hide under a pillow, but when they are there every day your only choice it to find a way to live with them. Also, cluster headaches while they hurt as bad (or worse) than migraines are a good bit different than migraines. Where migraines make you want to hide in a dark room and lay still, cluster headaches won’t let me close my eyes and I need to move. I need to distract myself, I need to move.
I’d love to imagine a life without migraines and cluster headaches, a life without headaches period. But, the truth is that it’s impossible at this point to imagine it. All I can do is take it one day at a time and hope that there will be more good days than bad, more days to enjoy movies, and music, and noise, and lights, and crowds. More nights where I don’t need sunglasses to drive after dark, and days where I can get through a class without my sunglasses on, or without needing earplugs to quiet the room.
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