As we move on through the year and into summer, there's one month that I've tried to pay attention to these past four years. June is Migraine Awareness Month, and as a migraineur I like to try and advocate for the awareness of what migraines are. Like I've written before, it's not just a headache but a neurological illness that affects a person in so many ways other than just the initial head pain. Despite it affecting more than 37 million people in the United States, a lot of people still don't know what migraines are. In my experience, some doctors don't know what to call it and say it's just a headache. Here's a list of what I believe will help bring awareness in my community, and hopefully by the end, you'll know more about what a migraineur's life is like.
1. Migraines can last for days. They can even last for months. Being chronic made me have one every other day for four years. Fifteen or more migraines a month makes one chronic. Having just one is bad enough. I had mood swings all the time, I had to force myself to function, and it was just all around the worst four years of my health. It's like being in a constant state of fatigue and depression every day, not to mention the ice pick that's throbbing in my temple plus a lot of nausea.
2. People don't believe you. It's really difficult to have to repeat over and over again, "No, I'm not faking it". Sometimes they think that it's just an excuse for not wanting to go out, but why would I lie about it? If I really don't want to see you I'll be straight forward about it and say it. There's no need to lie. People don't believe that I have a migraine in the first place, either. Since they can't visibly see the pain they just think it's not there. Maybe if I just throw up right in front of them they'll believe that I'm feeling something.
3. You can miss a lot of work or school due to an attack. 51% of people say that their work or school is cut in half, meaning that it makes it harder to function properly. I'm part of that percentage of people who have a hard time going to school. I can't count how many days I missed in middle school or high school. Recently, I had to drop a semester of college and that was the worst. With the benefits of my recent treatment I believe I can do a full-time job now, but if I ever get an attack and it's a bad one, I'd have to go home. That goes for school, too.
4. They damage your brain. There's a higher percentage of getting a stroke, brain lesions, and even Parkinson's Disease if you have migraines. It's really scary to think that I could get a stroke at a young age, but because of how damaging migraines are it just happens. Neurologists are still trying to find out about the long-term effects migraines have on our brains, but with the research that is continuously happening, there will be more ways to prevent the things that can happen to a migraineur. That can take a long time, though. For now, I have to keep a healthy diet, exercise, and try the new preventatives that come out next year.
5. Auras can make you stop in your tracks and drop everything. I only recently got auras, and since I have auras I can't have estrogen in my birth control. (It can give you a stroke, apparently.) My auras start off as a see-through black circle that slowly pulses and eventually blocks out my vision. If I get an aura while I'm driving, I have to pull over until it passes. Getting auras is very annoying and I never thought I'd get them, but migraines can change over time and that's just what happened to me.
6. Sometimes you can get an aura and have no pain. I see tiny black dots that cross my vision quite often. Sometimes I'll get a glimpse of the see-through circle as I look around but there's no pain that accompanies it. It's a nice thing to not have a migraine when I get an aura, but it does get annoying.
7. Relationships can get tricky. It's been hard for me to find the right people to keep in my life. I've had many people think I'm lying to them and that creates trust issues when there's not supposed to be any. I don't need someone in my life that will tell me, "Ugh, you have another migraine? Really?" or "I wish you could've told me that you were going to have one because now I have to rearrange all the plans I had for today". I can have a short temper when people respond like that, as anyone would. Thankfully, I have a great group of people in my life now who know what I have to deal with and won't make me feel bad for having migraines. You wouldn't make someone feel bad for getting a cold, right? No? Why people make me feel bad for migraines will always be a mystery to me.
8. Finding the right medication makes you feel like a guinea pig. I've been trying preventative and abortive medications since I was seven years old. It's taken me 14 years to find some sort of relief. With the ketamine infusions, I was able to find the right treatment for me and now I'm not chronic! With my own research, I found something that works for me. It can take people years to find the right medication. It's a hassle. Not to mention how the side effects make you feel; that's a whole other story and it's the worst. Your mood changes often and sometimes you can get sick from it like I did when I tried Botox. Your body has to get used to whatever you're taking and during the period of time while it's adjusting- which is at least three months- can be hell.
9. It's hard to find a job when you're chronic. While chronic, I would look for jobs and landed a few, but telling my employer, "Oh, so I have migraines and sometimes I might get a bad one which will make me have to go home" never made me look good. It's hard to find a job that knows what they are, and if you're chronic and need to leave often that makes it near impossible to actually keep the job. My employers didn't really appreciate that I'd have to leave and would ask me for proof of going to the ER. I understand why, but it makes me feel like I'm just lying to them to get out of work. I wouldn't have tried to get the job if I didn't want to work, but I have an illness that I can't predict. It's very frustrating.
10. Your life is very expensive. Thank God for health insurance. My migraine medication, Treximet, is $600 for eight pills. A trip to the ER is over five thousand dollars. You get the picture.
11. In the end, it makes you a stronger person. Dealing with the pain has made me aware to other types of pain that people can experience. You can't compare pain, but experiencing what I go through has given me a type of understanding and compassion for other people's pain. It's made me empathetic towards others because someone else can be dealing with an invisible illness like me. You never know what someone is going through until you talk to them.