Hannah’s guest post is the 10th post in the segment on my blog, called “The Reality Of…” which gives others the ability to share their story and raise awareness of the disabilities, illnesses, impairments and invisible illnesses that they have.
Hannah is the blogger behind Pages, Places, & Plates, a blog dedicated to reading, eating, and travelling. Her passion is sharing her experiences with others and helping them to make the right decision for their next book, food, or travel venture. She lives in Essex, England, on the Sunshine Coast with her partner and her Giant African Millipede.
I first experienced a migraine at 16 years old on the bus home from school and it really, really hurt. I didn’t understand what it was but presumed it was just a headache, and that perhaps my pain threshold was a bit pathetic.
During my A levels, I experienced them fairly frequently. I’d asked people if they might be migraines but most people reckoned they were just bad headaches – after all, I didn’t lose my vision like one of my classmates, and I wasn’t getting weird spots all over my eyes or throwing up. The symptoms weren’t the classic ones you might expect, so of course it was just me being weak. “Its just a headache” and “You don’t look sick” became phrases I’d hear all too regularly.
Over the years I accepted that they most likely were migraines – the pain was unbearable and occasionally I did experience other side effects, though not regularly. Sometimes I’d feel sick, and other times I might get quite dizzy beforehand. I became a bit more in tune with predicting them… If my speech was slurred, I felt hazy, or even a bit confused then generally it was a sign that a migraine was imminent. They started to affect my studies, and I’d find myself missing out on social events because of the pain.
It wasn’t until I was around 24 that I went to the doctor about it – it sounds silly, but I’d never gone as the attitude of people around me had convinced me that I was a fraud when it came to my self-diagnosis. I guess I also didn’t want to appear weak, but after a three-day migraine that had me clawing at the floor in agony, unable to do anything except lie there desperately trying to remember what it felt like to be pain-free, I realised that a trip to the doctor might not be such a bad idea.
Unsurprisingly, I was diagnosed straight away and given Amitriptyline to take daily to prevent the migraines plus another pill, should I experience the attack. Neither really made a difference and the Amitriptyline gave me some irritating side effects like an unquenchable dry mouth, so I decided to stop the pills and explore other avenues.
By this time, I’d worked out what caused my migraines: bright lights; heat; cold; sudden temperature changes; loud noises; strong smells; stress; not enough sleep; oversleeping; menstruating; being in the sun; screens; exercising; poor diet; lack of caffeine; other illnesses; crying; alcohol; travelling… It goes on. At one point I remember being so frustrated as it seemed everything I did just led back to me lying in a darkened room. Even sleep wouldn’t help sometimes, and the migraine would carry over to the next day.
During stressful times I’d become utterly miserable, usually getting the first signs around lunchtime and having a full-blown migraine by the time I left work. I then wouldn’t be able to de-stress in the evening as I’d have to just go to bed, ready to wake up again the next day to go back to work again… You can see why it could be difficult sometimes. Being a carer for my partner also made it hard and sometimes I’d struggle to juggle work, his mental health, getting household chores done, and looking after my own health.
To combat my migraines, I found that the only thing that really worked medically was Anadin Extra (providing I took them before the migraine hit). I had to get really good at predicting them, but I’d also have to make sure I didn’t take pills too often or they’d become less effective.
I started to really focus on self-care, putting my health as my priority and recognising when I was in a situation that could lead to a migraine attack. I still get them frequently (usually at least once a week) but that’s much better than every day, and only one migraine a month or so will turn into a full-blown attack that incapacitates me. Taking breaks when I need to at work has helped, as well as using blue light filters whenever I’m on a computer or phone and being militant about my self-care regime.
What would really help with my migraines is better understanding from the public – those that haven’t experienced a migraine can sometimes struggle to get why they’re so painful and end up belittling the experiences of those that do (intentionally or not). Had people not played down my experiences I might have sought help earlier, meaning I wouldn’t have spent so many days in agony.
The increasing number of screens in daily life is also making it worse and I don’t think migraine sufferers have really been considered with this – finding a job with limited screen time is difficult in itself (my job can be 7 hours of screen time each day), and now everything else from buying your groceries to checking in at the hospital can involve a screen. Fine for the average person, but when your head feels vulnerable they can be painful, sometimes impossible, to use.
If you know someone who suffers from migraines, be understanding and help them prevent and cure. Saying “it’s just a headache – it will go away eventually” doesn’t help – listen to what they need and provide it. If you’re an employer, understand that your migraine-suffering employees may require a few more breaks, but this is better in the long-run as it helps them be more efficient and stop taking even more time off because they couldn’t prevent the attack.
A little compassion goes a long way and makes it so much easier to treat the issue. I don’t feel guilty or fraudulent when I experience migraines now but I know many people still do, and this is something that really needs to change.
My Favourite Superhero
My favourite superhero is Deadpool! I can totally relate to him using humour to deal with difficult situations (even if underneath he’s actually feeling pretty fragile) and I love how he gets the most he can out of most negative of circumstances. He’s a bit more real than other superheroes to me, and he hasn’t let his superpower abilities change who he really is as a person. Also he’s hilarious!
Thanks Hannah for sharing your story with my readers and me!