by Rachel Smith
20 July 2020
Updated July 2020
The other night, watching TV, I started to experience a familiar feeling: the edges of my sight went fuzzy and a heaviness settled onto my forehead. I dreaded the onset of these seemingly minor symptoms, because I knew from experience that when I woke up the next morning I would be in the grip of a brutal migraine.
I’ve only suffered migraines since having a kid (before then, I barely ever had headaches at all). My migraines are distinctive. They always start with the fuzzy sight / aura thing, and when they settle in, it’s like someone is trying to dig around my eyeball (or jackhammer around it, depending on how bad the migraine is). Eventually the pain around my eye settles around my entire head, like someone is pressing hard all over my skull.
And if you can be a ‘lucky’ migraine sufferer, I know I probably am one: mine usually start at 5am and last til 2pm and then I emerge from my doona cocoon, fragile and shaky but able to plug back into life. I know others whose migraines last for days on end, and I have no idea how they handle it. I know a woman who works as a nanny, suffers daily from migraines and has done since she was a child. She told me she sometimes goes to bed if they’re really bad but has otherwise learned to live with the pain. Chronic migraine sufferers like this woman reportedly have more than 15 a month. I generally have one a month (and it’s one too many), but like 90 percent of migraine sufferers I am completely unable to function during one.
Apparently, 3 million Aussies suffer migraines – with more women sufferers than men. The condition costs the economy $1 billion per year and account for 20 percent of all lost work days due to illness, according to Professor Paul Martin from Griffiths University in QLD. He says he’s having good success treating migraine patients with cognitive behavioural therapy. But overall, there are no clinical guidelines for treating migraine – which I think translates as, ‘GPs have no flipping idea how to fix it’.
I know there are a heap of meds out there, with some promising ones on the market. Imigran works for me along with an icepack or a really cold compress on my head, and a few hours sleeping it off. Once, when I was having migraines twice a week (caused by sleep deprivation according to my GP, whose helpful-not-helpful advice was to ‘get more sleep’), I desperately popped Codeine like it was going out of style. And then I started having rebound migraines, which was all kinds of fun. I literally wanted to crawl, climb, claw my way out of my own head.
I know some of my triggers and try to mitigate them: not enough sleep, too much stress, exposure to fluroescent light bulbs. I also find that worrying excessively about a particular issue or being very upset about something that I can’t manage can also bring on a bad migraine, for some reason. These days, I feel lucky to only have one once a month-ish.
As a freelancer, migraines cause their own unique stress. You have to let clients and editors know when you can barely look at a screen – and know you may be putting them out by delaying copy. The unpredictability of migraine can make you look unprofessional. I try to build in buffers on deadlines in case a migraine hits. And I’m increasingly building a group of fellow journos who can offer back-up if I do find myself in the position of having a non-negotiable deadline – but being unable to finish my work due to a migraine.
Do you get migraines? How often, and what do you do for them? How do you work around them?