My Migraine Story (so far!)

Hey friend!

If you’ve followed me online for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention these 2 things:

  1. I’ve lived with migraine my whole life. My first attack was at 10 years old.
  2. I’ve experienced the full range of migraine’s disability – from it barely being a factor to it being constant.

If you clicked on this article, you must be curious to hear more about my journey with migraine.

Today, I’m going to break down each step of the story, sharing as many insights as I can along the way to hopefully help you in your own path to relief!

1. When it started

My first attack

So I don’t know if this is typical, but I vividly remember my first migraine attack.

At 10 years old, the attack started overnight.

In my dream, I was being chased by a relentless woodpecker. The bird kept attacking me, pecking at my head. I was running away as hard as I could, but was never fast enough to escape.

TBH, I sort of love how my brain created such a clear image to try rationalizing migraine symptoms. (Like obvs I don’t love that I ever had a first attack, but this first experience was very memorable & kinda charming.)

Inciting incident (why now?)

Let’s be clear, I have migraine because it’s in my genes. But looking back, I think it showed up when it did for a pretty obvious reason.

People identified female at birth often have their migraine really tied up with hormones. So for lots of us, attacks are closely linked to menstrual cycles, pregnancies, and/or menopause.

Puberty, for people who menstruate, usually starts about 8-13 (according to google), and this is when a LOT of those peeps will start experiencing migraine symptoms.

It got a lot worse before it got better 🙃

I don’t remember the immediate fallout of that first attack, but I do remember how quickly migraine took over my life.

In the blink of an eye, I rapidly spiraled into what was later diagnosed as “chronic daily headaches” where my migraine symptoms were always present and relentlessly stubborn.

When I was finally able to see a specialist, maybe about 2 years later, the first appointment was really disheartening. The physician basically said “you should have come in years ago, this isn’t going to be easy to fix” and advised me to take… ibuprofen? 🤔

Being a child with such out-of-control symptoms is especially tough, as there are such limitations on what you’re able to access for relief (for safety reasons, which is super valid of course, just frustrating).

With time, we were able to experiment with lots of options: medications, supplements, I remember some 2-day-long IV treatment, and several alternative care strategies.

I remember these early days as throwing spaghetti at the wall, trying to see what sticks. And somehow, NOTHING stuck.

2. When I thought I found the answer

It got better!

Let me paint you a picture.

I was a teenager, about 15 years old I believe, and had been trapped for multiple years at that point with daily symptoms.

Pain was my baseline, my normal. Every morning, I woke up bright & early for school… already on the wrong side of the bed. Mornings came with irritability, nausea too intense to stomach even a glass of water, and (of course) a pounding head.

I had recently began a new medication, thinking nothing of it. (Thinking “nothing had worked for me up to this point, so why would I get excited now?”)

One morning I woke up and felt… weird. 🤨

It took me a minute, but I soon realized I was completely symptom-free. It was jarring. (In the best way, obviously.)

I couldn’t BELIEVE this is how “normal” people got to experience the world! It seriously felt like I was getting away with something by existing without the weight of migraine symptoms.

Effective prevention med, at last

This new med that brought me my first taste of relief ended up totally changing my life. Migraine flare-ups would still happen from time to time, but I felt free.

Unfortunately, this new med was Topamax, lol. 🙄 While it majorly helped out my migraine, the side effects were not-so-great.

Most of them were “worth it” – I was dizzy and forgetting words all the time, but that would have happened with unmanaged migraine anyways, right?

In the end, it was the side effects of appetite & weight loss that got to be unsafe enough to cut the med out.

(Note: Everyone has a different experience with any medication, you won’t necessarily have the same results or side effects, please consult your medical team to make sure a medication is right for you.)

I let go of Topamax and shifted to other medications, but migraine slowly and surely crept back up on me.

I trudged my way through the rest of high school with relatively well-managed migraine. But then came college, my RD internship program, and my first job. Migraine was getting more-and-more persistent, and it was getting more-and-more exhausting trying to rearrange my life around it.

3. Majorly struggling

I call this time the “dark days”. 🙈

With migraine spiraling out of control, I stopped trusting medications, healthcare, and my body.

Medication Overuse

As my symptoms became more frequent, I naturally started throwing medications at my migraine more and more often.

Somehow, nobody warned me that this would make it so much worse. My medications stopped giving me any sense of relief, and I was having even more attacks.

After literally being turned away from the pharmacy because insurance wouldn’t allow another refill, I was like “huh, this can’t be right”. After some research, I discovered I had fell into medication overuse (adaptation) headache.

This experience, of course, totally wrecked my relationship with medication. I already had a somewhat negative view of meds, after trying so many that had no impact whatsoever, but this made me lose trust in any medication for years.

Hormones

I randomly learned after years of taking birth control that people with migraine with aura (like me!) shouldn’t be taking daily pills with estrogen (1).

Experimenting with other options, I tried arm implant Nexplanon – which immediately triggered nonstop migraine symptoms for the entire 90 days I had it in.

Later on, I instead opted for the copper IUD ParaGard, which is nice because being hormone-free, it has had no impact on my migraine. I also like that it lasts for up to 10 years, but be warned that it was incredibly painful & traumatic to insert. 😬

Mental Health

I kept going through the daily motions, but all that meant at the time was: wake up feeling yucky, push through the insufferable workday until I can go home, lay on the couch completely exhausted, then go to bed still feeling yucky.

I felt like I wasn’t present in my own life anymore. It was like I was a shell of a person, or a walking zombie. Along with this came a ton of self-imposed guilt for being “no fun to be around”.

4. Major turning point

After moving to a new state, I set up my new medical team, completely unaware of how life-changing my first appointment with my new neurologist would be.

I expected the typical run-of-the-mill appointment I was used to from most of my previous physicians, where I hear some version of “wow you’ve tried just about everything” then get half-heartedly educated about some new medication they’ll be ordering, before shuffling me out the door.

But this practitioner was different.

She expressed empathy, asked me lots of questions, actually listened to my answers, made me feel seen, and most importantly and gave me hope.

Why was nobody else talking about holistic options?!

My new physician opened my eyes to all of the other factors that could be playing into my migraine.

Sure, other doctors had given me the dreaded list of “foods to avoid” (total garbage BTW), told me to drink water, and warned me of the effects of stress, but these things always felt like an afterthought.

Instead of vaguely encouraging me to live a healthier lifestyle, she broke down a list of exercises, mindfulness practices, and diet changes – explaining how I could realistically incorporate them and why they’re complementary to my migraine relief.

Faith restored in medications ☺️

I won’t harp on about this, because everyone has a different medication solution that works for them, but I was psyched to be put on a new regimen!

Around this time (2020-ish) there was a new class of migraine medications being offered. I was started on Aimovig (approved by the FDA in 2018) and saw changes in the first month!

I had also escaped my medication overuse cycle, so my attacks were way easier to treat. I was able to get away with over-the-counter painkillers and sometimes even without pills altogether.

5. Now we’re caught up

In the last few years, I got to work implementing new medications and building a migraine-fighting lifestyle & diet.

I learned a ton about my patterns through tracking my attacks, helping me discover what my significant triggers are and what relief methods actually work for me.

I minimized triggers such as:

Babes, let’s be realistic. Migraine isn’t going away. I’m not “cured”. Flare-ups can, and do, still happen. And they suck.

Although I’m able to mostly freely go through life and feel total confidence around my migraine, it’s still going to keep showing up. But after my history of clawing my way out of daily symptoms multiple times, I know that relief is always within reach.

I want relief to feel attainable for you, too. My mission is to help people in a rough spot with migraine find a sustainable path to relief.

Check out the links below to follow me to keep learning more about migraine management.

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