Thursday, 13 December 2012

Migraine history

Owning a Triumph Herald as a family car in the latter part of the 1970s was not glamorous or chic although they are now collectors cars. It was a tiny two door car for our growing family of five, bought very cheaply as our first car in the UK. It was tatty but this is not really about the car but about the people inside and my migraines.

One summer we loaded up the car with two adults and three children ranging from 7 to 15 (with me about 14), the camping gear, and most of the supplies we would need for a week away camping across the country. I was always ever hopeful that maybe this time we would have fun and there would not be any arguments, but still full of trepidation should it go pear-shaped. We finally set off no-one else knowing I had a migraine brewing. There was no point me saying because for years now my mother had lost her patience with my migraines so I tried to put on a happy face and settle back.

The car motion, the lack of oxygen despite the inevitable draughts, the heat and the arguing from my mother did not bode well. After some hours we stopped by the side of the road for a break and my mother, with her "let's pretend we are a jolly and happy family" cracked open the flasks and a tin of cold rice pudding. Mention rice pudding to me now and I love the stuff, especially out of a tin! Back then was another matter. If only I could keep to myself and not eat and drink I felt I could do this journey. Rice pudding on top was an unforeseen nightmare. With my mother you could not refuse. If she said jump then you did so regardless if you were stood next to a cliff. I can not remember if I told her at that point I had a migraine or whether I dared not say.

The cold, wet and slimy rice pudding could not be refused. To refuse was an insult to my mother's happy family mode. So I ate. Trying to shovel the sickly revolting spoonfuls into my mouth and swallow. I must have been ashen and almost green in the face and then the inevitable happened. I threw it all up. We were outside on the road so it did not make a mess of the car or clothes or anything else. My mother shouted and accused me of doing it on purpose. The shouting went on and I still felt very ill, though, as is often the case, I felt slightly better for throwing up. This would not have been a two way conversation, you could never do that with my mother which is a pity as that is just what she needed. No-one dared. Not even my father.

My mother was so angry that I had ruined our family holiday that she ordered us all to pack up, in the car and back home. I was under strict orders not to throw up again despite going back into the motion of the car and the lack of oxygen and the atmosphere you could cut with a knife. That was the end of that particular holiday.

I have had migraines on and off since at least I was four years old though they have developed and changed over the years. Perhaps they were not so bad when I was very little and just meant a few hours out of my life. I remember an aunt giving me crushed ice to swallow when I was about five to help settle my throwing up. I can not remember much about them until about the age of ten or eleven when I was taken to the doctors but there was nothing that was apparently wrong or could be fixed.

There was one time though which I remember clearly and was amazing. My mother was nice to me. She looked after me during a migraine and mopped my brow with a cold cloth. She sent out for expensive pre-cooked chicken to help me back to eating, and also lemon ice lollies to help settle my tummy. By this time the migraine had been raging for two days. She even put me into her bed. She was loving and kind to me. It was amazing and memorable.

The next month I had a huge migraine that was it. The crazy mother was in residence and I was told I was not going to pull a fast one and was abandoned to elsewhere. She was never nice to me again during a migraine. In evaluating my life I sometimes wonder if I had migraines psychologically or sub-consciously on purpose just so that I can get back that nice mother. You see, I neatly blame myself for my migraines.

By this time I was having huge migraines that would last for days and be debilitating. It was often thought that my migraines were tuned into hormones as I would have a big one monthly and then other ones in between and I had that pattern since about 10 or 11. Since I did not start my periods until gone 16 I am not sure that can be entirely valid.

By the age of sixteen, when I had left home, they were worse than ever. Somehow I managed to keep down jobs despite being seriously incapacitated every few weeks. Toilet floors I have known should become a blog post of its own! Then about the age of 17 the visual disturbances ramped up and were so disturbing I took myself to hospital where they were puzzled too and not much help. Back then the visual disturbance part of a migraine was not so widely acknowledged. My vision splits into quarters with the top right and bottom left quarters of each eye blacking out. In order to see I have to move my head. After a two or thee day migraine I think I can physically feel my brain, like a walnut rattling in its shell. After a migraine I feel jubilation and relief that it is over. During, I have sometimes sunk into tears from the pain which never ever helps and only makes it worse. I want to bash my head against a wall and for it all to end. I throw up and I cannot keep anything down. I need to be in the dark and a cold cloth on my brow is essential.

All in all I've not had much from the medical people. Other people go to the docs with a headache and they are referred for brain scans and what I consider to be special consideration. (And quite rightly so.) However, as soon as they hear of my migraine history that is it, end of story. Sometimes I think I am going to die and no-one cares but each time I survive. I have tried out beta blockers and in recent times specialist migraine medications. All to no avail. For a while I had respite with cranial osteopathy and also had exclusion diets. The best medication has been a simple paracetamol taken in the very early stages before I start throwing up. After that nothing would stay down anyway.

I have had an extremely good run on cutting sugar and alcohol out of my diet. I tried it for just a month at first on the advice of a lovely friend and voila. Amazing. Almost no migraines over the year or so I kept to the regime. Since my mother was ill and dying and I was running around I fell off the bandwagon a bit and been on and off ever since. Curiously I have had a lot more headaches and the occasional migraine since.

I'm not a good migraine patient - I've had them for about 45 years! I would like to be cosseted and looked after but in reality I am best being left alone to get on with it. Maybe because that is how I have learnt to adapt. Or it is just me.


BlackberryGirl said...

Oh my goodness! There is so much to say about your migraine entry. I was lucky in that migraines run in my family. Wait did I say lucky? Anyway, when mine began, my grandmother, and uncles and several aunts took it very seriously. However, my parents did not. After I married, I did anything the doctors asked but nothing helped at all. The occular migraines made me give up driving years ago and that's hard. I learned what sets them off and a lot of my life is spent avoiding triggers. I do have proof of small "lesions" in my brain that the U. of Louisville doctors say many women with migraines have on their MRIs and scans...but what to do about them?

Still, many people believe a positive attitude will cure migraines! Ha. Or the pain can be manageable...I can slog my way through the pain sometimes, but the vision disturbances and throwing-up? Not so much.

My heart goes out to you as a child and young lady growing up. My grandparents took it very seriously, my headaches began when I was about six...and the light sensitivity has been around forever. My uncle, my father's older brother, was terribly ill with cluster migraines and so are two of his children. However, I am the only girl in the family, except for a grand-aunt.

It is a very real illness and very misunderstood.

Take care,

Anji said...

I've been fortunate just to have had three migraines in my life. Triggered by a long day's supervision of exams in air conditioned class rooms. (I think my brain was looking for something to occupy itself) Cured by just working half days.

I imagine your mother was angry because she couldn't cure you by being nice to you. Keep up the good work

Doris said...

Hi Jenn :-)

Thank you for your understanding and kind words.

I find it interesting that although one of your parents came directly from a family that suffered with migraines that they still did not understand and that it takes a fellow sufferer to understand.

I'd hate it if I couldn't drive. Lights trigger migraines for me and I always have a pair of sunglasses in the car for early evening when headlights go on. The modern cars with those massively bright LED lights are just awful.

Like you, I try to avoid triggers though sometimes they are unavoidable.

You are the first person to also say that the visual disturbances can be worse. I have long felt they may not be as painful, and sometimes even pain free, but disturbing they certainly are and it is hard to cope with them. Actually, when you can not see properly too is a tad difficult though I do know I have sat at a work desk and physically moving my head in order to see the whole screen!

I think I read somewhere that women were supposed to be more prone to migraines but your family history seems to suggest otherwise.

In looking through my blog I seem to have written very little about migraines and often referred to them as headaches, probably because I am so used to them. I'm sorry to hear that you have had a much harder time with them.

Do you have a blog I could visit?

Doris x

Doris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doris said...

It was this post by Suzy that prompted me to write mine - that and coincidentally mentioning to Mr Doris about the holiday incident.

Doris said...

Oops! I deleted the wrong comment in trying to redo the comment with the link!

Hey Anji - I can't imagine a situation where you can know how many migraines you have had that they are so few. I bet, in a way, that makes them even harder to cope with, not that I think I am ever blase with them.

And yes, I recognise that being angry because maybe she couldn't cure the migraines. Sad.

Doris x