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Sunday, February 5, 2023
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Life with an invisible illness of migraine

"Living with migraine means living life in a state of uncertainty; being engaged in a constant struggle to maintain control and living with the fear of not being believed"

Migraine is a chronic neurological disease that typically causes recurring headaches, along with other symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to light. A migraine attack can cause moderate to severe pain and last from 4 to 72 hours. Migraine affects three times more women than men and is characterized by a cycle of painful headaches with associated symptoms such as nausea or photophobia separated by apparently symptom-free periods.

Anyone who has ever experienced a migraine attack knows how debilitating they can be. While there is no cure for migraine, there are many treatments available, including drugs that can prevent attacks, as well as drugs that can reduce the symptoms of an attack in progress. Lifestyle can make a difference. Lifestyle routines can be key in migraine prevention. Many factors can induce migraines such as dehydration, heat, physical exertion and stress. Migraine can negatively impact many aspects of your day-to-day living, including work, family relationships, and your social life. Migraines are no joke but unfortunately, they are not taken as seriously as they should be. On the contrary, there are literally 1 billion people in the world living with migraine which is an inherited episodic brain disease. While most sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month, more than 4 million people have chronic daily migraine, with at least 15 migraine days per month. More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine. There is a stigma surrounding the condition. A lot of people do not realize how much pain you are in because you look healthy on the outside. They do not know your head is throbbing so much that you wish someone would just remove it for a while.

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When I was diagnosed with migraine more than 25 years ago, in my case hereditary from my maternal side, it was overwhelming. At worst I get everything; sensitivity to light; sound and stabbing, throbbing pains throughout my head. Non-migraineurs just cannot grasp how a mere “headache” could cause so much distress. Every time I requested medication or pleaded to go home, people assumed I was being dramatic. I never wanted to talk back but was aware that I knew so much more about my predicament than those in a position of power. It taught me an important lesson, which I hope I can pass on to my readers; be respectful but push back when needed and never let anyone belittle your pain. Over the years, I have learnt to manage the condition and have in fact emerged stronger. My migraines have taken up a lot of my time robbing me of precious moments with my family and friends. Over the years, I have learned a lot about living with an invisible illness. I have gained new skills and learnt how to stay optimistic, even when it seems impossible. Hopefully, after reading what I have to say, you will feel more prepared for the journey ahead and realize you are not alone.

Firstly, approach things positively. It is understandable to feel angry, defeated or lost. What we fail to realize is that negativity will only make the road ahead harder to navigate. It is not easy but training yourself to think positively will help give you the strength you need to manage your condition and enjoy a good quality of life. At the end of the day, you are human, therefore, if you feel sad at times, that is okay! As long as you do not let the negative feelings or your condition define you. Secondly, I listen to my body. Taking time out to rest in a dark room for a few hours does not mean you are weak or a quitter. Everyone needs time to rest. Taking time to yourself is the only way for you to recharge and come back stronger. Thirdly, do not blame yourself as feeling guilty for your migraine will not make the pain go away. I had to learn that my health comes first. You are not a burden to others, and it is not selfish to put your health first. It is alright to skip out on events when my migraine symptoms flare up. We have to take care of ourselves so that we may in turn care for others around us. Fourthly, I educate those around me about migraine as an illness since most of the time even your closest friends do not understand what living with migraine actually is like. By speaking up about migraine, you are helping spread awareness and doing your part to squash the associated stigma. Hence, do not be ashamed of your migraine, rather be an advocate! Fifth, you have to learn to let people go. For me, one of the hardest things to accept is that living with migraine takes a toll on your relationships. I have learnt through the years that people come and people go. Those who truly care for me will stick around, no matter what. You deserve to have people around who lift you up and add value to your life. If anyone in your life makes you doubt yourself or your worth, you might want to reconsider keeping them in your life. As a sixth step, speaking from personal experience, do not be afraid to ask for help. We are strong and capable, but we cannot do everything. Asking help from others is a brave thing to do. Lastly, never stop believing in yourself. You can and will go on to do amazing things. Rather than take pity on yourself or your circumstances, think of all you have accomplished in life so far, and realize how far you shall go in the future. I used to think that my migraines would never go away. It was only once I started to believe in myself that I learnt how to navigate life with this condition and find my path to healing.

This is hoping and praying that all readers suffering from migraines learn to live with it since there is no permanent treatment available, not to my humble knowledge at least. I , for one, do not know what life would be without it, but it is like permanently wearing a backpack, which is tough, however I am fully prepared to always consider the possibility of not being able to do certain things at the time of an attack. I try to make up for lost time and tasks as per my own schedule following the adage of ‘health is wealth’. You also ought to eat right, keep hydrated, sleep well and take your physician-prescribed medicine as soon as you sense the aura or triggers of a migraine attack. The takeaway is to trust yourself, listen to your body, lean on others, and know that you can live a happy, healthy life.



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