A Healing Journey - Part One
To begin I wanted to tell you the story of my migraines and headaches up to where I am today. My healing journey began by reading someone’s blog and discovering there are ways to overcome headaches and migraines without pills, so I wanted to share my experience.
This started out as one post…. But I have split it into two parts as it got very long!! So this part explains the start of my headache journey…. And the next post will contain the second part that goes into my healing and recovery.
It’s funny to think what a difference headaches and migraines have had on my life and how I have got where I am today. I wouldn't change a thing and am thankful for every minute!
Where it all began
Until I was 20 I had always been a healthy person (apart from the odd seasonal cold). During my second year of university I began suffering with headaches and migraines. I still don’t know how they started or what triggered them as I was not a typical unhealthy student. I had fun but always looked after myself and my body.
Headaches began to affect me frequently. I got to a point where I wouldn’t want to go out having fun with my friends for fear of getting a headache (that would last for a days). The pain wasn’t worth it; I’d rather stay in!
Like most people would, I reached in the medicine cupboard first. Soon alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen became normal to manage the pain. Ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory and it was the most reliable thing to give me some relief. Paracetamol didn't really have much effect, but when I was desperate I took it anyway! Sometimes painkillers worked, but sometimes they didn’t even touch the pain.
I continued managing the headaches myself, not really considering the cause – I was just dealing with my symptoms (not very effective!).
I became used to playing the waiting game for the pain to wear off. The duration of my headaches varied, sometimes they lasted for days, sometimes more than a week. Rarely, if I was lucky they would go off within a day.
The pain continues
The headaches continued, gradually getting worse during my sandwich (work placement) year between the second and third (final) year of my degree.
They also changed in their characteristics, rather than being headaches that developed into the odd migraine, they became migraines more frequently. These really affected me at work. I had to go home to be able to manage the pain quite a few times. All I could do was lie down in a dark room in complete silence until it had passed. It made me feel very pathetic and helpless.
The migraine pain was always in my eyes (usually worse in the left) and backwards along one side of my head. I have never felt pain like this before. It was a strain in my whole head, with pressure on my eyeballs and in the sockets. I would be very sensitive to light and sounds, and even some smells (cheap candles, air fresheners and petrol!). As the pain of migraine also made me tense, I got a lot of tension headaches in combination with these.
I remember getting very frustrated with my body, and I couldn’t understand why this was happening.
At this point I went to the doctors feeling hopeless and fed up. I had tried making headache diaries, I hadn’t noticed any food triggers, I hardly drank alcohol, had a good amount of sleep and wasn’t stressed at work.
I was prescribed beta-blockers to reduce my blood pressure. Even though it was at a normal level, the prescription was to help relieve the pressure in the blood vessels my head, to make the headaches less intense. These tablets did help, although they didn’t take away the headaches and migraines completely.
Head in the clouds
I continued taking the beta-blockers but when I didn’t feel they were as effective as they had been, the doctor increased the dose. It wasn't until later I realised how ‘cloudy’ these made my head. It was like I couldn’t think straight or connect things to make sense (known as brain fog). Everything became a real strain, from being at work, to just holding conversations with my friends.
The duration of my headaches began to get longer. I spent more time with a headache than without! It got to a point where I was taking so many tablets. It felt like I was taking them all the time! I would buy packets of painkillers with my weekly shop as well as taking beta-blockers twice a day.
I became familiar with rating my headaches on a pain scale, from 1-10. A pain scale is useful because it helps you to realise just how you are feeling, but at the same time when I think back I do think "wow how did I let it go on being so bad for so long?"
It really did take over my life – affecting my work and play time. It is one thing affecting your working week, but when you can’t have fun in your spare time and at the weekends it’s pretty heart breaking.
I couldn't face exercise. The thought of running around and getting blood pumping through my body and around my head made me feel pain in my head just thinking about it! Previously I had loved running, but headaches and migraines stopped my training.
I felt like it also affected my relationships with people – I felt like the boring friend who couldn’t join in or who couldn’t be relied on to be there…. I would always “have to see how I feel”.
One day whilst working at my final placement I felt very faint on the way into work that morning. I remember having to concentrate very hard just to walk and stay upright. Putting one foot in front of the other seemed like such an effort. I was so relieved to get into work and to sit down, but at the same time I thought “how can I work like this”?
I had hoped the feeling would go away, but after 20 minutes I still did not feel right. I decided to go home. That journey back felt like the longest journey ever. It took all my effort to stay upright whilst walking, gripping handrails going up and down the station stairs. I was so relieved to finally get my key in the front door!
I stayed in bed the rest of that day, and felt a little better… until I got up the next day. I went to see the doctor and she was not surprised with how bad I was feeling – she took my blood pressure and it was very low… right at the very bottom of the chart!
I was to stop taking the beta-blockers immediately.
Instantly my headaches came back. I did however feel like I had come out of a cloud. It was as if I could only see what the drugs were doing to me after I had come off them. This really scared me.
Still feeling very faint and unwell I went home where I was looked after by my parents. I spent a week just lying on the sofa, in silence, in the dark. Once the pain was so bad I remember it hurt me when my brother walked into the room to say hello!
I went to the doctors near my parents house and where they told me that my blood pressure had returned to normal. They said I must be feeling rough because of a bad migraine episode, and recommended me to keep taking ibuprofen.
This was not getting me anywhere.
Leading into the final year of my degree, with a dissertation looming and the most important coursework of my life coming up, I wanted to ensure I was better and in full working order!
Read the next post for part two of my story...