“I have a tendency to try to find the good in things.”
More than four million adults in the United States experience chronic daily migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. But it’s not just adults: 10 percent of U.S. children also experience migraines.
Kathleen was one of those children. Her migraines began at age seven or eight, and they would occur once every month or two. But by the time she was in her 30s, they were happening three or four times a month.
The First Migraine
Coincidentally, Kathleen’s first migraine happened when an ambulance came to her school to do a demonstration. The students were standing outside in a semicircle watching the demonstrations in the ambulance when Kathleen started to feel strange.
“I’d been getting really hot and I had these kinda flashes and I sorta got in these tunnel visions,” Kathleen recalls. “All [of a] sudden, I just heard somebody go, ‘Wow, Kathleen is on the ground!’ And I had fainted and passed out.”
Kathleen’s family was already familiar with migraines: Her mom had them, too. Unfortunately, all the medications her mom used were too strong for a child, so she quickly had to adopt other tricks for getting through her migraines.
“I put something over my face. It’s like I block out all sensory perception,” she says. “Any noise, or light, or anything. I try to make it as dark and as quiet as possible, and stay as still as possible … It’s like somebody’s got a jackhammer, and they’re pounding from the inside out.”
Living in Spite of Migraines
“I do remember once saying, ‘God, if this is the way the rest of my life is gonna be, just take me now, ‘cause this is no fun,’” says Kathleen, showing just how debilitating and frustrating life with migraines can be.
Luckily, living with migraines is different than it was when she was a child. “In my late 20s, they started coming out with medications for migraines,” Kathleen says. “That was a lifesaver.” (Check out the evolution of migraine treatment here.)
In addition to medication, Kathleen began identifying her triggers and working on stress relief. She recognized that she was triggered by strong fragrances, cigarette smoke, and red wine. (Here are other common migraine triggers.) She also started practicing yoga and focusing on stress relief.
While Kathleen isn’t “cured,” her life has greatly improved since her childhood migraines. She is even able to take a more positive outlook on her condition. “Funny thing about having migraines [is], when you’ve had so many really bad days, you really enjoy the good days that you have,” she says.
Dr. Keri Peterson specializes in internal medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is board certified in internal medicine. She holds appointments at Lenox Hill Hospital and Mount Sinai Medical Center.
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I've had migraines since I was a kid.
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And I believe the first time,
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first migraine I had I was probably about
seven or eight.
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I was in elementary school, and an
ambulance driver had come to do
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a demonstration for all the kids, out in
the little turnaround for the school bus.
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And we're on the asphalt and all the kids
are standing around in a semicircle and
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the guy is showing [LAUGH] showing us
everything in the ambulance and
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I'd been getting really hot and I had
these kinda flashes and I sorta got in
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these tunnel visions and all the sudden
[LAUGH] I just heard somebody go.
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Wow, Kathleen is on the ground!
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[LAUGH] And I had fainted and passed out.
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Everybody thought it was really silly,
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cuz then I got to be the patient that got
demonstrated on in the in the ambulance.
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My mom pretty much diagnosed it for me cuz
she had them.
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And, and she had seen doctors and there
wasn't really much that they could do for
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her at the time except prescribe her
different medications that,
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that were too strong for kid to take.
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I probably had my migraines as a kid maybe
once a month or once every two months.
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In my 20s, I started getting about two or
three a month.
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In my early 30s, it probably got to be
three or four a month.
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I've had migraines in the past that have
lasted for days.
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I put something over my face, it's like I
block out all sensory, the perception any,
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any noise or, or light or anything, I try
to make as dark and as quiet as possible,
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and stay as still as possible, because
just even the movement, like if
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somebody were to come and sit on the bed
beside me, it's like my head's pounding.
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So I would just try to get myself as still
as possible, and then if you just move
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a little bit, and your head is just like
pounding, it's just I don't know how to,
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it's like somebody's got a jackhammer, and
they're pounding from the inside out.
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I do remember once saying, God, if this is
the way the rest of my life is gonna be,
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just take me now, cuz this is no fun.
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I'm an artist.
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I've painted and drawn and
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sewn and built and done all kinds of stuff
since I was a kid.
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I taught myself how to do faux finishes in
order to make a living with my artwork.
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Part of the impetus to me doing freelance
work is to be able to control my hours.
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If I'm doing a project or job and I get a
migraine, which takes some time away,
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I'll make up for it by working a little
bit longer the next, next time I work.
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There are some things that can trigger a
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real heavy perfumes are terrible, and
they're just like, and
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cigarette smoke, red wine is one of them,
and I don't wanna give that up.
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But [LAUGH] too much red wine may, may
trigger a migraine.
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Luckily in my late 20s they started coming
out with medication for migraines.
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So that was just a life saver.
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I started doing yoga which was just
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Sometimes I get busy on jobs and my
routine gets broken up and
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I can start feeling that stress building
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I was like I gotta get back to it, and it
really does make a huge difference.
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I have tried acupuncture, which is
interesting it actually cleared my
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sinuses out, but didn't do much for my
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[LAUGH] Funny thing about having migraines
and I guess maybe it's the optimist
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in me now, is I have a tendency to try to
find the good in things is that,
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you know, when you've had so
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many really bad days, [LAUGH] you really
enjoy the good days that you have,
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like when you're feeling like, just really
good, I mean you really feel really good.
Migraine facts. New York, NY: Migraine Research Foundation. (Accessed on September 30, 3019 at https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/.)