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.