Blaming Ourselves for Migraine Does Not Help

OK. I’ve decided

I will share my migraine story with you.

Why the song and dance? Well, helping people with migraine is my job, right? Maybe you expect that I should be hunky-dory, migraine-free. The truth is I’m not. But, I’m jumping ahead of myself.

First, we need to head back in time

For over 30 years I thought I got migraines because, well, I just did. As a teenager, my GP sent me to see a specialist. He put me on beta blockers. For me, they made no difference. I told my specialist. He said, well they don’t work for everyone.

And that was that.

Oh, apart from being told I should just RELAX!!! And yes, that did feel like big, shouty letters.

Not at all helpful.

Now I could add self-blame to my migraine.

They were all my fault. But other than the suggestion to RELAX!!! I was given no advice. None.

There I was. Left to struggle on my own with my self-inflicted migraines.

Thirty years of pain. Thirty years of worry. Thirty years of guilt. All in all, pretty crappy.

How did my migraine symptoms feel?

The pain was always around my left eye. It was intense. Bright sunlight and electric lights made it worse. I had bouts of nausea followed by throwing up. Lots of throwing up. Yeuch! I hated that almost more than the pain.

Events I found stressful – exams, travelling, job interviews, driving test – were a dead cert to set it off. I’d do the counting thing; if I just get through this, in six hours I can crawl into my darkened room…..

Then in my mid-twenties something changed.

I started to get a new kind of the pain.

I’d wake up with excruciating pain in my left eye. It felt like a metal spike was skewering my eyeball. I checked with my optician who, thankfully, said my eye was healthy. But with this new migraine I was unable to function.

Even getting up to stumble to the loo was agony.

My biggest worry now was I can’t keep taking time off work.

What about that deadline? What about that client meeting?

I dreaded having to say to people, “I have migraine”.

Fast forward through time

The breakthrough for me came when I retrained as an advanced massage therapist. I learnt, for the first time, about myofascial trigger points. I learnt that trigger points in my shoulder, neck and jaw muscles create the pain and symptoms of my migraine. It is known as referred pain. It was a revelation.

I checked through my muscles. Sure enough I had trigger points. At last I began to understand the complex reasons why stressful events triggered my migraines. Not because I was too highly strung. Or, heaven forbid, too weak. No.

I got stressed and my muscles tightened in response – ready for fight or flight. My trigger points, laying quiet and hidden like a snake in the grass, were compressed and activated. Lo and behold, my godawful migraine symptoms kicked off.

I didn’t need to RELAX!!!

Here’s what I needed:

For someone to tell me about myofascial trigger points,
To be taught self-care techniques,
To understand the connection between emotional feelings and physical response and
To learn the role of my brain plays in all of this.

If only one of my doctors had told me this.

What a difference it’d have made to my life.

But they didn’t. And from what my clients tell me, they’re still not.

Everyone’s migraine is different. Myofascial triggers point may not be a factor for you. But, if you’ve had the scary causes of your symptoms ruled out I’d recommend finding a therapist who understands myofascial trigger points.

Where am I now with migraine?*

As I said at the start, I’m not migraine free. There is no cure for migraine. We are beginning to understand more and more why some people get migraine and others don’t. We know that the brain is working differently. The good news is we can learn how our brain works.

But after treatment, the intensity and frequency of my migraine attacks reduced significantly. That was my starting point.

The amazing transformation came when I discovered how to turn down my pain volume response button.

I am someone who has the condition called migraine and that’s okay.

It’s okay because I can say, “Okay, migraine today. I now what to do. Tomorrow will be better.”

It’s okay because now I am not burden by the fear.

Now, I’m free to plan stuff without worrying. Now, I’m in charge, not migraine.

What’s your biggest struggle right now with migraine? Share in the comments below


*Update: A lot has happened since I wrote this article 4 years ago. Maybe I should bring it up to date. But, I choose not to re-write for two reasons.

The fact is it’s rare that you get to see behind the scenes. Instead we tend to get the edited version; “I did this one thing and now my migraine are much better!” That’s not to knock someone’s excitement at improving their migraine. But, if that one seemingly easy thing didn’t work for you it’s easy to feel disheartened. I think it’s helpful to share the full picture. What I shared above are the first steps I made in transforming my migraine symptoms.

My second reason may surprise you. Sharing my migraine story publicly cost me a lot. Why? Migraine stigma. At the time I originally wrote this post, I was helping people reduce their own migraine symptoms. I told people in person that I too got migraine. But, write it down in black and white? Then publish it? I did not find that easy. And, for that reason I choose not to change what I sat down and wrote four yeas ago.