I recognise the signs straightaway. First comes the nausea accompanied by dizziness. The dizziness is there throughout, but sometimes it’s accompanied by a weird, frightening sensation. It’s as though the whole room has suddenly shifted, and I have to grab hold of something to stop me falling over. Then comes the headache. It’s defined as a headache, but it’s much more than that. A constant hammering that won’t go away. An oversensitivity to light and sound. Shakiness. Irritability with everybody and everything. Small tasks become a major chore. Conversations become onerous. And I just want to take to my bed; the only answer to migraine, it seems.
I try not to take to my bed though. I resent the timewasting, especially as these attacks are the consequence of something that is supposed to be a natural occurrence; the menopause. Besides, once is starts I know that I will feel like this every day for at least a week. I can’t afford to waste that much time.
They come in varying degrees; some are worse than others. Yesterday was a bad one, accompanied by a swollen and upset stomach. It lasted for most of the day, and I did take to my bed. I came down later to hang the washing up. Although I was over the worst, I still struggled to carry the basket upstairs. I was so dizzy that I felt as though the weight of it was pulling me over. My husband said I should have asked him to do it, but how could I when he had already done everything else that day?
I’ve been feeling this way for six years. The first year was bad, then I had a break of a year and I foolishly thought it was all over. It came back with a vengeance and I’ve been stuck with migraines ever since, apart from one three month break.
It changes pattern too. For a while I was well for two weeks out of three, and I could pretty much predict when my ‘sick’ week was going to be. Then it went to one week in two. Now I seem to be ill more often than I’m well. My last lengthy spell lasted two weeks followed by a break of just three days. Then I had two days of mild migraines followed by a five day break. Now it’s started again.
Most days I can work through it once I have taken sufficient medication. As I’m typing this, I feel nauseous, my head is pounding and the bright white background of my computer screen is forming strange shapes, which are dancing around on the screen. I also keep making typing errors that I wouldn’t otherwise make so I have to keep going back and correcting them. But I’m determined not to give into it. I have the light on my PC turned down low but it still affects me. I’m waiting until I can take a second Sumatriptan so I can see if I will then feel well enough to tackle some of my book this afternoon.
I’m currently taking Sumatriptan mostly, and 25mg of Topiramate in the evenings. I don’t like Topiramate, and have gradually reduced my intake. It’s an anti-epileptic drug, which seems to make me more forgetful and affects my concentration. Unfortunately, there is no specific preventative drug for migraines so doctors experiment with various drugs until they find something that works.
I have tried various medications but nothing prevents them. I’ve just changed my HRT in the hope that it might help. Saturday I had a lovely day and commented to my husband that I was beginning to feel like my old self. There was a shred of hope that maybe the new HRT would solve the problem. But then it all started again on Sunday.
When I’ve had a bad run of migraine, I become forgetful and my concentration is poor. Then there’s the confusion. I’ve only had one episode of confusion, but it was scary. I take medication for several other health problems – five tablets each evening in all. As I take them I always make a mental check so that I take the right ones in the correct amounts e.g. this one’s Montelukast for my asthma, this one’s Fexofenadine for my allergies etc. One evening I went to take my tablets, but when I read the names on the bottles and packets, they meant nothing to me. I didn’t recognise any of them. It really freaked me out. About two hours later I had a migraine attack. My doctor told me that it was the aura, which presents itself in different ways.
Then there’s the emotional side. When I’ve been feeling ill for days it gets me down, naturally. This illness doesn’t just impact on my writing life but on every aspect of my life. I become short and snappy with my family. I have to cancel nights out because of illness. In fact, I don’t make many arrangements to see friends anymore. It’s a waste of time as I never know when I’m going to be well.
With frequent migraines it’s a challenge to manage my working life without thinking about anything else. It makes it difficult to think straight. It stifles creativity. It takes the pleasure out of every situation, and turns everything into a major chore.
I also become angry. On a bad day I think ‘why me?’ And if a middle-aged, menopausal woman moans about hot flushes, I feel like screaming at her that she ought to be grateful if that’s her only symptom of the menopause. I get angry at smug celebs on TV who boast about how they sailed through the menopause by taking the natural approach. They encourage others to do the same, but how do you take the natural approach when cooking a nutritious meal feels like a mammoth task half the time?
But the determined side of me tries to be positive. It’s only migraine, and it’s menopausal so it won’t last forever. If I’ve had it for six years then surely it must be coming to an end soon. There are many people worse off than me; people with terminal illnesses, for example.
Although it impacts my working life, I’m lucky with my choice of career. I know that I wouldn’t be able to hold down a full-time office job, for example. I’d either be off sick or shouting at everybody in the office to leave me alone. So, I’m fortunate that I work from home, and I can put things off if I’m feeling particularly bad.
As I’m now earning a salary from my books, I’ve cut down drastically on my client work. This is because anything that’s deadline driven is difficult, as I never know when I’m going to be ill. However, with my books, even if I have a bad writing day, I can go back and correct any errors when I’m feeling on top of things.
When I look back at this post I’ll probably cringe with embarrassment at the ‘poor me’ implications. But today I’m at the start of a migraine spell and I’m feeling disheartened at the thought that it might last two weeks again. And I just want to crack on with my next book! If anyone has any suggestions for tackling hormonal migraine, they will be most welcome.