Inside the world of chronic migraine

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

Do you ever look at someone and wonder, “What is going on inside their head?”

For me, the answer is simple: It’s a migraine.

Over the past 12 years, I have been dealing with the reality of chronic migraine. For the majority of that time period, I’ve gotten between three and four migraines per week. Over the past six months, that number has climbed, and I have been getting between five and six migraines per week. With some fast math, I can safely say that I have had over 2,000 migraines in my life.

Now, it’s important to distinguish migraines from headaches. According to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, migraines are “more than just a headache,” and they can cause a range of other symptoms, including nausea, extreme fatigue, dizziness and sensitivity to light, sound or smells.

Once again, it is also important to differentiate migraines from chronic migraine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 12% of Americans suffer from migraines, but only 3% to 5% of Americans suffer from chronic migraine. This is because chronic migraine is defined as “having at least 15 headache days a month, with at least 8 days of having headaches with migraine features.”

Yes, I am a part of that unlucky batch of about 13 million people in the United States who are afflicted by chronic migraine — a club that I wholeheartedly wish I was excluded from. Three neurologists, one MRI and a lot of blood work later, I have essentially no answers. All of my tests have come back normal, and I have been left with the extremely unsatisfying answer that some people “just have chronic migraine” — no cause, no cure.

Sure enough, according to the Mayo Clinic, the root causes of migraines “aren’t fully understood,” although genetics and environmental influences could be contributors. However, some triggers for individual migraines are known, including stress, hormonal changes, foods and sleep changes.

Life with chronic migraine is definitely not peaches and rainbows. Pain that would make most people stop what they’re doing and lie down is so common to me that if I rested every time I experienced it, I would never get all of my work done. I have always been intrigued when a classmate would go home early or skip school altogether because they had a headache. I know their discomfort — and I sympathize with them — but I also just think to myself, “Wow, if I missed class every time I had a headache, my attendance would not be sitting at a very pretty percentage.” People who have chronic migraine simply do not have the luxury of being able to rest and not worry about work until they feel better.

Every day, I remind myself that I am not defined by this health issue. It’s an obstacle, but it’s not an impassable wall. To anyone who deals with chronic migraine, I encourage you to not let it completely disrupt your life. Get out of the house, spend time with friends and attend class attentively. Even so, know that it’s OK to take a step back and breathe when necessary.

You never know what’s going on in someone’s head. Take that as a reason to give everyone grace and to be a fountain of love and support for all — especially if that someone is you.