How long have you had migraine and what type of migraine do you have?
I've had migraine since I was 9 years old, and I'm currently in my late 20s. I don't get aura with mine however I do get them frequently. They usually sit on the right side of my head in my temple, and I have sensitivity in my neck and around my head. Alongside the headache pain with the migraine, I also get very tired and a bit disorientated. My eyes tend to get puffy and I can get quite pale. My appetite will increase and I become very thirsty.
How does migraine disease impact your life?
As much as I would like to think migraines don't impact my life, unfortunately they do. I try my best to live as normally as possible, however sometimes this isn't the case. I've had to take numerous days off from work and university to sleep one off, as I can't look at a screen for too long without my head pounding. Sometimes this can cause anxiety as I worry I will 'get a migraine and miss things'.
I've managed to get them somewhat under control with a healthy lifestyle.
What are your biggest migraine triggers?
My biggest triggers are lack of sleep, stress, too much sugar/not enough sugar, strong smells (especially those car diffusers that a lot of Uber drivers use), foods that have strong flavours, wine, not enough water, too much of one emotion (e.g. if I get really excited about something, or if I am upset and have been crying), and my 'time of the month'.
I'm quite a social person and sometimes find it difficult as a lot of socialising in New Zealand includes alcohol. I fully avoid wine and have to be very careful on the days I choose to have a beverage as I've noticed that if I'm feeling a bit off and have an alcoholic drink, I will get a migraine attack. I stay away from the sugary RTDs and try to stick with a light-coloured spirit such as gin with a soda water.
What medications, treatments or lifestyle changes have you tried to help manage your migraine disease?
I started taking migraine preventive medications earlier this year. I take nortriptyline every night before I go to sleep, which has helped a lot. I'm getting a lot less migraines than I used to, but sadly still getting them.
I go to the gym regularly and found that this really helps as it also helps keep my stress levels down. I find that focusing on mindfulness has been a big helper too in this area, so I try and meditate (when I've got the time – although this is something I can easily forget about) and do breathing exercises.
Last year I started to live more of a plant-based lifestyle, and I've noticed for me this helps too – I've been cooking a lot healthier and that overall has made me feel better.
How do you manage during a migraine attack?
I take sumatriptan as soon as I feel one coming on – sometimes by itself, or with either paracetamol or ibuprofen. If the migraine is coming on hard and fast, or if it doesn't go away, I may take codeine as well with it. If I can, I will lie down in a dark room and try to let my body rest. I'll also make sure that I'm not too hot. I find that ice packs on my neck/head can help relieve the pain.
Quite often I'm in a situation where I will get a migraine attack and try and 'live through it'. I've sat at my desk at work multiple times after taking sumatriptan – which can make me feel utterly queasy and exhausted before I feel better again – and I will just sit there and stare at the table in hopes the feeling will go away quickly and that the migraine attack will be stopped. It's hard to be able to get home and rest.
If I wake up to my alarm with a migraine attack, I will generally have to take a sick day as the migraine would have settled in and my medication won't work. These are often the worst ones and I have to lie in bed in a dark room all day and try to sleep it off.
How do you stay positive living with migraine disease?
I try so hard to be as positive as I can, and I'm really luckily that I have friends and family who understand what my migraines are like. I just make sure that I can to everything I can at my best to stop myself from getting an attack.
How can migraine care improve in New Zealand?
There needs to be a lot more awareness. I've met so many people in my lifetime who suffer from migraines, and it's sort of an excitingly weird feeling when you meet someone else who does, because at least they understand. I think that it needs to be more normalised, the number of people who don't understand and say that I need to drink more water is probably the worst part of it. Maybe they should teach it at schools in health class, could be a good start here.
It would be great if the preventive migraine specific medications were funded, as this is something I'm sure many migraine sufferers would be keen to try.
What advice do you have for other people in New Zealand living with migraine?
Talk about it, with friends and family, and even your coworkers. I think it's important that others around you know what happens to us so that they can understand and be educated about it. Also, I would say try not to be so hard on yourself. Do what you can, but we can't help it that we're unfortunately stuck with this disease, so take it easy.
Try and not let it run your life. I know, much easier said than done, but don't let this 'monster' take over every aspect – it can be damaging to our mental health.
Lastly, talk to others who get migraines – having others around who fully do understand has really helped me over the years.