Anyone who’s had a migraine will tell you that they are much more than just a regular headache. In fact, the headache isn’t always the worst symptom. Migraines are a full body fuck-you, as far as I’m concerned.
My migraines usually start with blurred vision, a touch of nausea, with some dizziness thrown in for good measure. Then, if my body is feeling particularly pissed, I’ll get an “aura.” First, I’ll go half-blind in one eye. Then, I’ll see a band of shaking, flashing light that will expand across the entirety of my vision until it gradually retreats about 30 minutes later.
The first time I had an aura, I was pretty certain I was dying of a stroke. Fifteen years later, I’ve had dozens of auras, and I can basically console myself with the knowledge that I’m not dying and will able to see again within the half hour. But it still scares the living daylights out of me each time.
After the aura comes the pain. For me, it’s like a throbbing throughout my entire body. I’ll feel it on one side of my head, through my neck, and down my back. Everything is tight and sore, as though I’ve run a marathon or am just starting to get the flu. This lasts for a few hours, but can sometimes last a few days.
I would say that in the grand scheme of things, I am one of the luckier ones. I don’t get migraines daily, weekly, or even every month. But I often get at least one per month (yup, often coinciding with menstrual fluctuations). Sometimes I’ll get more than that if life is particularly draining or stressful.
But maybe worse than the physical aspects of the migraine is having to deal them while caring for my kids. Migraines and motherhood do not mix. Whoever thought it was acceptable for mothers to have them was trying to play some kind of sadistic joke on us all.
First, there’s the unpredictable nature of them. I remember being terrified that I’d get an aura while driving with my kids — that I’d have to pull over unexpectedly and listen to them cry while I was dizzy, half-blind, and trying to keep myself from totally falling apart.
Just the unpredictability of migraines left me in a perpetual panic.
And the crying kids? One of the many symptoms of migraines is sensitivity to sound. We all know that when Mommy isn’t feeling well, kids are apt to lose their minds as well, resulting in increased, high-pitched whining all around.
Add that to the fact that young kids often don’t understand exactly what a migraine is, and will continue to berate you and demand things of you when you and your body are crying out for quiet, darkness, and peace.
I was recently in the throes of a migraine — one that had come on the tails of another a few weeks prior. I did what I always do when I’ve had a few migraines in a row. I went online and obsessively pored over the list of possible triggers to see what might have been causing this spell — and to see if I could somehow prevent the next one from coming.
Stress, changes in sleep patterns, loud noises, hormonal fluctuations, etc. When I looked at the list of migraine triggers, I almost had to laugh. At least half of them described the realities of motherhood in a nutshell.
Basically, parenthood itself can trigger migraines and then continue to exacerbate them once you’ve got one. Plus, all the self-care tricks you can do to prevent them are almost always impossible to do when you’re a mom.
So we mother migraine sufferers are screwed, right? Well, kind of.
First, medication is always an option, both for preventing migraines and for dealing with some of the symptoms, and you totally shouldn’t be afraid to ask your doctor for some relief. Other people have found relief in alternative treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic care, and dietary changes.
But these things don’t work for everyone, and even doctors are sometimes perplexed by migraines and will tell you that eliminating triggers is your best bet for curing them.
For me, if I’ve landed myself right smack in the middle of a bad cycle of migraines, I’ll take it as a sign that I am particularly tapped out and depleted and need to make self-care a priority, even though parenthood often makes that feel like a true impossibility.
But here’s what I’ve been trying to do lately: Since stress and sleep deprivation are among my top triggers, I’ve been saying “fuck off” and “good riddance” to anyone and anything that is stressing me out. I’ll cancel plans, throw iPads in my kids’ faces, and get some godforsaken sleep.
Usually that keeps the migraines away for a least a little while.
Also, I try to practice self-care while I’m having a migraine. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to play mommy-martyr, attempting to do all the things for my kids while reeling through symptoms I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
But lately, I’ve been able tell my family that I need some space and that they can very well take care of themselves for a bit. It’s been speeding up the process of recovery for me, which certainly benefits everyone.
Most of all, it teaches my kids compassion. It arms them with the knowledge that physical ailments are not always visible to the naked eye and that sometimes even their mom needs a chance to take a break, get some rest, and replenish.