Real Married: Migraines

There’s an aspect of being a woman that we are coveirng more and more on AOW.  It’s not an aspect I ever thought we would delve into, it’s not something I think any of us planned for.  But I’m really glad AOW  is covering it.  Health, specifically women’s health, is such an important conversation to have.  Katie talked to us about how the Pill works last week, and last year the incredibly brave Olivia spoke about living with sickle cell anaemia.  Anne talked about living with a mother who is an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and we’ve spoken many times about fertility.  

Today Esme talks to us about her experience of living with migraines.  It’s a fascinating piece and Esme asks important questions at the end about the quirk, the thing, the condition that we would change about ourselves if we could – we all have one, even when they are completely out of our control.  What are yours, readers?             


For me, Any Other Woman is a safe place. A place where us readers can talk openly and honestly about what it’s like to be a woman in the twenty first century. I generally write here about what it’s like being married, being a wife and what that means to me, but today I want to write about another aspect of my life. Something that is very much a part of me and affects my life as a woman; today I want to talk about migraines.

Migraines are typically thought of as a woman’s problem. Although many men do suffer from them, they are more commonly found in women. Historically, it was grouped with the ‘medical’ term Hysteria and was considered to be one of the symptoms women suffered from when their womb went a-wondering around their bodies and made them a bit crazy. Yes, I know. But we’re not going to get into that right now – another post for another day, perhaps?

I suffer from what is known as ‘Common Migraine’. It’s not ‘just a bad headache’ or tension headaches, or the effect of a stressful week – I get sometimes completely debilitating headaches, nausea and impaired functionality that can last for several days. I don’t get an aura, as some sufferers do, or blurred vision, but I think that on the migraine scale, I’m pretty bad. It’s a medical condition, something that I was probably born with (I was a bad sleeper as a baby and often complained of ‘eye pains’ from as young as three) and may grow out of, i.e. not my fault. And yet I class it as a flaw in my character, one of the many things that makes me imperfect. Ridiculous, no? Maybe, but I bet that a number of you reading this have something that you have no control over but are embarrassed about at the same time.

Whenever I think to myself ‘if I could change one thing about my body, what would it be?’ (don’t pretend you haven’t played that game) my first answer is not shrinking my thighs, being taller or having clearer skin – it is always that I would get rid of my migraines. The threat of getting one is always there, they’ve ruined social occasions and carefully-made plans and, above all, I just really hate being the girl with the headache who’s feeling really tired. Most annoyingly, I hate the way they affect my marriage – the number of times Tom has come home from work to find me already in bed in the dark, or that I thrown-up his delicious home-cooked dinner or have cancelled a night out with friends because I can’t even imagine getting off the sofa never mind walking to the pub, are too numerous to count. Every time this happens I feel guilty even though there’s nothing I can do about this stupid illness. Tom, of course, is always amazing and does what he can, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve spoilt everything.

I take medication when I feel one coming on, tablets that have – and this is not an exaggeration – have changed my life. Sometimes they’re not enough or I take one too late and then you’ll find me crying on the bathroom floor, covering my eyes, wishing I could just be sick and then go to sleep. Throughout my life so far my migraines have varied in their frequency and intensity: when I was young I got them like clockwork and they always followed the same pattern. As I became a teenager and before going to university I managed to control them a little with sleep and the pill. Then, at university, they became less frequent but stronger. Once a term I was completely out of it for a few days and I felt like they had taken over me. After a particularly bad one in my second year, I finally marched into the doctor’s and demanded some medication – luckily my GP was a fellow sufferer and a new drug had just come onto the market. I then went through another bad stage a few years ago when I was having migraines once a week – always a Tuesday or Friday for some reason – but now (touch wood) I’m doing alright – they seem to have slotted themselves more or less into my menstrual cycle and I know enough of the warning signs to prepare myself. It doesn’t always work like that, of course.

So I’ve let you know a bit about my struggle with migraines, I thought I should also do a bit of myth busting whilst I’m here. NB: I am not a medical professional and most of my information is based on my personal experience.

  1. Migraines are not headaches. Migraines are caused by the narrowing of the blood vessels at the base of your neck, constricting the blood flow to your brain. This affects everybody differently.
  2. You can’t treat migraines with paracetamol (most of the time). Paracetamol stops pain, what a migraine sufferer needs is something to widen the blood vessels, therefore getting more blood to the area that has been affected. As I said above, every sufferer is different, but there are a few very effective drugs on the market that do just what you need (trust me, my husband is a chemist and studied this very subject. I was pretty annoyed that he didn’t bring back any samples from his lectures).
  3. Yes I still get them. Sometimes people look at me in surprise when I say that I had a migraine or that I’m getting one: ‘do you still get those?’, they ask. I’m hoping that as I get older they might stop (I was told when I was about 12 that one way to stop them was to have a baby. I’m sure you can imagine my Mum’s reaction), but I’m not holding my breath.
  4. They really hurt and yes they can make you sick. I feel awful when I’ve got a migraine and get very nauseous (lucky me). I think it is quite common as the part of the brain that is often affected is linked to your stomach.
  5. There is no cure – yet. It’s not fully understood what causes migraines, why some people get them and others don’t or what can be done to stop them. There are some known triggers, such as cheese and chocolate or flickering lights, but as yet, there is nothing that you can take that stops them completely.

Now it’s your turn: make me feel a bit better about this part of my life that I don’t like talking about and tell me your ‘thing’. What’s the health problem/personality quirk/experience that is very much a part of you, but you really wish wasn’t? I believe that everyone has one.

Categories: Health, Real Married
31 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Carly
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Can I just add that it really annoys me when people say ‘ooh, I’ve got a migraine’ when they’re sat at their desk typing away or having a wander round the shops! I really feel for you Esme, I had a migraine (or something similar) only once when I was doing my dissertation at Uni and I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. You’re a trooper!

    My annoying health problem? My skin. I’ve had acne since I was 2 and have tried every remedy going; antibiotics, homeopathy, special facials etc. The only thing that worked was Diannette, but I came off that last year thinking that I might have grown out of it, but nope! I’m trying to resist Roaccutane (I think that’s how it’s spelt) as I’ve heard it has a lot of side effects.

    I hope your migraines get better and that someone is working on figuring them out a bit more.


    • Anon
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Carly, I haven’t suffered with acne myself but my brother did. Not just all across his face but his back, shoulders and chest. It severely affected his entire teens and early 20s but I think we all thought his quick temper and social reticence and awkwardness were just ‘who he was’. We loved him anyway but I’m not sure he really loved himself that much.

      After trying everything there was going for guys, he was prescribed Roaccutane when he was around 25 and I think I can honestly say it changed his life. Yes, he had side effects; he did used to get headaches when he took the meds (nothing like Esme’s migranes I might add!) and even now, years after stopping taking it he stills gets very dry chapped lips and very sweaty clammy palms which I think he is a little self conscious of and which the docs say he will just have to live with. But that aside the differences have been phenomenal.

      He now has the most beautifully clear glowy skin of anyone in our family. But more that that, this wonderful warm, confident, social person shone through and the surly brother I’d grown up with was nowhere to be seen. These days he is more often that now the social gatherer and party starter; someone we never could have envisioned at 20.

      I’m not a medic, and I certainly wouldn’t want to tell you what to do; only you can know what your gut tells you. I wish you all the best with whatever you end up going with. (And sorry this is so long!)


  2. Sandra C
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I do feel your pain (No pun intended, sorry!). I have suffered migrane, but not as severe as yours, and only a couple of times a month. I manage it, and know what sets it off. My brother isn’t so fortunate, he suffers for days at a time, and at the age of 37 is still under investigation. He went home to bed from his own wedding reception, he just couldn’t cope with the pain and sickness. I truly hope you can, in the future, find some relief from this, or a reason can be found.

    As for what I’d change about me, it wouldn’t be physical either (please understand I’m no Venus de Milo!). I’d change the part of by personality which finds it hard to deal with attention and recieving love from family. I know I was loved as a child, but it has never been shown as an adult, or spoken. I cannot ever remember my parents (who are lovely people) telling me they loved me. It has affected my subsequent relationships with my inlaws, but I’m trying to fix it. We even eloped to get married as I genuinley didn’t think they’d be bothered about seeing me get married. I never admitted that before out loud, not even to OH.

    Mind you, sometimes my MIL can be *ahem* difficult.

    Thank you for writing, and I wish you well xx

  3. Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    My stepmum suffers terribly from migraines. I always understood it to be “just a bad headache” until I’ve grown up and seen friends affected by them and realised it is something much more debilitating. Now, like Carly, it also enrages me when people refer to their very normal headaches as migraines! I can’t stand people exaggerating how ill they are, gahhhhh!

    I’m happy you’ve finally managed to find a way to get back into control of your migraines, Esme. Crossing my fingers that with time they will ease up completely. I know from my back problems that it’s incredibly frustrating having a medical issue that people can’t see/understand.


  4. Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Mine is just that I’m generally not very healthy and nothing i do seems to help. I’ve got so many things that are a little bit wrong (and having just been diagnosed with adult onset asthma I’ve added another to the list) and I pick up every bug around without fail no matter how much preventative action I take, grrr. Basically I’d like to give my immune system a massive kick up the bum!

  5. Sarah
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I’m a deep thinker, a worrier, one of those people with an anxious disposition. I’m suppose I’m an imperfect perfectionist. And I know it’s silly and completely futile and truly exhausting but I just can’t help it.

    The thing that annoys me is that I seem to have developed a very calm and laid back exterior – people think I’m not bothered or phased by anything and they often think I don’t care. Many see me as a carefree hippy (you should see the amount of incense and wind chimes and earthly gifts I’ve been given! When really I panic, have sleepless nights, and worry for days.

    My deep thinking would be the thing I’d change (and then the acne, the allergies, that little bit of fat that no one else has noticed and all those other things I’ve thought far too much about).

  6. Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I experienced a “silent” migraine when I was pregnant. It’s extremely fortunate that there’s no pain, but the sudden dizziness and complete disorientation was quite scary.

  7. Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Migraines run in my dad’s side of the family – I didn’t even know it was possible until I was knocked for six a couple of years ago and my nan and dad both turned round and said ‘its the cutress genes’. For me fizzy alcohol and strong smells often bring it on (lillies are the worst).

    Otherwise my acne is a major issue, followed swiftly by the various problems I have with food and exercise. The doctor’s haven’ been able to help either issue so I find it hard to deal with.

    Wishing everyone a healthy week! L x

  8. Fee
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Ouch…. they sound dreadful. I have always been a bit unsure of what exactly a migraine is, I am
    glad that I now know and can be appropriately sympathetic to the friends I have that suffer them. I am glad that yours are (in some way!) getting under control.

    I suffer from recurring ear infections and I sometimes think that I would quite literally cut off my left arm to be rid of them. At the worst point, I had 22 in 24 months – but after finally biting the bullet and paying to see a private specialist, I now only get them occasionally (once every 6 months or so).

    Thanks for a really interesting post!

  9. Esme
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    See, I knew everyone had something! Thanks for all the well-wishes this morning. I’m not surprised that so many of you have had experiences of migraines, and it sounds like you’re a group who actually seems to understand it!

    Not such a healthy week for me – I’ve definitely picked up my niece’s throat infection after babysitting her this weekend. Oh well…

  10. Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    This is such an interesting post. My mother in law suffers terribly from migraines and it’s horrible to feel so helpless when she’s having one.

    My problem is tinnitus, namely pulsating or vascular tinnitus. Total nightmare. I’m contemplating writing a post about it after reading this but it depends how brave I’m feeling!

    Carly- I was on roaccutane for 8 months when I was 17. I have very mixed feelings about it. I’m acne free for the most part (still get breakouts but I’ve been off it for 10 years). The emotional side affects have stayed with me for a long time though. And some of the damage it caused doesn’t seem worth it looking back. That having been said, I know what it’s like to be consumed be acne and how desperate you feel for just one day of clear skin. I could go on about this all day but if you ever need to talk to someone about it, feel free to drop me an email. X

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Mazz, you should absolutely write us a post on this. I think it’s something our readers would love to know more about, and how you deal with it – I know I would! x

  11. Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    My Gramary (my maternal Grandmother) suffered severely from migraines. In fact, during her 60s she was featured in a documentary about debilitating migraines, because they so negatively affected her life. I remember if she had one when we were visiting we had to be very very quiet throughout the whole house because “the slightest sound felt like a drill going through her head”. Hers were triggered by dark chocolate and cheese in particular, but they used to strike at random. I know my Mum’s childhood was punctuated by her Mother being confined to bed by the crippling pain in her head, in the days before decent treatments. So, Esme you have my sympathy!

    And my thing? I would erase my anxiety, not the constant worrying about things that don’t matter (although I could totally live without those), but the panic attacks that have ruined so many holidays and trips and experiences and nights out. I can’t imagine how liberating it would feel to know I’d never have to experience another one.

    K x

  12. Peridot
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I have classic migraine – I get gaps in my vision and then a pulsating black and white diagonal line which wheels around in my left eye. Then the pain starts. I am fortunate because a) I only get them about every 3-4 months and b) I don’t have what you have (and my mother does) with throwing up. Or only rarely anyway. My grandmother had them too. I once had to be physically (if subtly) restrained when an old boss of mine merrily said “Oh yes, I get migraines too but I take some paracetamol and then they go away”. No, you utter DOOFUS, that’s a headache. And I get those too – usually last for 10 days – fortnight a couple of times a week. Still different from migraines though.

    I was told that they go after the menopause because the arteries are less elastic and so don’t allow the constriction which they think might cause migraines. But my mum still has them so I’m not overly hopeful.

    Despite all this, if I could change anything it would be my lousy metabolism. Sure, my specialist tells me it was developed as a survival skill to help survive famine and my ancestors were probably a big hit with, I don’t know, Neanderthal man or something, but in today’s world, it’s wretched. A month’s strict dieting for me can mean losing 1lb. If I eat anything ‘naughty’ I put on 2-3lb. For example, I put on 8lbs in a fortnight over Christmas – after nearly 4 months of strict dieting, I’ve lost 3.5lbs. If I thought about it too much I’d cry and never stop. Deep breath.

    • Esme
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I have so been in that situation, Peridot! A colleague said to me ‘I find Migraleave just gets rid of my migraines instantly’. Well, yes, good for you. In my experience, if you have full-on migraines, Migraleave doesn’t even touch them! Or someone once suggested taking 3 paracetamol. Right then.

  13. Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    So far I’m lucky enough to have avoided migraines, but my Mum has suffered from them for as long as I can remember. She too has some wonder pills that she can pop when she feels one come on and it really has made all the difference.

    After seeing what she goes through I’m with you with the whole ‘I’ve got a migraine’ claim when they are still carrying on as normal – so irritating. Nearly as bad as people who have ‘flu’ when really they have the sniffles. Can’t be doing with that!!


  14. Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Oh you have all my sympathy, I’m a fellow migraine sufferer and have been since I was at school. Mine generally start with a stabbing pain behind my eyes then go on from there and only complete dark and quiet and sleep will help. I have had to cancel plans, miss lectures, go home from work and even left my own birthday party in a club once because of them.
    The worst one I ever got was a couple of years ago while we were on holiday in the States. It started during a 7 hour flight to Vegas and got worse and worse until I honestly don’t know how I got through passport control and managed to check in to our hotel. I was so ill I just lay down on my suitcase in the hotel shuttle queue and left my husband (who is French) to deal with everything. Once we finally got to the hotel room, I lay down on the bed fully dressed and waited for it to end. It eventually went away about 17 hours later and we finally got to start our holiday properly-hooray!

    So I’m with you, if I could change something about myself, I would get rid of my migraines completely (and maybe improve my rubbish eye sight a bit too while I’m at it!) Migraines begone!

  15. Lorna
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Oh I have spent hours sleeping on bathroom floors on a pile of towels because it’s the only place dark enough. Oddly enough, I get aura, visual disturbance, dizziness, sickness and light sensitivity but no actual painful headache. I do feel like I’ve been hit by a truck though. I was prescribed imigran 6 months ago but haven’t had one since. I would get rid of my chronic headaches. I have at least 2 a week and I feel so pathetic.

  16. Steff
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had 1 migraine in my life and it was not pretty, it was my own fault though brought on by an intolerance of high amounts of caffiene and a work-out supplement which shall remain nameless. I remember sitting in the car watching a buggy push itself along the street, I only realised afterwards that I was obviously just not seeing the mother pushing it because my vision was affected.

    My one thing I would change, as a few others have said, is that inner voice which continually tells me I’m not good enough. I wish it would do one.

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Steff, I’m writing a post at the moment about the critical voice! I want mine to do one, too.

  17. Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Just a couple of things to add here, medically.

    1. There are a variety of treatments available for migraine, and some people can manage them with simple analgesics (paracetamol and/or ibuprofen). What I think you are referring to and using Esme are a group of drugs called ‘triptans’ which are the next step, and stop a migraine developing further when you feel it coming on. Of course they dont always work either. The next step is prophylactic (preventative) treatment with beta-blockers like Propranolol, taken daily. We usually move onto these if people still have more then 6-8 migraines a month despite ‘triptans’. There are myriad treatments beyond these but you will usually require specialist referral to a headache clinic or neurologist to consider them. Anti-epileptic medications are amongst the options for example.

    2. You mentioned that you achieved some control with the pill and it’s worth noting that the combined oral contraceptive pill (not the progesterone only pill, or ‘mini pill’) is completely contraindicated in suffers of migraine. There is some medical small print that you can use it if there is no ‘aura’ present but personally I steer clear in all sufferers. If you’re still on it Esme, you should consider talking to your GP and I wouldn’t like anyone else reading to think it’s either a treatment or even an option.

    I too also (albeit occasionally) get migraines, with aura. I know it’s rubbish. :(

    • Esme
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Rebecca, I appreciate your comments here. I came off the pill a few years ago and now have a coil which I think has really helped. I’m always surprised when GPs don’t think it’s too much of a problem if a migraine sufferer is on the pill.

      • lorna
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        I have just right now realised I haven’t had a migraine since I started taking a progesterone-only pill (the same time as I was prescribed the triptans I have never had to use.) It hadn’t occurred to me that these would stop the migraines- I was getting 2-3 per month. I wasn’t taking any oral contraceptives before. It hadn’t occurred to me it could be hormonally linked- off to check the research now!

    • Peridot
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Yep, I’ve been on Zomig (some success with the pain but not with the visual disturbances or mental confusion where I can’t quite get the right words out) and am currently on a precription version of Imigran. They both make me feel ill in another way but usually do ultimately kill the headache (if not the extras). My headache specialist has been threatening me with an injectible next but I’m far too scared!

      My worst one caused temporary paralysis down one side of my body as well as slurred and confused speech – the Walk In centre thought I had Bells Palsy.

      • Esme
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        Yes! The words thing! As far as I understand, Zomig only treats the headache and not any other symptoms – hence why you find yourself trying to remember the word ‘chair’.

        Good luck with finding something that works – I would not be happy if I had to have injections.

  18. Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    For the last five years I have suffered from Chronic Daily Headache Syndrome, which is a lower-grade headache that is constant — every damn day – and grows and wanes in intensity. I had to drop out of a semester of school to seek treatment, which was largely unhelpful. The last two years have been much better as I’ve been seeing a functional medicine doctor who focuses on food sensitivities, chemical imbalances,etc. I’ve almost completely dropped narcotic pain treatments and am so so grateful. Maybe this type of treatment would be helpful for you migraine folks, too!
    Stay strong,

  19. J
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Esme you are completely right about the threat of a migraine and the guilt – for every event I plan and look forward to there is always that niggle that it might be ruined by something over which I have absolutely no control, and worse than it being ruined for me is the idea it might be ruined for someone else. And there you have it – totally irrational but unavoidable guilt. There is also something about having to tell people I have a migraine that makes me feel like the “little woman” I don’t want to be and am not. A post on the history of attitudes to “women’s illnesses” would be very interesting! For anyone who tells you to pop a few paracetamol, I recently saw a very experienced neurologist (also have a lump in my brain which is fortunately benign – my brain is definitely the feature I’d make some changes to, at least the chunky thighs don’t cause pain or massive anxiety!) and he told me to avoid paracetamol as it can exacerbate symptoms in patients with migraine tendencies. Aspirin is apparently a much better option for me. Just goes to show how much the “oh just take a paracetamol” crowd know!

  20. Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Esme, this is a really interesting post, and it’s shocking to see that there are rather a lot of migraine sufferers out there.

    It’s important to discuss this kind of thing- I look forward to more AOW health posts…


  21. Zan
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Great post Esme. I suffer from migraines but have got them down to 1 or 2 a year once I worked out the major trigger was red wine (annoyingly as I love the stuff!). Mine start as a pain on one side of my head and it spreads quickly, followed by the dizziness, light sensitivity and constant nausea. I consider myself lucky that they usually don’t last more than a day at most with the day after just feeling wiped out.

    My thing I would change is always thinking in when meeting new people that I’m not very interesting. It’s more a fear than a quirk, but I think it stems back to being a very shy child and all the feelings that go with that.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Tinnitus on May 10, 2012 at 7:18 am

    [...] We’ve had some amazing health related posts recently on AOW, and it’s something we really want to explore more. We know [...]

  • By Migraine « Esme Wins on August 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

    [...] Last week I had a migraine following a busy day that included my second round interview, lots of train travel, intense work on an unfamiliar laptop, not enough water and walking in the hot London sun. (By the way, if you’d like to know more about my life as a migraine sufferer, I’ve written about it on Any Other Woman.) [...]

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