The Migraine Monster

You may have experienced this before: the feeling of an alien creature latching onto the base of your skull, sending pain shooting into your cranium and through your brain, or maybe it feels like a crazed sociopath suddenly plunged an ice pick into your head, lodging it firmly behind one of your eyes. Maybe it feels like your neck is in a vise or that your shoulders are in perma-flex mode. Or maybe, that’s just how a migraine feels to me.

I first started getting migraines before I turned ten, had my first doozy of a migraine on my twelfth birthday, and continued to have them now and again throughout the rest of junior high and high school – each one easily managed by OTC pain medication.

In college, they became regular occurrences, at least once a month if not more, and I could sort of track when I was “due” for another one. However, since I treated my body horribly in college – little sleep, too much caffeine and junk food, and not enough water and good stuff – I figured that was just my lot until I finished college and could take better care of myself.

Then I graduated and was poor and most months I could either choose to pay my rent, pay Sallie Mae, or buy food, so I ended up eating a lot of Ramen and other packaged pasta meals, and I still drank too much coffee because I worked odd hours at a childcare facility. So yeah, I still had regular migraines, but I attributed them to stress and unhealthy habits.

Even when I started a different job and my life took on a semblance of normalcy, and I was no longer strapped for cash and could take better care of myself physically, I realized that the migraines weren’t going away, and I made a promise to myself then and there that I would do what I could to naturally get rid of them.

I started being more aware of my body, noticing what was going on in my life around the times that my migraines would kick in. I noticed the pattern of migraines being about mid-way through my cycle and again right before or after I would start my period. Aha! So it was hormonal related, I discovered, and further discussion with my mother confirmed this as she no longer got the hereditary migraines now that she had gone through menopause.

Well, damn. I didn’t want to wait another twenty-five to thirty years to stop having migraines. But I still did what I could to manage them naturally, trying to sleep regularly and to drink enough water and to manage my stress levels. But those hormones, not a lot I could do about those!

Finally, I went to my doctor about them. She gave me a prescription and recommended some mineral supplements. Then I told her that my grandmother passed away from a stroke/brain aneurysm and she immediately signed me up for an MRI. Fortunately, the MRI came back normal, but I am still back to square one to some extent as I still have migraines. (I kind of have one brewing right now, actually.)

To some extent, I have accepted the fact that migraines will probably be a part of my life until my hormones change with menopause. Until then, I have the challenge of keeping my body healthy – and that is a worthy cause – and being aware of what triggers my migraines besides hormones. What I can do when I feel a headache coming on is not to ignore it, thinking that it will go away, but to take the medicine my doctor prescribed me, drink plenty of water, and sip a mug of mint tea. If I’m lucky, maybe I can get Mr. Dormouse to massage my neck and shoulders. (He’s great to have on hand for those.)

Who else suffers from migraines? What have you found that helps them go away? Do you know what causes yours?

By Dormouse

Bilingual (and a half) white girl who spent thirteen of her formative years in Africa. She is a writer, mentor, coffee drinker, wife, cat owner, language lover, photography dabbler, aspiring speaker, and a lifetime student. She keeps her writing going over at

8 replies on “The Migraine Monster”

I have gotten horrible tension headaches/migraines since my boyfriend and I got rear-ended a few years ago (ironically we were a block away from buying his new car) and it did a number on my neck. Usually sleeping weird or dehydration is a bad sign, I can feel it over my right eye and at the base of my skull before it lays me out cold. My best solution is a long, hot shower and a nap and I can usually get through it after a day, along with aspirin and caffeine. I get one every two weeks like clockwork, and the exactly day depends on the time of year: this semester it’s Saturdays, last year it was Wednesdays, I don’t know why that is. Supposedly, if I ever get normal curvature back into my neck, it should subside.

Another chronic migraine sufferer here. Mine follow a predictable pattern, which is good in that I can medicate early on, but bad in that I have 15 minutes warning before I want to chop my head and neck off. First I get visual auras. Five minutes later, cluster headaches. Five minutes after that, nausea. Almost immediately after is light and sound sensitivity and painful numbing (if that’s a thing) of the neck/occipital area. I’m 100% in support of prescription meds for this. They’re the only thing that even touch the pain, although they have funny side effects like making my arms and legs go numb.

Things I’ve actually done in the course of dealing with migraines: tied a belt around my head, Rambo-style, and tightened it up incrementally; used a gallon-bag sized block of ice as a pillow; lay upside down off a table with my head and arms off the edge, dropping toward the floor; used my Complete Works of Shakespeare to apply pressure at the occipital ridge (where your skull meets your neck) while sitting against a wall in a pitch black room; cried like a baby (many many times). I can go six months without one, and then get two in a week. I want to punch people who get regular headaches and are all, “I TOTALLY have a migraine.” No you don’t.

Oooh yes come sit by me. I started getting migraines about 3 years ago, when I was in grad school. (I was also working full time, so my stress levels were through the roof.) Mine are triggered mainly by muscles in my neck and back freaking the hell out … but also by stress, dehydration, not eating enough, and caffeine. I can’t take OTC pain killers, so I treat mine (when I can) by going somewhere cold and dark and quiet, putting a hot compress on my neck, and not moving. Mint tea helps a surprising amount for me as well. I had them pretty much beat after I finished school, but they came back three months ago. I’ve been going to physical therapy to strengthen/relax my neck muscles, and I was on a muscle relaxer for a month, but that month is up and things are starting to get worse again.

I’ve gotten migraines since I was very young, as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I was put on a preventive daily prescription because I was getting them so often, but I was already overweight, and it just made me gain more.

Eventually, we started tracking my food intake and figured out some triggers. I also get light auras, so I could take the prescription when I felt one coming on instead of every day. I stopped getting them in high school, but they started up again when I went to grad school and have continued sporadically ever since. I certainly don’t get them as frequently, and when I do I can treat them pretty well with OTC medication, hot showers/ice packs, and sleep.

Mostly, I have to be on top of my food and environmental triggers and how I’m feeling. If I’m already worn down by stress, heat, or lack of sleep, I have to be careful because I’m much more likely to get a migraine from the other triggers than if I’m on top of my game. I’m lucky that they’ve become much less frequent and more manageable as I’ve gotten older, though.

Learning what my own triggers are and staying on top of them is the only thing that helps me out with mine. It’s interesting to me how something like migraines that feels like a curse can be a blessing in disguise by helping you learn more about your body and what it does and does not like.

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