I’ve not been a migraine sufferer very long. I was diagnosed with chronic migraines about two and half years ago after a very sudden onset of the disorder. They appeared when I was job hunting for the first time. After rejection after rejection, my head just one day decided to falter and boom, migraines have been a part of my life ever since. How do migraines relate to mental health? Well, after 21 years living a relatively normal and healthy life, the diagnosis came as a shock. Suddenly I wasn’t the healthy person I once was. It took me a while to come to terms with the diagnosis, as I didn’t feel like it fit me. One day I could be well, and the next I would be stuck in bed, not being able to move. This was not how I wanted to start my graduate life!
I saw a neurologist, for which I was very lucky to be able to do. A lot of GPs just don’t know what to do with you if you have migraines. This is when I was introduced to medication. I was first prescribed amitriptyline, which is an anti-depressant. Apparently it’s meant to help migraines, but all I heard was the word ‘anti-depressant.’ This is the problem with stigma. My first thought was immediately ‘what will people think?’ This is terrible, as it’s only a medication. However, because society has conditioned us to back away from medication for mental health problems, I ended up feeling deflated. Even though I wasn’t taking it for a mental health issue, I still felt down. Needless to say, it was not the drug for me. However, I did feel more mellow on it. Then the doc wanted me to try topirimate. This is an anti-epilepsy drug, but again it helps migraines. It’s funny what medications are used for treatment. I was assured that this drug would definitely help, so I couldn’t wait to try it. Boy, was I naive!
Whilst the medication did reduce the severity and frequency of my migraine attacks, the side effects were unbearable. It made my brain fuzzy, which meant that I would forget words when speaking or use the wrong word in a sentence. When I would read sentences, I couldn’t spell or proofread, which is a big component of my job. All of this made me a big anxious mess.
I had never experienced anxiety like it. Because my memory was also impaired, I began making mistakes at work. It made my outlook on life very bleak. I’m a perfectionist, and if I’m not performing well then I get upset. Everything felt like the end of the world, the things I was getting upset about were really not worth crying over. I’ve never been one to overreact, so my family and friends were so confused when I would get worked up about trivial things. And I felt frustrated because I could see I was upsetting them, but I didn’t know how to help myself.
Come off the medication, I hear you say. I should have done earlier, but I was determined to see it through. I kept thinking the anxiety would pass, but it didn’t. It just got worse. It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep, and I broke down in a dentist’s office, of all places. She was kind but bemused, and I left feeling the worst I’d ever been. If the world ended there and then, I wouldn’t have minded. It was then I decided I couldn’t live like that anymore – constantly on edge and unhappy. I made an appointment with the doc and insisted I come off them. Fast forward a few months, I’m so glad I did. I’m back to my normal, less anxious self. I can read, write and speak normally, and just feel generally happier. It took me a few months to regain my confidence, and there are days it’s not totally back, but I’m getting there.
What I learnt from this particular experience:
Research meds before you take them. You know your body better than the doctor, and you know how much you can take.
On the other hand, don’t research too much. You don’t want to look up every symptom and then magically develop them. A lot of symptoms are psychosomatic.
Reach out to family and friends. They will be your anchor when you are falling apart.
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Disclaimer: Medication reacts to each person in a different way, any experiences highlighted in this post are from personal experience and won't necessarily be the same for someone else.