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Migraines and Me

I first started noticing migraine symptoms in September 2020. I was on placement and I started to get what I thought was just a bad headache- a pulsing pain behind my eyes and in my temples, nausea, struggling to keep my eyes open and sensitivity to light. Every noise on the hospital ward was causing more intense pain and my nausea levels rose by the minute. By the middle of the day I couldn’t manage anymore and asked to go home. It was a good job I did- as soon as I got into the changing rooms I was violently sick. I just assumed this would be a one-time thing because of a toxin build up in my body. Little did I know how wrong I was.

Fast forward a week and I arrived on placement feeling well, ready to learn new things and make a difference in people’s lives. Not even 2 hours later the same symptoms hit me like a truck and affected me more than the previous time. I tried to get through a play session I was leading without showing I was in pain. Eventually it got too much for me again so I had to step away. I approached my mentor and she noticed that all the colour had drained from my face and I didn’t look well at all. I was once again sent home and just as I was about to leave I was violently sick. This time it was worse and my symptoms continued for several days, meaning I had to take more time off placement.

As soon as I got home I fell asleep for nearly 9 hours. My mentor had even phoned me to see if I was ok as she was so worried about me, which I appreciated greatly. After a further migraine attack the week after and stern words from one of the nurses saying I couldn’t keep going off sick the way I was, I made an appointment with my doctor. She talked to me about my past medical history, my symptoms and how they affected me. I already knew that a large percentage of people with NF1 suffer with severe headaches and migraines.

Following the discussion I was prescribed Migraleve. Because of my medical history my genetic specialist recommended I avoid migraine prevention medication until it was deemed necessary, which I agreed with. Even with the Migraleve I was still getting attacks that wouldn’t ease with the medication. This frustrated me as I knew that if I didn’t get the migraines under control I would really struggle when I graduate university and became a qualified nurse, which is now 7 months away. Thankfully things seemed to settle down after that and I was able to work out 2 of my main triggers- stress and lack of sleep. Being a nursing student and scare actor I knew I would encounter these triggers regularly- not sleeping well before shifts, assignments and exams causing stress, learning scripts in a short amount of time etc. Because of this I knew I would have to find a way to manage these factors instead of trying to eliminate them altogether. I have managed to find a few ways that work for me thanks to the support from my family and medical team. They may not always work but it has greatly reduced the number of attacks.

This settled period unfortunately didn’t last long. While on placement this month I had 3 migraine attacks in the space of 5 days, each one happening while I was on shift. I tried everything to shift them- Migraleve, staying hydrated, having something to eat, stepping out of the clinical area for some fresh air. These 3 attacks were ones I couldn’t figure out- why did I get them? Was it the environment- the loud noises and no fresh air? Was I under stress at the time? Did I not sleep well the night before? After some more thought I knew I had to go back to my GP for a review. However, university work and placement got in the way. I am also currently seeing my GP for a potential hormone imbalance and irregular periods, so I don’t want to seem like a burden to them. In my mind the appointment I would take up could be given to someone with a greater need than me, and my problems could wait for a few days. I now realise that this way of thinking could be severely damaging in the long run so I am going to try my best to get out of that mindset over the next few weeks and months.

Looking back on my younger years, I started to realise I may have suffered with migraines for most of my life. When I was a young girl I would get what I thought were severe headaches. The symptoms were consistent with migraines- severe pain in my temples, sensitivity to any noise and bright lights; nausea, vomiting and feeling light-headed. Now that I have a greater understanding of migraines and how they affect me, I will be able to better manage triggers and symptoms; and hopefully reduce the prevalence of migraine attacks so I can continue my nursing journey without worrying about my health getting in the way.

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