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I developed migraine in my 30s when I was on treatment for an unrelated condition. My mother had always had migraine and I knew how bad it could be, but I thought that it was a really debilitating version of a headache. I wasn’t aware of the countless types of migraine symptoms I now know exist.
I basically had a migraine attack every weekend for the 48 weeks of my treatment. Once the treatment started dwindling off, they dwindled off too. But from then on, I’d get one again every now and then.
A migraine attack would come on pretty quickly, which was a real pain, because you could be somewhere and you would then go, "I'm stuffed. I'm not going to get home in time."
I remember once I went to a wedding, and I'd said to the other couple we went with, "Look, you have a drink. I'll drive." About an hour before we left the wedding, I started to get a migraine. Everyone else had already had too much to drink, so I had to drive at nighttime, with headlights coming at me. I dropped them off, got to the end of the street and then just threw up and couldn't go any further.
When a migraine attack would start, I knew I’d have a period of 24 hours where I was going to be out for the count. I couldn't lie down with them, it just felt like my head was going to explode. I had this rectangular rug in the lounge room, and I would walk around it in the middle of the night, zoned out, knowing I could just keep doing that for hours until I got some relief. Anything bright would make it worse — daylight was shocking.
I was hospitalised a few times because of them. Back then the range of available drugs wasn’t what it is today. It was like trying to hit a nail with any sort of blunt object you've got around. It just didn't really work that well. I did the migraine diary and there were no clear triggers that could be seen. There were no patterns. I saw a neurologist, got a brain scan and was cleared for anything more sinister.
In my 40s, I had Botox injected on top of my head and the base of my neck, but that didn’t help me. I tried all of the different medications until I found one that worked for me.
I haven't had a migraine attack for quite a while but nearly two years ago I had my first experience with a Hemiplegic migraine attack. I can only remember bits and pieces of it. I remember it was Sunday night and I was feeling tired and a bit weird. I thought I should have some dinner and then I'd go to bed, but I couldn't work out how to use the oven, which I've used plenty of times before.
When I got to work the next day, our office manager asked, "Are you okay?" This was the first time I spoke since the day before and what came out of my mouth was gibberish. I went to my GP and they thought I was having a stroke, so they called the ambulance. By the time I was admitted to hospital, I was coming good. But they kept an eye on me just in case and eventually, the neurologist told me I’d had a Hemiplegic migraine attack. It’s managed with the same kind of preventative medication I take when I feel a migraine attack coming on.
When someone has a headache and they call it a migraine, I can find it frustrating. My GP’s awareness of migraine was very good, which made the process of trying treatments easier. Fortunately, in my experience, people are mostly very understanding about migraine. However, I have seen stigma play out with a colleague at a previous job. She had the most debilitating migraines I've seen in someone, where they would lay her flat for about three days in a row. She would try to work through sometimes and people would get to the point of, almost, eye-rolling. "Oh, she's got another one.” No one doubted that she had them it was more, “Why doesn't she do something about it?"
I believe there’s a lack of awareness about what migraine is. I thought it was just intense head pain. I wasn't aware they manifested in other ways like memory loss, vision problems and trouble speaking. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. But also, people might put up with what they consider is just a bad headache, when it might actually be migraine and then it's never diagnosed as such.
If you’re a bloke who is experiencing migraine attacks but not doing anything about it, it’s important to consider how your health is affecting your life, and the people in it. You might be able to put up with the pain, but is your work, home and social life being affected? Sometimes, we've got to think about our health a little more broadly than just what I can and can't accept. It's worth getting it checked out because if you do have migraine the range of treatments available can go a long way towards alleviating symptoms.