Menstrual Migraine Mans Up

A few months ago I was invited to go and talk about my experience of problem periods and how it affects women’s working lives on Emma Barnett’s Radio 5Live talk show. Emma was fantastic as was Nancy, a fellow sufferer who I met while I was there.

One of the questions we got asked was, and I paraphrase. ‘How bad can it be? Why can’t you just man up and get on with it?’

Emma had prepared both of us that there might be questions like that, and had gently (and wisely) reminded us that swearing was frowned upon that early in the morning. We were both very restrained in our replies.

I thought about this question a lot yesterday.

My period started in the early hours of Saturday morning. It was four days early. I thought it might be coming because I had spent most of Friday with a splitting headache. I get menstrual migraine/headaches. I’ve been getting them for years. Some people will tell you that they’re not a thing. They are most definitely a thing.

My headache persisted over the weekend, and on and off all day Monday. On Tuesday afternoon it started to come back with a vengeance. What had been a dull, persistent thud in the background started to make its presence felt more and more insistently. I took some pills and soldiered on. I have spent a great deal of my life suffering with migraine and headaches. There isn’t really an option to give in unless things get desperate. Since I had my daith points pierced last Easter, these desperate times have been fewer. Life has been easier.

I should have known on Tuesday night that this was going to be different though. I had food cravings. Like pregnancy food cravings. Coca-cola, hot chocolate, crisps that kind of thing. The dinner the children and Jason had smelled awful to me. These are signs. I just ignored them and went to the pub quiz and had a nice time. I didn’t drink anything as all I wanted was hot chocolate anyway.

I woke up at six o’clock on Wednesday morning. My head hurt. It hurt in that way that said it might just turn into a migraine. I was complacent, because since the piercings I’ve only had one really bad migraine. I rolled over and hoped going back to sleep for an hour would fix it. I woke up at half past six feeling worse. I knew then I needed to get up and take some pills.

I drank a pint of water. I took some pink Migraleve (anti-emetics to try and avoid the sickness). By this time my sense of smell was on the fritz. Everything smelled terrible, and strong, and persistent. Like it can during pregnancy. My internal thermostat started to go wrong shortly after that. I am usually freezing. When I get a migraine I start to sweat I’m so hot. I have to have windows open, even when it’s icy outside. I opened the French windows and tried to get on with getting the children’s things ready for school.

By the time the children’s alarm went off at seven, I knew it was game over. I was starting to shake. I was hot and cold in turns, pouring with sweat. My right eye had tremors in the corner of my vision. Sometimes I go blind. Not yesterday, which was one, small blessing. My eyes hurt so much I had to turn lights off. I could feel the nausea beginning to roll over me in great waves.

I got the children up and let them know I couldn’t help them. They’re brilliant. They know the drill. They checked I had everything I needed and proceeded to help each other get ready. I am very lucky they are so good.

I couldn’t go back to bed. Too hot upstairs.

I shut myself in the study where it was dark. I opened all the windows, wrapped myself in a blanket with a bucket by my side and hunkered down.

There isn’t anything else to do. Nobody can help then. No pills stay down. Not even sips of water stay down. Everything makes you throw up. Everything hurts. My head splits, my neck is rigid, my belly hurts from period tenderness and repeated retching. I hadn’t managed to eat anything before I started throwing up. I’m never sure at this stage whether full on vomiting or dry heaving is better. Every heave hurts like a mother fucker because I have to move my splitting head.  I want to cry, but I know that if I do, it will only hurt more, and my runny nose will make me feel sick and then I’ll vomit again, and again, and again. Because I can’t keep water down I get more and more dehydrated. This makes the headache worse. It’s no good drinking though. It just makes the nausea worse.

At this stage, everything in my body wants to empty. It rejects everything. I don’t want to move, but I have to. I stagger and I use this word advisedly, backwards and forwards to the bathroom. It’s excruciating to move and worse because I have to go out into the light and God damn it hurts.

I do this, repeatedly from seven in the morning until about seven at night. It gets marginally, incrementally better. By four the heaving is slightly less. By five my eyes are less sensitive to light. By seven I can see out of one eye fine. My right eye is still a wreck. My head still pounds like a train. I can manage a few sentences. I can’t take pills till about eight. That’s when it starts to go in the right direction and I know I won’t die this time.

My hip, which is never great from where I was rather brutally manhandled during surgery for my ectopic pregnancy twenty years ago, is absolutely trashed from lying on a cold floor, shaking. I can barely walk and it’s going to take a couple of days for it to click back into place. Last night when I finally got the bliss of a bath to wash all the sick and blood and sweat off my knackered body, I crept upstairs like Julie Walters in the Two Soups sketch. I fell out of the bath on exit and had to be rescued by Tilly.

No dignity. No romance. Nothing lovely. No manning up. Today I can almost walk. Today I am hungover as hell and clumsy and disoriented, and that’s how it is.

Before I had the piercings I had this about once a month. The week I got the piercings? I had two of these back to back. They swallowed a week of my life.

 

 

 

27 responses to “Menstrual Migraine Mans Up

  1. Darling girl – I sympathise, empathise and totally understand. The idea that one should ‘man up’ infuriates the hell out of me. Man has nothing to do with it. When I have them back to back I look like I’m having a stroke, and I become aphasic. Perhaps, one day, in this techno life we lead, some bright spark will create a virtuality booth where people can experience first hand the agony of a migraine and the full range of ‘women’s problems’. That’s a spiteful thought, I know. Most of the time, I wouldn’t wish the turbulence of being female on the most dangerous people in the world. xx

    • Yes. It is scary how much like a stroke they can be. i was hospitalised once or twice because they thought it might be a stroke. Ridiculous to think a person could carry on like that. x

  2. i had an ectopic pregnancy and hormone imbalances but nothing like this – deep respect to you and thank you for writing about it – glad you feel back to normal now too xxxxx

  3. Oh my god. I’ve suffered from menstrual migraines since I was in my early 30s, but nothing like this! You poor thing! I have nothing to offer, no words of wisdom, but just one little bit of solace: menopause. I hope you can get there soon. x

  4. I never had really bad PMT but I did have fibroids, which just got worse and worse, until I finally bit the bullet and had the hysterectomy. I suffered until the point where my periods lasted over 14 days, I was seriously anaemic and sleep-deprived because I was wearing 3 night-time tampons plus a night-time sanitary towel, but still having to get up every 3 hours on the worst nights if I wasn’t going to stain the sheets. My GP suggested that once I reached the menopause my symptoms might somehow ‘go away’. When I repeated this to my surgeon (in mainland Europe), he just laughed. I had the op, under epidural. My only regret is they erected a green cloth tennis net so I couldn’t watch what was going on! It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    • Oh lord. That sounds awful. Fibroids are agonising and messy. Glad you had them seen to. I didn’t want to watch when they did my C sections. Frankly, I didn’t actually want to be there at all!

  5. I often think women who don’t suffer with problem periods are worse than men. Men, be it husbands or doctors, just see suffering. Pain and suffering and want to fix it. Women all have periods so they know what it’s about and so also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are making it all up. A friend of mine was confident I was making a fuss every month until she hit menopause – now all of a sudden she is far more understanding!

  6. Oh my God Katy, this sounds like a living hell – poor, poor you. Before my hysterectomy I suffered the periods from hell but I am happy to say that I have never had a migraine in my life and I now appreciate how lucky I am!

    On the subject of ‘manning up’ it is almost invariably people who have never really suffered chronic illness/pain who talk in these terms, the only exceptions being a few people who have had to live with severe conditions for many years who take the attitude ‘if I can carry on so can you’. Most, of course, are sympathetic and try to offer advice on how to cope based on their own experiences.

    Sometimes ‘manning up’ or even carrying on simply isn’t possible, your migraines are a prime example. I had another just before Christmas (great timing) that was harder to explain. For no particular reason, other than general wear and tear related to my work, I developed an excruciating pain in my upper left arm. At it’s worst it seemed to spread to my shoulder and neck and when I googled probable causes at 4am (as you do) it was hard to diagnose, answers to questions like the nature of the pain – dull ache, shooting pains, throbbing etc – were all of the above. The only thing I managed to rule out was angina, which was some comfort.
    I couldn’t move my arm at all and sat in the same dressing gown with a selection of blankets and cardigans thrown over me, depending on my temperature, for three days. Lying down was out of question as it nearly sent me into orbit and my adherence to recommended dosages of painkillers was non existent. Recovery was frustratingly slow, but even more frustrating was the difficulty in explaining to others why something that sounds so insignificant was in fact so incapacitating.

    I have since had a dose of the lurgy, along with a few million other people, and although the symptoms are unpleasant and the accompanying dizziness is inconvenient, I’ll take that over the arm scenario any day of the week.
    I have previous with this kind of pain (two episodes with my neck that made me feel suicidal) and the doctors’ solution – prescribing killer analgesics and valium – whilst welcome at the time is hardly a long term solution, so I am going to try acupuncture. My lovely daughter offered to pay for a treatment of my choice as my Christmas present this year.

    I hope you recover soon, that this is an isolated attack and not a resurgence of the monthly migraines and that you have a very happy and healthy New Year.

    Gerry Xxx

  7. Poor you. It’s years since my life was blighted by monthly migraines. The menopause may sort you out, but I guess you’d rather not wait. I had a (male) GP who was also a migraine sufferer, and he finally came up with a – very expensive – drug which actually worked. Sadly, I can’t remember its name.

  8. love and hugs xx

  9. Oh Katy – I really sympathise. You poor creature. I had migraines all my life too, and awful menstrual ones. Pre-menstrual age, I had 48 hours of throwing up everything like you, even chips of ice in my mouth would return as they melted. Yes, cold air is the only help, and I always find lying down made everything worse with mega-headaches, until like you, when it gtets so bad there simply isn’t a choice because you can’t do anything else. Hang in there – it’s not much comfort I know, but after menopause, when that eventually comes your way, the migraines become mercifully rare events, and of course the period pain is also a thing of the past. As I say, not much comfort right now…

  10. I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible this must all be for you. And for all women who have such horrible period-related experiences. As for telling you to “man up” – heyho, isn’t that just typical?! There are always people who don’t understand & think that you’re making stuff up for the fun of it. I know it sounds sexist, but I can’t help feeling that if huge numbers of men suffered from such problems on a monthly basis more might be done about it – if anything CAN be done. Sending you a very gentle hug and good wishes.

    • Thank you. Jason had a migraine a few years ago and since then he’s totally understood exactly the difference between this and a headache. i wouldn’t wish it on anyone but knowing first hand does help to change people’s attitudes. Not that he was unsympathetic before mind you.

  11. oh my god, katy.I am so. sorry. your description tore my heart. I cannot imagine going through that on a regular.basis. i’d have my uterus ripped out at if that were me. I hope and pray to whatever gods there are that neither of your girls had this.

  12. Oh you have just described my life every mo th when I get my period! Especially the craving crappy food as a warning, the rigid neck, the eye tremors, the not being able to drink because of the sickness and this making you dehydrate…have the Daith piercings helped? I’m thinking about doing them as I’m so desperate now xx

  13. I also suffer with menstrual migraines, but nothing as hideous as yours. Anyone who has never had them thinks you’re just exaggerating, “how bad can a headache be?”. Bless you and roll on the menopause….

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