Living with migraine with aura
By: Lee Ashdown, who lives with migraine with aura
What aura feels like
My migraine attacks always begin with a visual aura, this is the first sign I get that my migraine has started. This has been the case since I was about 16 years old. The visual disturbance will start in the corner of one eye and slowly make its way across both eyes over the course of about an hour. It makes focusing on anything very difficult as it blocks a lot of my vision. The aura itself presents as waves of small swirly lines and patches of light. These usually disappear after about an hour with or without treatment, making way for the headache to start. Due to the constant movement of the aura across my eyes, it can be very disorientating and make me very nauseous.
When my aura starts, I can’t work or drive – it would be too dangerous to drive as half my vision is usually impaired quite substantially, while at work my aura means I can’t see the screen properly. Working from home helps, as I can lie down straight away. However, when I’m at the office, I have to go and sit in a dark room and wait for the aura to pass before driving home, if I can.
My migraine has also affected my personal life – I’ve had attacks strike when I’ve been out with friends or family and I’ve had to go and sleep in the car or lie down anywhere I can to try and relieve the symptoms.
Once my aura clears, I get a pounding headache across the front of my head. Even after I’ve slept off the headache, I can feel drowsy and almost like I have a hangover for a few days. My speech can be a bit slurred and I sometimes feel quite weak. Strangely, I’m often very hungry at the end of a migraine attack.
Managing my migraine
I find my attacks come in clusters, so I might go a few months without one and then suddenly get three or four in the space of a week or so. I used to put it down to stress or tiredness but I kept a headache diary and found changes in my sleep patterns and stress levels didn’t seem to have an effect. I now believe my attacks might be triggered by weather changes and changes in atmospheric pressure.
I’ve tried all sorts of things to manage my migraine; I’ve kept a food diary, I’ve cut out smoking, and I’ve tried giving up alcohol and caffeine, but none of these have had any effect. I was also prescribed triptans to treat my attacks, but they gave me chest pains and actually made my headaches worse. Now, I take paracetamol as soon as I feel an attack coming on and go to sleep for one or two hours, which seems to help.
Thankfully, most people in my life are very understanding. There are a few people in my family that suffer or did suffer with migraine so they understand the impact the condition has on everyday life. My closest friend also suffers with migraine attacks and has done for as long as I have, so he is also very aware of the issues they cause. We’re always comparing possible causes of our migraine attacks and things we’ve tried to prevent them from happening.
Migraine with aura at work
My employer has been very understanding about my condition and has given me extra sickness allowance for when I have attacks, if needed. As my work is 100 percent screen-based, it does have quite a big impact on me when they occur. A typical episode will take me out of work for a day if I can ‘treat’ the migraine quickly. If I leave it for too long, I can be off work for two or three days suffering with the headache, eye ache and feeling sick and lethargic. Migraine attacks are something that I do worry about, especially with work as I probably take more time off than my colleagues as a result of them.
Most work colleagues are sympathetic around the situation even if they don’t fully appreciate how severe migraine attacks can be. There have been times when people at work have said things to me like ‘just take a paracetamol’. I fully appreciate that if you do not suffer with migraine attacks, it can seem like they are just a bad headache. It’s only when you tell people about your wider symptoms that they are able to comprehend the difference and are almost always shocked by how debilitating they can be.
Talking about migraine is really important to me because there’s not a huge amount written about men’s migraine and it often isn’t taken seriously. I hope my story helps to raise awareness and encourages more men to speak up, talk about their health and share their migraine story.