I started getting migraines when I was 6. That's what my mother and I estimate, anyway. We recently found an old book where my late father recorded some of my brother's and my earliest sentences. I said lots of adorable things, but then I also said something which, in retrospect, I find terribly sad: "Ima, I have a bump in my forehead." Ima is mom in Hebrew. Under it, a caption: "Ilana, about a headache."
I said those words when I was about 2 or 3, so I may have been having migraines even earlier than I thought.
This is the common stereotype of a person having a migraine: They can't function; they must lay in a dark, quiet, cool room; they throw up; and they can't drive or operate heavy machinery while in the throes of an episode.
None of this is applicable to me because of the frequency of my migraines. Maybe if I had them less often and if I weren't so accustomed to them, I would experience this as well, but for me all those symptoms come only if I'm having a particularly severe migraine. Otherwise, I am fully functional. I have to be. If I weren't, if my body hadn't raised my pain tolerance levels to such an extent, I wouldn't have been able to have a life. I would be stuck in bed daily. And as much as I sometimes wish I could do that, the fact is that I can't.
Migraines are invisible. There's almost no way for people to tell whether I have one. I say almost because those who've known me for a long time know the signs, such as when I absentmindedly rub my temples or the spot on my scalp where the migraine is pulsing particularly badly at that moment. Sometimes I'll wear a pained expression when loud noises occur or I'll get snappy at a persistent whine, like the one my ceiling fan makes.
When I was growing, and my parents started taking me to doctors for my migraines, we started with seeing if I was allergic to anything. We cut different things out of my diet, from nuts to milk to bread. None of that worked.
When I was a bit older, I started trying different medications, but if they worked (there were so many, and I don't recall their names), they worked for two or three months and then stopped. And they never made my migraines go away; they only reduced the frequency. For the daily pain, I consumed bottles of Excedrin and then, when Excedrin stopped working, Advil, and then an Israeli brand called Nurofen which is the same as Advil but for a while worked better, and then it was back to Excedrin, and, most recently, Advil again, which works approximately a quarter of the time and usually only if I sleep and put an ice pack on my head right after taking it.
We didn't stop at Western medicine, though. I tried acupuncture – twice, each time for two years. During the second bout acupuncture, I tried homeopathy, as well. Later, I tried biofeedback, which didn't help at all. I even tried hypnosis. I also saw a famed neurologist and headache specialist. Under his watch I tried a whole bunch of different cocktails, none of which really worked.
And now? At the moment, I just live with my migraines. We coexist, but it's not a great relationship. I want them to move out, they refuse, we both cry, and finally we make up and try to live with one another in as much peace as possible.
A few weeks ago, a friend stayed with me. One morning, I snapped at her about something or other, and then apologized, explaining that I had a migraine. I was sitting at the kitchen table and working at the time. She looked over at me and said, "Wait, you have a migraine right now?" I said yes. "And you're working," she added.
I explained that I almost always have a migraine and that I still needed to do my work.
I am not alone in this, by the way. There are many of us out there – people who have either constant headaches or frequent migraines or both and who walk around, do our jobs, live our lives, and deal with it. We have to.