Men's Health Week 2022
An interview with Des Reaburn-Jenkin
Flynn, Head Admin of our Men with Migraine support group and Brisbane Ambassador, interviews Des Reaburn-Jenkin, a Migraine Australia Migraine Warrior, about his experience with migraine for Men's Health Week.
Tell us a bit about your experience with migraine and what your migraine journey has been like? When did you start getting migraine attacks and has it changed much over the years?
So for the first 38 years of my life, I had never been seriously unwell or badly injured. Then one day, 10 years ago last May, I was packing up my tuition room at one of the schools I was teaching instrumental music and reaching under my desk to unplug my laptop, suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my neck. By the time I had driven home, I was in agony, and after a few weeks of mucking around with GP, physio, and hospital it was discovered that I had ruptured two discs in my cervical spine. Lots of painkillers during that time means my recollection is hazy but I had surgery in September to remove the busted discs and replace one with a prosthesis and spinal fusion below that.
I returned to work in December in a limited capacity, then was back to regular hours and modified duties for the following year. Things weren't improving and at some point, I started having migraine attacks. Awful, painful migraine attacks. I had thought I had experienced them before, but I had no idea.
By the following year I was taking so much time off work that by November, I threw in the towel and took time off. Turned out that I required more surgery, but sadly nothing really improved. I have been unable to return to work since November 2014. I was fortunate that my injury occurred at work because otherwise, without WorkCover, I don't know what I could have done to support my wife and 4 kids.
I have migraine attacks on average 3 to 4 times a week before Botox, after which, it's roughly halved and somewhat less intense. I've tried pretty much every medication that is available to treat migraine and the constant neck pain, and provided I am cautious about my level of activity, I'm sort of functional. Frankly, it has become a huge drain on my mental health.
It is really tough to adjust to such a sudden change. A lot of us when presented with such a big change, struggle with a loss of identity and sense of self. Has that been much of a problem for you? What has helped you and do you have any advice for others going through the same thing?
Adjusting to the sudden change in circumstances has been very difficult, not only for me but also for my kids. My daughter was 8 when I got hurt and it affected her quite profoundly. I was a very active and engaged dad, physically strong and capable, and that has been very hard to adjust to. I'm still restricted in how much I can lift, and the damage to my spine also caused damage to nerves running to my dominant hand. Being a musician, I've struggled with a lot of frustration and sadness in regard to that. I suppose my advice is to resist the urge to give in to the inevitable depression and self-doubt as much as possible.
Who are your biggest supporters?
My wife is my best friend and is very supportive. I am close with my three siblings and their support for me, and my family has been hugely important. My GP has been a brilliant advocate and a compassionate ear.
Tell me a bit about your hobbies, what is something that you are really passionate about or interested in?
I'm a bass player and guitarist, primarily, having started in my mid-teens. It's a big part of my identity, but also my principal hobby and passion. I still try to keep up with my skills, but there's quite a deficit in how much and how well I play now, so I have other hobbies and interests too.
The theme for men’s health week this year is ‘Building Healthy Environments for Men and Boys’. Are there any modifications to your home or living environment that you find help support you while living with migraine?
I have installed blackout curtains in the bedroom and acquired a range of different appliances, devices and weird healthcare thingies to help me contend with migraine attacks. For example, eye masks, noise cancelling headphones, supportive pillows, heat packs, ice packs, and cervical traction devices.
Most recently I have been using an acupressure mat and pillow to relieve tension in trouble spots. I'm game to try just about anything at this point! I have found it difficult to maintain habits that might be healthy, like getting out of the house more. This is mostly because shortly after I had to stop work, my wife was injured seriously at work and has been very unwell since. We're trying our best to be each other's carers, but it is not easy.
Is there anything thing else you would like to add?
I would add that it has been great to join the support groups online because migraine attacks can be very alarming and isolating, so even just learning how others are doing, finding out about treatment, methods of relief, and having a brain's trust to ask questions, is really helpful.
Migraine Australia would like to take this opportunity to thank Des for his time and for helping us bring migraine #OutOfTheDark