Migraine and Mental Health with Eleanor E
- A Migraine Australia Migraine Warrior
Sarah, our Director of Engagement, Communications and Campaigns, interviews Eleanor E, a Migraine Australia Migraine Warrior, about her experience with migraine and mental health.
Which subtype of migraine do you have?
I am diagnosed with common migraine which has become chronic due to the number I am suffering from. Without medication, I suffer more than half the time in torturous pain.
Describe your migraine journey. (prediagnosis, diagnosis and now)
I have had migraine all my adult life, 36 years. I think I did have them as a child but I didn't know what they were then. From the age of 20, they were unmistakable because they are so debilitating and make me physically vomit from the pain.
Have you been diagnosed with a mental health condition?
As part of my care plan, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with General Anxiety. I also took part in a migraine study when I was living in Victoria, and the doctor who was overseeing my visits also diagnosed General Anxiety.
What are your top 3 most bothersome mental health symptoms?
Anxiety, OCD and feeling depressed during/after migraines.
Do you have a care plan for mental health and what does it include?
I have been on a care plan previously, about 10 years ago. I had 10 visits with a psychiatrist. She was very helpful and gave me cognitive therapy for the anxiety. Part of it was for health anxiety. I admit I have anxiety about trying to avoid the next migraine attack. Who wouldn't? That tortuous, unrelenting pain would scare anyone. But part of the therapy notes were almost implying that the symptoms might be in my head or that I was somehow manifesting the migraine. On the care plan, I also received Bowen therapy. The physiotherapist had apparently had great results with other people living with migraine, but in my case, it actually triggered migraine attacks each time. I was also supposed to receive these sessions free as part of the care plan and after my husband retorted “This is costing us a xxxxxxx fortune!” I abandoned the care plan.
How does migraine impact your mental health?
I feel strong mentally but definitely have felt some depression because of migraine. I usually manage to build myself back up until the next attack.
How does mental health impact your migraine?
I acknowledge that I suffer from anxiety and have no doubt that anxiety has triggered many migraine attacks. However, I have had migraine attacks when on holiday in the most relaxed setting, when I have been under no stress and as a result of other triggers that have nothing to do with mental health, e.g. strong odours, fluorescent lights, heat etc.
Do you feel as though you have had some grief related to losing the life you had prior to migraine?
Absolutely! When we are looking at family videos or photos and someone asks “Where was mum?” and someone else says “Oh, she was sick again,” I get sad.
What are your thoughts on therapy?
I think therapy can help mental health. I don't think that therapy alone can fight a neurological condition.
Do you see a therapist and/or psychologist? Do you feel they have a solid understanding of Migraine?
My experience is that they generally don't have an understanding of migraine. When I was having my psychiatric visits one afternoon, a migraine attack started to develop in front of the doctor and by the end of the session, I was retching and trying not to vomit. The following week I was told that I was doing very well with the health anxiety and didn't need any more sessions.
Do you have a support network? Who does it include?
I have a basic understanding from my family. Here in Australia, I have my husband and my adult kids. The rest of my family lives in the UK. When my children were little, my husband used to react angrily when I had yet another migraine attack. It meant he had to take time off work to look after them or collect them from school. Sometimes a migraine attack would develop when the kids were at school and my husband was unable to pick them up, so I would have to drive to every laneway and open the car door to vomit.
My husband, Tony, is more understanding now but does still react disapprovingly when I say I've got a migraine attack coming on. My children are always sympathetic, even though they may have to miss out on something.
Would you recommend that fellow Migraine Warriors seek support for their mental health?
Yes, you have to be strong mentally to deal with migraine. Knowing that the next attack is round the corner can stop you from living life to the full. It is like living in an invisible prison.
What is your top mindfulness tip?
Migraine attacks are temporary. You may get a lot of them but each one will pass and we must make use of the pain-free days in between to be our authentic selves without the burden of pain.
Do you use any apps to assist you with managing your mental health?
I am a yoga instructor and this has helped me immensely. I have no doubt that yoga has helped reduce the stress induced migraine attacks, and also helped to stretch out areas of tension in the body that could trigger migraine attacks.
What are your top 3 tips for managing a bad mental health day?
If the bad mental health day is because of a migraine attack
a) The best thing to do is rest. The migraine attack has to run its course and it's often out of our control.
b) Try not to stress about things you have to do or about people you think you have let down. You have not let anyone down. Migraine let you down!
c) On the day you start to come out of the migraine attack and start to feel marginally better, don't rush back into intense exercise or try to do everything at once.
If not suffering from a migraine attack
a) Take a step back from trying to do too much at once
b) Practice self-care, like showers, baths, and skin care routines.
c) A grounding exercise, like deep breathing or yoga.
Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with our audience?
I feel like for the first time ever, people want to hear what I have to say about this disorder that has near ruined my life! I have suffered for years and felt totally alone with the desolate thoughts that are caused by migraine alone. It is both emotional and comforting because I now feel through support groups like the Migraine Australia Chat Group that I am not suffering alone! I would never moan and groan on my Facebook page because I would come across as a whinger and a lot of people would not understand. So thank you for listening!
Migraine Australia would like to take this opportunity to thank Eleanor for her time and for helping us bring migraine #OutOfTheDark