It's like your head is in a
Irish Times, Tue, Nov 16,
EXPERIENCE: SUSAN HADDON and MARY McBRIDE: Daughter and mother
are both affected by migraine
My pain is so severe I
can't even lie down. It is like your head is in a vice grip first of all.
That lasts about an hour.
Then with every heartbeat the pain gets worse over five or six heartbeats
and climaxes, and then it goes down and then up again over five or six
beats. On a good night, that might go on for an hour, on a bad night it can
go on for four or five hours.
With an ordinary headache
you can still function. With migraine you can’t. I am photo-sensitive,
I’m sensitive to smell and I’m noise sensitive, so I can’t talk and I
can’t bear anyone talking during an attack.
I can’t remember the
first time I got one – it would be more accurate to say I don’t remember
a time I didn’t have them. I’m told I used to complain of a pain in my
head since age three.
My strongest memory is when
I was about 10 and I had gone to a slumber party. I remember waking up in
the middle of the night with this terrible headache and remembering not
having access to Disprin. From that day on I always carried a packet.
As a teenager I got them
frequently – the longest one I ever had lasted three days. Now I take
preventative medicine which reduces the number you get, but doesn’t get
rid of them altogether. Mine strike at about four or five in the morning.
Everybody’s migraine is
different. Some people have a migraine with aura, which is visual
disturbance. They get flashing and then spots of blindness that start at the
edges of their eyes, and then the sight goes down to a pinhole.
They know if they are
driving or going somewhere that they have about 20 minutes to get to where
they are going.
That’s classic migraine.
I’m the other end of the spectrum. I get severe pain. My mother is
somewhere in the middle – she gets severe pain but also the vomiting.
When I feel one coming on,
I go downstairs and make myself some tea and toast. The pain is so severe
that the body shuts down the digestive tract because it sends all the
endorphins to the brain, so I eat something to try to restimulate the
Otherwise, the painkillers
would just sit there unabsorbed. If it’s really bad, you have to get an
Often when my husband gets
up at 7am and he realises I’ve been up all night and am still in terrible
pain, he says, “Right come on, we’re going to the Swift clinic.”
It’s up the road.
There’s no point in me
going to AE. I’m not an emergency case and I won’t be seen for hours,
I’d rather pay the €90 and get the injection. Even then, it only takes
off the edge.
I can’t even begin to
describe the elation when I wake up and the pain is gone. You’re almost
With preventative medicine,
I might get one or two migraine every two months.
I’m adopted, and when I
met my birth mother for the first time, one of the things I asked her was
did she get headaches. Then she told me, “Ah, that’s migraine, the whole
family have it.” That was the first time I knew it was migraine. They know
it’s hereditary now.
My mam was very worried
when I was small because when you are adopted you come with no medical
The training among GPs on
migraine is still appalling. It’s not seen as critical. People can now go
to the Migraine Association.
Susan Haddon in
conversation with Lisa O'Carroll
I stopped doing
things from a young age. If it was a bright day, I'd stay in the shade
I WAS probably aware of it from an early age because my elder sister and
brother next to me had it also.
From about five or six, I would get it if it was a summer’s day, and I
went outside racing around. I would get a pain and very often vomit, and
I’d go in and lie down.
Subconsciously, I stopped doing things from a young age. If it was a bright
day, I’d stay in the shade.
The same thing happened with my own children. I remember my son was two or
three when he got them first.
Then when I got older and started my menstrual cycle, I would get a massive
migraine three or four days before.
I would never have gone to the doctor with it. If you’re part of a family
that gets headaches, it isn’t something peculiar. I would have seen my
sister go to bed at least once a month for three days at a time.
My grandmother on both sides would have gone to bed with migraine. My mother
didn’t have it and neither did my father.
As I got older I changed my diet and habits – drink to me is poison.
Within half an hour or three-quarters, I would have a migraine.
When I was young I tried everything – spirits, Guinness, beer. For about
10 years, I thought there would be some drink out there that wouldn’t give
Now I don’t drink at all. Susan drinks very little as well, and my brother
is very careful.
I’m 55 now, the migraines in my 20s, 30s, 40s were horrendous. In later
years, I began to go to the doctor or he’d come to the house and, in the
days before it was forbidden, he’d give me a morphine injection.
The worst I ever had lasted four or five days. It was just after I had a
When they were bad you couldn’t look after the children, I couldn’t even
wash myself and I would crawl to the bathroom to get sick. When it happens,
you can’t operate.
I met up with Susan in 2000 when she was 24. I was so sorry that she had it.
I had two boys, and all three children had migraine. It’s a very big
burden in a household.
Stress or excitement is one of my triggers. When Susan had her 30th
birthday, I was really really looking forward to it and closer to the day I
got a migraine.
Even with all the medication, I was just wiped out and couldn’t go.
The warning signs for me of the onset of a migraine is a high temperature. I
normally take two preventative tables every second day.
I use an osteopath regularly – about once a month – and I do not eat
cheese, never drink and restrict chocolate and excitement.
Now that my menstrual cycle is over, it’s not as severe and I seem to be
able to control it reasonably well.
Mary McBride in conversation with Lisa O'Carroll
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