Family Support is Crucial to Surviving Chronic Migraine

Seek professional help, pay attention to diet and migraine triggers, and have a support plan in place to rally when you are in the thick of a migraine attack.

When 33-year-old Bonnie Besserer suffers a migraine, her husband and mother spring into action. They know from many years of experience what needs to be done during the 24- to 48-hour headaches, and the day of recovery that follows.

Bonnie’s mother Lisa says that as a preteen and teen, Bonnie would get migraines if she exerted herself too much. “She’d get one from exhaustion or playing too hard, and she’d be down for a day or two.” She would give Bonnie Tylenol or Excedrin, which didn’t help much. “We went to a couple of doctors, who didn’t have much to give her,” Lisa says.

When Bonnie was younger, the family would cancel plans when she had a migraine. Now, events go on without her. “People don’t count on her to come to a family function unless she feels good,” Lisa says. “She really tries, but no one expects her on time or is sure she’ll be able to make it.” Lisa works with Bonnie in real estate, and is able to cover for her if Bonnie is unable to work. “She couldn’t work at a job that required her to be there every morning,” Lisa notes.

Lisa’s advice to parents of children or teens with migraines is to seek professional help early. “I wish I had sought help from a headache specialist earlier,” she says. “If we had gotten help sooner, maybe she could have been given more effective medication.”

She also urges parents to pay attention to their children’s diet, and which foods trigger migraines. “It took her many years to figure out what she should and shouldn’t eat,” Lisa says.

Husband Pitches In During Migraines

Bonnie’s husband Ralph says that when she has a migraine, he takes over all of the household chores. “I work a 50-hour week. I get home at 6:30, and if she’s not feeling well, I’ll clean up a bit and get dinner ready. I like to decompress when I come home—have a beer and watch TV—but if she’s not feeling well there’s not a lot of time for that kind of stuff.”

Ralph acknowledges that when Bonnie’s migraines are frequent, “It affects us and our relationship. It can stress me out. I understand why a lot of things fall on my shoulders, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me.”

He says their family and friends are used to her having to cancel plans because of her migraines. “This Christmas, I had to go to visit my family myself because she had a migraine,” he says. “When they come on she is so incapacitated she can’t do much of anything. She has to be in the bedroom with the lights out and the fan on.”

The key for families dealing with migraines is communication, Ralph says. “The person who’s not suffering from migraines needs to understand how debilitating they can be, and how frustrating it is for the migraine sufferer not to be able to do things. The person with migraines also needs to understand what the rest of the family is going through.”

Living in the Moment

Both he and Bonnie try to live in the moment, and enjoy themselves as much as they can when she’s feeling well. “We try to do all the things we can’t do when she has a migraine,” he says. “If you dwell on your frustration when you’re feeling good, it ruins the good times.”

Ralph knows it’s important for him to stay healthy, so he tries to eat well and exercise. “In the last few months, I’ve really tried to cook more—that way we know what we’re eating,” he says. They are both trying to get enough sleep—lack of sleep can be a migraine trigger for Bonnie.

To help Bonnie head off migraines, he checks to make sure she has enough medication at home. “If she’s running low, I make sure I get to the pharmacy,” he says. When she’s in the midst of a migraine, there’s often not much he can do, except to try to keep the house as dark and cool as possible. “I try to get her to eat some soup or whatever she can keep down, because her body needs nutrients to fight off the migraine.” Often, though, she just needs to be alone until the worst of it passes.

“It’s eye-opening to live with someone who suffers from migraines,” Ralph says. “Now I understand how tough they are to go through and to live with day to day.”


Updated on: 11/19/15
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