Living With Migraines
“I Wouldn’t Wish This On My Worst Enemy”
A close friend’s wedding, a family Christmas celebration, a work-related photo shoot —Bonnie Besserer has had to miss all of these events, and many more, due to her migraines.
Bonnie, 33, has suffered from chronic migraine (CM) since childhood. She tends to get about one to two migraines a week. They can be triggered by many things, including changing weather, hormonal changes, eating processed foods, or lack of sleep.
“If a storm is coming in, I’ll wake up feeling pain in my head that’s radiating on one side,” she says. “If I can’t take my medication right away for whatever reason, it will start getting worse and worse. It’s a throbbing, deep, intense, almost indescribable pain. I want to stick something inside my head and pull out whatever is tightening my brain.”
Her migraines are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. If a migraine is especially bad, she may need to go to the emergency room, where they give her fluids and pain medication. She makes a trip to the ER an average of every six months.
“The older I get, the better I am at stopping them in their tracks—I know it’s important to take the medication right away,” Bonnie says. Her medications include frovatriptan (Frova).
Family and Medical Support
She and her doctor, John Claude Krusz, MD, of the Anodyne Headache and PainCare in Dallas, have settled on her current medication regimen after Bonnie spent many years trying a variety of medications. These included anti-seizure drugs, beta blockers, opiate painkillers, and anti-anxiety and depression medication.
Her migraines can last between 24 and 48 hours, and Bonnie usually needs a full day of recovery once the pain recedes. “It feels like I got hit by a bus,” she says.
The headaches take an emotional toll as well as a physical one. “I have to miss a lot of events, and I feel guilty for missing them,” she says. “If I told someone I had the flu or something they could relate to, I’d get a lot of sympathy. But if I say I have a migraine, I can feel them rolling their eyes. It gets old after awhile. I’m sure it sounds like an excuse. It’s not at all, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
She says while her mother and husband provide constant support, not everyone in her family understands what migraines are and the suffering they cause.
One of the worst aspects of having a migraine is the feeling that no one can count on her, Bonnie says. She also lives in fear of her next migraine. “I have anxiety about when my next headache will be. Will I make it to that wedding? What kind of wife am I? What kind of mother will I be?” Although she was an athletic youngster, Bonnie can't work out vigorously anymore for fear of setting off another headache.
Know Your Triggers
Through many years of trial and error, Bonnie has learned strategies that have reduced the chance of developing a migraine. Her diet is a very important component of her daily anti-migraine plan. She knows she needs to drink plenty of water, eat regularly, and stay away from processed foods. “Skipping a meal can be very detrimental,” she says.
She and her husband, Ralph, try to prepare as many meals at home as they can, so they know what they’re eating. “We try to eat organic, pesticide-free, hormone-free, grass-fed meats…I think it’s made a difference.”
Although Bonnie loves a glass of red wine, she has to be very careful about how much she drinks. Lately, she has another reason to skip the wine—she is pregnant, and is dealing with morning sickness along with her headaches.
Another factor in preventing migraines is getting enough sleep. She also tries to avoid staying out for too long in the sun, another migraine trigger.
Bonnie’s support system consists of her mother and husband. She and her mother, Lisa, work together in real estate. Lisa can cover for Bonnie when she can’t get out of bed. Ralph often cooks, cleans, shops for groceries, walks the dog, and takes care of other household chores. Says Bonnie, “I don’t know what I would do without them.”