If you think migraines are ‘just headaches’, you’ve never had one

You really wouldn’t wish one on your worst enemy

Migraines divide people into two camps. There are those who suffer them in agony, and there are those who tell the sufferers to pop a couple of paracetamol and get over it.

Members of the latter group have never had a migraine. How do I know? Because if they had, they wouldn’t be saying they’re “just headaches”.

Migraines are a divisive topic because people who’ve never had them don’t know what they’re actually like. “I think I might have had one once, but it went away after about an hour,” they’ll say. Not to burst your bubble, but trust me: if you’d had one, you’d know.


Picture: Avenue G

I’ve been getting migraines for about 10 years, and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. The first time I ever had one, it was terrifying – I was about eight years old, I’d wandered off from my family on holiday, and I suddenly started going blind in both eyes. You can normally tell one’s about to start by the creeping blackness around the edges of your vision – from there it’s always a waiting game.

The hypersensitivity is the worst part. A crack of sunlight in a curtain feels like a spotlight being shined in your face, while the sound of a shutting door is so agonising it may as well have been slammed on your head. The fact that bright lights often bring them on, therefore, is especially brutal – imagine having to finish a day working at a computer screen when just looking at a light is enough to make you throw up.

That’s the thing: it’s not just in your head. I’ve had migraines where I’ve spent two hours buckled over a toilet bowl, or shivering and ice cold under a coat in the back of my mum’s car. The last time I had one was on a tube, and I almost collapsed after losing all feeling in the right side of my body. Many migraines, I found out afterwards, exhibit “stroke-like symptoms”. Bit much for a headache, I’m sure you’ll agree.

And yet the migraine minority are still treated like we’re having a little whine for no reason. Telling someone with a migraine to get over it is like telling someone with a broken ankle to jog it off: idiotic. It feels like someone’s chucked your brain in a blender with a bag of razor blades, and no amount of ibuprofen or iced water can help.

In a lot of ways this helplessness is the worst part. You can’t do anything to stop it, and you can’t do anything to take your mind off it – reading, watching TV and listening to music are all agonising. With an actual migraine, all you can really do is find the darkest, quietest room you can and wait hours until the pain subsides.

Despite all this, migraines will always be dismissed because people just don’t get them – and trying to explain what one feels like to someone who’s never had one will always be met with raised eyebrows and a look which says “well they can’t be that bad.” Seriously, they are: I’d love you to try one for yourself and see.

I’m not saying they’re the worst thing that could happen – spending one day incapacitated every three months isn’t exactly the end of the world. But I’d rather have a stomach bug or the flu than have the vision in my right eye go and know I’m about to spend the afternoon writhing around in the pitch black because a watch alarm in the next room sounds like a pneumatic drill.

Tell me I’m being melodramatic. Tell me you don’t think they’re actually that bad. But tell me one more time it’s all in my head,  and I’ll punch you in yours. As long as you turn the lights off first.