real life

"It's a pain so intense you can hear it." This is what it really feels like to have a migraine.

Throughout my final years of high school, the amount of times I was asked if I was grumpy, upset, in pain, or going home early because of a ‘headache’ was very nearly unbearable.

Because, it was true. But not in a way that any of them could begin to imagine.

Most of my friends had an understanding between them that if I was spitting fire at them, or curled in a corner during free periods, I was probably just having another one of my ‘headaches.’

My teachers were told to give me special treatment somewhat, for my ‘headaches,’ and it wasn’t unusual for them to spot me crying somewhere around the school.

The office ladies knew me by name.

I can’t actually tell you what a migraine feels like, because I’m not sure that I actually know. I’m also not good enough a writer to translate that amount of physical pain into words.

I’m also not sure I’ve ever had a ‘normal’ headache so I couldn’t really tell you the difference.

Instead, I can only tell you what a migraine headache feels like for me, and hope to do the feeling justice.

Listen: Syl Freedman talks about what it’s like to live with chronic pain. Post continues… 

First, there’s the cues.

I get sick to my stomach sometimes, but never vomit. The front of my forehead starts to throb, like I’ve been hit with something, hard.

It’s a really distinct feeling. Like nausea in your brain.

Then, a decision to make: To medicate, or not to medicate? You’d think it would be an easy decision, and really, it should be, but it just isn’t. The way the drugs can mess you up is beyond sh*t.

Specialists recommend only taking eight of the ‘big’ painkiller drugs per month, which seems fine, until you take into consideration that migraines are often, and for me particularly, stress-induced. During my final years of schooling then, burdened with work, decisions, friendships and family issues, I was getting a migraine most days.

So I take a drug. I’m sleepy now, but may have just avoided a full-scale migraine. Sometimes those drugs are a miracle. If they’ve worked, hurrah, God probably exists.

But if they haven’t, things take a sharp turn.

My migraine, at this stage, is rearing its ugly head.

Another decision: take another drug or three and potentially deprive myself for the month, or wait it out?


I stress a bit more and by the time I’ve made a decision, my migraine is laughing at me. It’s happy because it most likely got me to cry, or leave school for the day, or yell at my mum.

When it’s too late for drugs, the only thing to do is lie in a cool, dark room. I try to sleep, or watch something with low brightness and low sound.

The migraine itself is pure pain.

Sickening, nauseating, throbbing. A pain so intense you can hear it, you can feel it moving.

It's so difficult to describe because it's so difficult to experience. During a migraine, I become ultra sensitive to light and noise, to the point where it feels I’m going insane if the lights are on, or if I look at my phone.

My vision blurs and I can’t concentrate on anything. It’s an urgent feeling, like all the pain is rushing to my head from some untapped source elsewhere in the body, unfurling from a seemingly unbeatable machine.

You feel powerless. Like you’ve lost all strength to something inside your own head.

Your head is the captain. And when it’s in that amount of pain, you feel like disintegrating into something not worth existing.

I don’t want to say migraines are worse than general headaches, because headaches suck too. But they're definitely different. Migraines are a whole body experience in which you lose all control, sometimes even eventually of yourself.