Is it ADHD or is it a migraine? How chronic migraines can screw up your personality.

I haven’t written anything on this blog for a long time, for more than a year in fact. Mostly, it was become after I got back in 2020 from living in the US, after for months of lockdown in LA, straight into the series of lockdowns in Auckland, I didn’t have much to say.

I put it down to lockdown induced lethargy, but about six months ago something astounding happened. I started on a migraine preventer, which I’ve always avoided because I was worried about the side-effects, and I have been migraine free since then. But more than that, I understood for the first time the ongoing damage chronic migraine does to your health and personality.

I’ve had migraines since I was ten years old – it’s the family curse. On my maternal side, all the women have them, and even at times my son.

Migraine is incredibly common. Globally it affects about 10% of people, but is three times more common in women, and is the second leading cause of of disability for all people, and the leading cause for women.

But you wouldn’t know it from the resource and support that migraine sufferers get. From my own experience, you instead feel guilty every time you miss an event or work, then have to spend three or more days recovering from crippling head pain and wild mood swings. Or you have to try and work through this, because you are embarrassed about it and fear what people will think of you.

If you have never experienced a migraine, it is not just a headache. Mine usually take place over three days. Day one is the either feeling like a huge thunderstorm is looming or conversely a bit manic. Then my eyes go a little funny, not quite able to focus properly.

Stage two is the aura, which is when I get severe tunnel vision, and can’t speak properly – usually scaring the people around me into thinking I’m having a stroke. This last about 20 minutes and is followed by the crazy zig zag lights in my eyes, until boom – the nausea and vomiting hit, which will last about 8 to 12 hours if I don’t have medication.

Medication really helps, so as soon as I realise one is on the way, I glug a cocktail of rizatriptan, which is a selective serotonin receptor agonist, anti-nausea drugs, painkillers (usually ibuprofen and Panadeine) and if I have them, sleeping tablets.

It sounds a lot, but it works. The one thing I discovered is that getting to sleep helps reset the electrical disturbance in your brain caused by the migraine.

Day three is the aftermath, when I feel completely wiped out from a combination of the drugs and migraine.

Mostly I have managed this, normally I had maybe 1 or 2 migraines a month. Sometimes I’d go a few months without one, then bang, they are back in a swarm.

And the worst thing, is you never really pin down the exact trigger – stress, the wrong food, heavy exercise, bright light, spices, hormone fluctuations and the list goes on. When going on a holiday, I prepare for a migraine on the first few days as a change of environment can also be a trigger.

In Feb 2020. I got a severe virus – most likely the Covid delta variant – in LA, which super-charged my migraines to an almost a daily occurrence. This went on for two years. They improved a little when blood tests showed my B12 was way down (if you have had Covid, check your B12 levels!) But now it felt like my brain was super sensitive to any and all triggers.

Finally after three migraines one after the other about six months ago, I relented and went on amitriptyline, a migraine preventer. I had avoided it up to then as I thought I could manage and was worried about side effects.

Instead, it has changed my life.

One problem with migraines is that they scramble your neurotransmitters, especially dopamine and serotonin levels – they are either plunging and or rapidly rising. Once a month or 3 or 4 times a year is manageable – daily it becomes a nightmare.

Lately, however, ADHD has gotten more attention and one day I found myself doing a quiz and ticking a lot of boxes – except I don’t have ADHD as throughout my life, I have had plenty of times where I could focus, and apply myself to tasks, except…there have always been plenty when I haven’t and have been a terrible procrastinator, depressed, a bit manic, untidy etc, etc.

So I did a quick google and lo and behold – migraine was strongly associated with ADHD.

Now this is my very unscientific theory based on the last six months. For me, I think the serotonin, dopamine and cortisol fluctuations caused by chronic migraine can mimic ADHD. Why do I think this? Well for the past six months as my brain has settled down, I have been able to work, start writing, focus on projects, and sleep, without the weekly highs and lows.

For the first time in my life, I feel centred and stable. Of course, there are other factors involved, but the feeling of chronic restlessness and boredom have eased. I feel content.

Chronic migraine is seriously debilitating – not just on the days you have it, but also the constant insults your brain takes over time. Migraine sufferers also face a higher risk of stroke.

If you suffer from chronic migraines, definitely talk to your doctor about a preventer. Everyone is different and what worked for me may not work for you, but it is worth a try.

Migraines are awful and they really mess you about, but for some reason, despite it being a major cause of disability, they are often dismissed as just a headache.

They aren’t, so if you suffer from migraines, don’t feel guilty about needing to take time off and recover, but also start pushing for better research into this debilitating disorder – nothing much has progressed in this field in my lifetime, but it would help a billion people worldwide have a better quality of life.

If you read this and it has been your experience, please comment as I think it helps to not feel alone in this. I hope this helps.

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