Since my early forties, much of my life has been defined by migraines. They started when I got mononucleosis. (An odd disease for the celibate single mother of an eight-year old to contract. When I was young, it was called “the kissing disease.”)

Daily headaches took a huge toll on my work and personal life. I had a great job at a Fortune 500 company. It had been created just for me. I lived in a lovely small town in New Jersey. I had given up cigarettes and alcohol. My life, after being in an uproar for years, was quite pleasant – except for the headaches.

My friends tell me that I had headaches, even as a child. They didn’t prompt going to a doctor until after the mono. I went to a neurologist in Dover, NJ. He scanned my brain then gave me Imitrex in a shot kit. The first time I injected myself, I vomited. After I became used to doing this, I would go to the corporate nurse’s office when I felt a headache coming. There I would to give myself a shot and lie down for the hour it took to take effect. I ran into a corporate officer in the elevator after one of these episodes. She expressed concern and, when I checked the mirror in the Ladies Room, my eyes were so bloodshot I looked like I was coming off a bender.

Much of my life has been about coming to grips with my personal fragilities. As a recovering alcoholic, I know that I need to go to AA meetings, avoid negative thinking and maintain spiritual fitness. As a migraineur, I’ve slowly learned how to maintain my body and brain to minimize headaches. I get nine a month on average. One or two may send me to a darkened room. Most of them I nip in the bud with medication, 800 mg of Motrin or Naratriptan.

Early on, I read what was out there (pre-Internet) on migraines. I should avoid certain foods (i.e. chocolate, red wine, pork), exercise but not when I had a headache, sleep and wake on a regular schedule. Historically, I had been subject to migraine during hormonal changes – my doctor had prescribed a couple Valium per month for those days. Migraine wasn’t discussed.

I began keeping a diary – really bothersome – to see what patterns I could recognize. One of the challenges of migraine is that it’s your brain that’s in trouble. When I can’t think, my willingness to do much of anything hits the skids. I learned that low pressure systems were a contributor and no medication could help with those headaches. A northeaster can disable me for three days. I’m a human barometer. (My second husband bought a weather predicting device for me. Without lead time, what’s helpful about knowing I’m going to have a miserable day?)

More next week…