'When I was sick, I knew it was a really bad one' 

Debbie was 12 years old when she first began having symptoms of migraine.

"I remember being at school and feeling not at all well: headachy and groggy," she says. "The groggy periods increased until I seemed to have a headache all day, every day. But when my mum took me to the doctor he said it was just a part of growing up."

For the next 10 years, Debbie battled with her regular headaches. She went back to the doctor several times but nothing seemed to work. "One specialist put me on tablets which made me feel sick and have hallucinations, but did nothing for the pain," she recalls. "Another told me I had migraine and I just had to learn to live with it."

Then Debbie got a new job in a local factory. But the conditions made her headaches much worse. The factory was very bright, with strip lights, and the machinery made a lot of noise.

Debbie's headaches now started with a mild, toothachy pain for a day or so, which would then fade. The next week, it would come back for longer. The week afterwards, the pain would be too great for her to leave her bedroom. "It was an all-over headache, not a band, as many people describe it, or over one eye," she says. "I felt nauseous but I wasn't always sick. When I was sick, I knew it was a really bad one. I started having to take days off work and I got a couple of warnings. I almost lost my job, and that stress didn't help. I tried to keep going: what else could I do?"

Then Debbie heard about the Migraine Action Association. "I got in touch with them and they sent me leaflets, so I could really educate myself about my condition," she says. "It was incredible to realise that there were many other people like me out there. Migraine is a very isolating condition, so I started a support group. I'm still in touch with some of the people today."

Debbie got herself referred to a specialist in nearby Birmingham. After several tests, including a CT scan, she was diagnosed with chronic daily headache, a condition that is normally associated with overuse of medication. But Debbie was an unusual case. "I hardly ever took anything," she says.

Her specialist suggested she try a new drug, amitriptyline, which is normally used as an anti-depressant. This worked for a while, and for a few months Debbie was virtually headache-free. However, over the next two years her resistance to the drug increased until it was having little or no effect. "The headaches came back with a vengeance," she says.

But Debbie refused to be downhearted. She began experimenting with alternative therapies and found that acupuncture brought her some relief. She now has a session every six months. She also started relaxation techniques, such as walking in the fresh air.

To her surprise, the headaches began to stop. And today, she is headache-free.

"I think a big part of dealing with migraine is thinking positive," she says. "There were times when I thought about ending it all. But you have to keep going. I will always have this condition. It's part of who I am. It's not my fault and it's not caused by anything I've done. It's just there. And through support groups and the help of my specialists, I've learned to cope with it and accept it."

Page last reviewed: 11/01/2016

Next review due: 11/01/2018