Miss Migraine: The trouble with migraines in college part 1

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 29, 2012. I wanted to re-post this series now, in hopes that it will help anyone getting ready to head off to college for the first time, or going back to college. College is hard enough without migraines!

The trouble with migraines in college

During a journalism class my senior year of undergraduate work, my professor — we’ll call her “C” — held individual meetings with us about the work we’d done so far and any concerns we had for the rest of the semester.

For the past month or so, I had been seeing a doctor at the on-campus health center once per week for my never-ending head pain and visiting a chiropractor three times per week for the same reason. I was scared by the constant headache that had nestled itself in my temples, and my course work — 15 credits and a graduate level thesis to write, present, and defend — daunted me. So far, neither the doctor nor the chiropractor had been able to put a dent in my pain.

I explained my situation to C and expressed my concerns for the final research project that made up a majority of our final grade, as it was due around the same time as my thesis project. C reassured me, told me that so far, my work had been great. I’d be fine.

American flag waving in front of the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, where I completed my undergraduate degree.

But the pain increased. A trip to the ER left me feeling more miserable and more out of control than I had before when the doctor, after pressing incredibly hard on the tendons on the back of my neck and asking if it hurt (yes, it freaking hurt, he was using Superman strength!), declaring my never-ending pain a stress headache, and prescribing Valium (which did nothing more than make me loopy and sleepy).

A friend had to buy my groceries so I didn’t have to spend a fortune on delivery — a fortune I needed for my medical expenses. Since I had one professor who didn’t complain about me missing class because I was a senior in a class of freshman and sophomores and earning an A, I often missed one of two class sessions per week to rest and attempt to catch up with all the work I’d fallen behind on.

As an unnecessary-for-graduation elective, C’s journalism class fell to the bottom of my priorities list. I realized while doing my research for the final paper that I simply did not have the energy to finish it on time. By now I was seeing a neurologist and trying Topomax, which was expensive and left food tasting strange. I had endless doctor’s notes. So I asked for an extension of the final deadline, several weeks in advance of said deadline.

C refused the extension. Upon reading her harshly worded email about her strict policy of no extensions, because that’s not how the “real world” works and a newspaper editor would never give an extension, a mix of frustration, despair, and anguish filled my body with heat. I had never turned an assignment in late. I had never been late for class. I had a high grade. I had medical documentation. I was furious. I immediately lost all respect for C.

Rather than fail a class and ruin my 3.8 GPA because of a cruel professor who refused to acknowledge the pain I was in (or that I had mentioned my concerns about this very topic to her weeks ago), I responded to her email with my intentions to withdraw from the class, because, I explained, I was simply unable to complete the work within her required timeline.

I filled out the necessary paperwork and delivered it to her for her signature. It became clear to her that I was serious — not simply playing for a free ride — and she relented, but not without an incredible amount of pressure for me to finish the research paper as quickly as possible — something I’d already explained was not possible at all. I did finish the paper, and the class, but I didn’t have very nice things to say about C in my end of term evaluation.

Have you had migraine-related trouble with your professors? How did you cope with it?

Miss Migraine Runs: Wrap-Up

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. June was National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, and I ran as part of the Miles for Migraine Virtual Challenge to raise money for migraine research. Read parts one and two.

Ten of you fantastic people helped me raise more than $400 for migraine research in June! I will be sending you all cards, but in the meantime, thank you! Overall, Miles for Migraine was able to raise $3,500—quite a bit short of the $10k goal, but still nothing to sneeze at.

While my original plan was to train in June and July and run a 5k in August, that bought of runner’s knee I experienced mid-June delayed our progress quite a bit. Our new plan is to train through September and run the Miles for Migraine 5k race in Philadelphia on October 6.

A brain hat, a race medal, and a pair of socks with the Miles for Migraine logo.

Unfortunately, runner’s knee is not the only setback I’ve dealt with so far. I also had trouble getting past the third training week workout because of my asthma, which would kick in around the 2 minutes of running mark and leave me wheezing and gasping for air. My doctor gave me a new inhaler, which I use about 20 minutes prior to each run and helps significantly.

I’m not yet tracking how many miles I run, as I’m still focusing on time spent running. Again, my progress hasn’t been as quick as I’d have hoped, but the important thing is that D.J. and I have stuck with our three-runs-per-week regimen since late May, with the exception of the weeks in June I had to use the elliptical instead of running.

Something else that’s interesting is the way the connection between my migraines and exercise has changed. A workout can still trigger a migraine, especially if the weather is bad or I’m already on the edge of one, but for the most part, running hasn’t caused any migraines. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s helped keep them at bay. I feel significantly better after a run, and have been generally less migrainey the past two months than the months prior. Now, I feel crappy if I have to miss a run–D.J. and I have even woken up at 5 a.m. multiple times to get our run in before he has to go to work!

Most importantly, though, Miles for Migraine sent me this cool brain hat and a medal, which clearly means I win, right? ;p

Again, thank you all for supporting me, donating money to this important cause, and spreading migraine awareness!

Miss Migraine Runs: Part Two

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Help me raise $300 to support migraine research and awareness!

Despite my runner’s knee not really being cleared up, we decided to wake up at 5 a.m. and resume our 5k training program this morning.

Despite painful knees, I’ve tried to still do some form of exercise 5 days a week, whether it’s going for a walk or using the elliptical.

I am not a morning person. Never have been, probably never will be. I’d much rather run at 8 or 9 p.m. than wake up before the freaking sun rises. But, I’m getting ready for a monologue show in a few weeks, and I’ve got evening rehearsals all this week and next week. Early morning is the only time we could run, so that’s what we did.

And hey–it wasn’t as awful as I expected it to be! Waking up was easy enough. I laid my running clothes out last night, so all I had to do was pull them on. I ate an apple, leashed up the dog, and off we went.

Over the past three months, I’ve increased my overall activity level. Each bar represents a week’s worth of steps.

This week the program has us running varying intervals of 90 seconds and 3 minutes. The first set of runs were fine. My knees ached a little but it wasn’t bad. But then we did the second set, and I definitely should have stopped because it felt like my knees were on fire. But I am stubborn as fuck, so I finished the workout and then spent a good long while icing my knees. Surprisingly now they feel pretty okay, which means I’ll probably be stupid and run again Wednesday morning.

Running and walking has also been helping me with the grief of losing my corgi dog Lexi–it’s not that I miss her less or feel less sad, it’s just that being outside and working my body provides a good expression for those emotions. I think it’s helping Jaina cope, as well.

Now I just need my knees to stop hurting!