My Migraine Journey - Tammy Rome

by Tammy Rome

“I don’t think you’re an addict.”

Those words rang hollow as the reality of what he was asking of me sank in. My mind was racing…

“Give up Advil?”

“Take nothing for the pain?”

“How will I work or care for my little girl?”

This is what I got for being honest. I’d been taking Advil at the first sign of pain for over 10 years. Not doing so always ended in disaster. I had tried to stop taking medicine to treat the pain before, only to give in when the pain became unbearable. He was asking the impossible. I didn’t think I could do it.

That’s when I broke down. Crying, I begged him for an alternative. I promised never to touch another bottle of Advil as long as I lived if he would only give me another option. Calmly, compassionately, he explained that giving me an alternative would only mean trading one overused medication for another. He urged me to try, to keep a diary, discover my triggers, and call him if things got too hard.

Discouraged, I left the office that day with a stack of information about migraine and medication overuse, a blank headache diary, and an appointment for an MRI. I did not leave with a prescription for that magical new migraine remedy I’d been dreaming of for at least two years. I desperately wanted Imitrex, not instructions to quit all pain medicine “cold turkey.”

Even my husband, who had been urging me to stop taking so much Advil for years, thought the doctor was crazy. “What does he expect you to do?” he challenged.

“Nothing,” I sighed, “and he says it will get worse before it gets better.”

The doctor was right. The headaches did get worse. The next 90 days were some of the most difficult days of my life. I got sick. I missed a lot of work. Then somewhere around week #6, there was a glimmer of hope. Doing as he instructed, I kept meticulous records of each attack, what I ate, weather patterns, hours of sleep, menstruation…everything. Around the 6th week I started noticing a few patterns and discovered I could avoid getting an attack by making just a few small changes. Gradually, the pain subsided, attacks were less frequent, and I felt less like a victim of circumstance.

When it was time for that follow-up appointment, I practically skipped into the office pain-free. His plan worked! That’s when I vowed to never let myself get into such a predicament again. I learned that even my new abortive, Imitrex was not without risk.

That was 22 years ago. To this day, with rare exceptions, I do not take pain medicine more than 2-3 days a week, no matter how mild. It hasn’t always been easy managing multiple headache disorders plus other chronic pain with such limitations. I’ve had to get creative, learn how to use comfort measures, and be willing to try a lot of different preventives. It took years to find just the right treatments to reduce the number of migraine attacks to a manageable level. In all that time, I never returned to overusing pain medication.

I don’t regret breaking Medication Overuse Headache. True relief didn’t start until I faced that challenge and won.

October 2016