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06th Sep 2019

‘I hate when they see me sick’ One mum-of-three on living with chronic migraine

Jade Hayden

“I certainly have had people say to me that I should just get over it.”

Ciara O’Rourke first started getting migraines in her early 20s.

The severe throbbing headaches coupled with nausea, vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light would creep up a couple of times a month, as if like clockwork.

The attacks started episodically, eventually turning chronic until Ciara was experiencing headaches up to 25 days a month, with three or four severe migraines on top of that.

Essentially, the condition has affected her her whole life.

“As a mum of three, having migraines means that it can sometimes be hard to look after my children,” she says.

“Thankfully I have my husband who is a fantastic support system to me and he rows in where he can. In terms of my social life, it can hard to meet friends and family and it’s hard to make plans because you never know when a migraine attack will occur.

“I hate when they see me sick or I need to be away from them resting. It’s so difficult to not be able to spend time with them.”

This week is Migraine Awareness Week.

September 2 – 8 marks a period of raising awareness for the debilitating, painful, and often misunderstood condition.

Migraines are thought to affect as many as 700,000 people in Ireland.

According to the World Health Organisation, the condition is among the top 20 causes of disability for adults. It is ranked as number four among women.

Migraine triggers differ from person to person. Ciara’s are brought on by stress, skipping meals, and missing out on sleep.

Over the years, she’s tried to combat her migraines through stress avoidance, staying hydrated, and ensuring that she gets enough rest.

She has tried alternative medicines like Indian head massages and a form of energy healing called reiki. Ciara says that both offered some sense of relaxation but ultimately didn’t give her any long-term release.

Now she’s on a migraine treatment plan that is working for her, but despite this, there are still other factors at work making it difficult for migraine sufferers to get the help they need.

A new study supported by Teva Pharmaceuticals shows that 70 percent of migraine sufferers are concerned about their quality of life.

Almost half of patients worry about their productivity, with 20 percent concerned that the condition will affect their relationships with friends and family.

The research also shows that, despite the high number of sufferers, only 20 percent of people in Ireland fully understand what migraine is.

“This statistic is shocking to me because I know first-hand what it’s like to live with migraine,” says Ciara.

“And with one in seven Irish people suffering from migraine, you’d think that there would be a better understanding around the condition, but the awareness just isn’t there.”

The majority of migraine sufferers say that the most common form of stigma they experience is the assumption that they are over-reacting to a “bad headache.”

This week, 100 people lined Dublin’s Samuel Beckett bridge to mark the beginning of the migraine awareness campaign.

The visual demonstration was in support of the one in seven people in Ireland currently suffering from the condition – and those among them who still feel like their illness is misunderstood.

Ciara says that although she has had people tell her to “just get over” her migraines, she knows that that the people closest to her are aware that she is not just “overreacting.”

“I am lucky that the people who know me best understand the true nature of migraines,” she says.

“Hopefully in the future more people will begin to understand what migraine sufferers really experience and they won’t be so quick to judge.”