Chronic Illness and Covid-19

If you weren’t aware, I suffer from migraines, which is a condition where at any moment I could get debilitating symptoms, such as loss of vision, loss of speech, weakness and numbness in different parts of my body, nausea and incredible pain. The easiest way to describe it is I get a temporary stroke for eight hours. To be fair, this is the worse they can get. Sometimes it can be a case that the pain is controllable as long as I don’t’ open my eyes. In these instances its just a case of dealing with the boredom that comes along with not being able to see. However, these tended to be “follow up” migraines after having one where I had thrown up eleven times (my current record) and not been able to speak straight. (for more information, please read my previous article).

 At a younger age these were fairly chronic; I could have them at full severity three times a week, several weeks on the trot. At one point, I believed that this would be my life forever. I could just about hold down my school work, but it definitely made me worry for the future. I wouldn’t have been able to hold down a job. My mother couldn’t work for a long time because she had to look after me when I was sick.

Most people with my level of migraines have to live with them forever. They can’t even find a medication that puts a dent in how bad the migraine is, let alone eradicate them completely. However, somehow, while treating another condition I have, the doctors found a medication that not only treated the one they were treating me for, but my migraines as well, almost completely.

To say it was a miracle would almost be accurate: It isn’t unheard of but it is rare. I see it as a blessing which I cherish. Whereas before I couldn’t do things like stay up late, drink caffeine or binge-eat chocolate, I can do those things now (and do them often). I can study for exams without having to worry whether I am actually going to be able to sit them and the repercussions I may face if I don’t. I can travel without the intense fear of being debilitated miles away from home. And, on the off chance I do get a migraine, the pain is no worse than the average headache. I have been given a gift where, as long as I don’t do anything too stupid, such as going into a time zone with a difference of eight hours or eat 600 grams of cashew nuts in two days (stories for a different blog post) I can do whatever I want.

Not going to lie, I may have gotten a bit cocky in recent years. My sleep schedule is less than desirable, the number of times a week I consume things that are not in a migrainer’s best interest to consume is too much and my screen-time a day is through the roof. But it was fine right? Because I was taking my meds? Right?

Spoiler; it was not fine. A few weeks back, they came back with vengeance. I don’t remember sending the text to my family that I had a migraine. What I do remember is lying on the bathroom floor not being able to stand up because my body was too tired from vomiting (you remember that 11 times record, right? That was this one) and unimaginable pain piercing like a blade through my left eye socket.

Once, I had recovered from the migraine, I began to panic. Migraines can have the exact same symptoms as illnesses such as meningitis or stroke. Getting migraines can also be indicative of more serious problems, such as brain tumours. So how can people who suffer from migraines tell the difference? Mostly, we don’t. When we feel our hands go numb or other aura symptoms, we make the assumptions it’s a normal migraine or part of our condition because, odds are, it is. There are some exceptions to this, for instance, if we get new symptoms which aren’t traditionally associated with migraines such as a temperature or a rash. Or, in the case of signs of more serious conditions, if we have a change in frequency or severity of the migraine…

Usually, my inner hypochondriac behaves itself with my migraines. Normally, even it can have sympathy with me at my weakest point. But not this time. There was an element of panic within me of the thought of a brain tumour. It was incredibly unlikely, but it now appeared on the cards. While I accepted I had been stupid in terms of normal migraine triggers, it was no more stupid than I had been while at uni and I hadn’t had one then. I don’t know what trigger(s) my migraines, but nothing major had changed…

But then I stopped panicking because I realised something had changed. Life had changed. COVID-19 had occurred. Instead of being at Uni surrounded by friends and doing my degree, I was now back in a small market town in isolation with the threat of possibly losing loved ones. Everything was uncertain. We didn’t know how long we were (or are) going to be in lock down for and whether the world would have (or will have) changed drastically once we had emerged. I didn’t know when I would see my friends again or how my degree would turn out.

You see, my migraines work like a switch. When the switch is on, there are some things I can’t do, such as eat chocolate for breakfast, or else I will have a migraine. However, when the switch is off, I can drink as many pints of coke as I want. Me and my Mum had never been able to work out why this was or the exact triggers behind it, but through the years of observing we had seen how this worked and could give a good guess at what had happened.

It may seem over-dramatic, but it is true that the circumstances around CoVid-19 can trigger migraines. For one, there is the stress. I have never been able to cope well with sudden change and at points (if you hadn’t have guessed) I struggle with a fear of illness and death. These paired with the sudden genuine risk to part of my family and having to keep up with university work had made me more permanently stressed than I had been in a long time. Furthermore, my body was going through a change in lifestyle which was probably taking its toll. All of this was enough to flip my migraine switch, which I hadn’t noticed. So when it came to drinking a couple of cans of Coke Zero, my brain stood no chance.

What is the point of all this? It may sound crazy, but CoVid-19 is affecting those with chronic health conditions, whether it be a trigger, preventing people from being able to access the right medical treatment for them or the direct impact it could have on the chronically ill if they caught it. We have all been faced with challenges linked to Covid-19. These should be respected equally, but some of these challenges are harder to understand than others. It is important to be aware of these problems and raise the visibility of those who may not have a loud voice in the chaos we currently live in. I am lucky that my migraine switch appears to have turned back off now and I am back to being a fairly healthy human being. However, there are so many people with chronic health conditions that do not have that blessing. Please check up on your chronically ill friends. In this time, we all need to stick together and support one another.

Photo by Bethany Szentesi

One comment

  1. I really feel for you! I’ve had migraines all my life but the current pandemic has definitely increased both their severity and longevity. Sending positive thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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