VIP: Conquering Chronic Migraines

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on August 17, 2012
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Jen Sullivan
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It was a glorious summer day in May 2009, sunny and cloudless, the perfect weather for a baseball game. Diana Daniele, a public relations executive from Pacific Palisades, Calif., was enjoying an L.A. Dodgers game with her then-eight-year-old son. Everything was going according to plan—until Diana descended a stadium staircase and was overcome by a sudden, nauseating wave of dizziness.

“The sun was so bright and the crowd was so loud. The last thing I remember is seeing squiggly lines and stars,” Diana, now 47, recalls. “And then I just passed out.”

When Diana awoke, she was being carried away on a stretcher by EMTs. “They thought maybe it was my hypoglycemia and the fact that I hadn’t eaten in awhile,” she says.

But over the next three months, Diana continued to experience similar episodes of vertigo, dizziness, fainting, nausea and blurry vision. Suddenly, carrying out the simplest of daily tasks became a dangerous affair: Diana couldn’t leave her house without fear of passing out. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even drive because the vertigo was so bad,” she says.

Doctors were puzzled, unable to figure out what was causing Diana’s mysterious symptoms. “It was really disconcerting. Nobody knew what was wrong with me,” she says.

That all changed one day in August, when Diana was struck with a deep, throbbing headache that wouldn’t go away. “For 11 days, my head felt like it was going to explode,” Diana says. That’s when doctors finally arrived at a diagnosis for Diana’s problems: chronic migraines.

Chronic migraines are a neurological disorder defined as when people who have a diagnosis of "migraine" experience headaches on 15 or more days per month with headache lasting four hours a day or longer. Often, the migraines are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and changes in vision or hearing. Migraines aren’t mere “headaches”: Unlike an innocuous headache, you cannot alleviate a migraine simply by popping an Advil.

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“It’s like the invisible disease,” Diana says of her condition. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about migraines. I wish I could communicate what it feels like to live with this condition.”

For Diana, the year following her diagnosis was a living nightmare. “The migraines hit me like a brick. They just kept coming and coming,” she recalls. She refers to that time, in 2009, as “the dark days”—an apt description, considering she was forced to lie in a dark, quiet room for the better part of a year to cope with the severe headaches and nausea.

Thankfully, friends and family jumped in to help Diana during these difficult times—doing housework, driving carpools and more.

“I’m so lucky to have an awesome support group,” Diana says. “They’re with me through my struggle. My household couldn’t have functioned that year without them.”

These days, Diana has been able to manage her migraines by making several lifestyle changes. After consulting a headache specialist to identify food triggers, she adopted a vegan diet and eliminated artificial sweeteners, processed foods, alcohol, cheese and caffeine. Moreover, Diana reduced her working hours to part-time and now works from home, allowing her to squeeze in a nap every afternoon.

These changes, along with medication, have made big difference. “My life is still hampered by migraines, but things are definitely getting better,” says Diana, adding that she was well enough to take a weeklong trip to Hawaii in early June, her first family vacation in three years.

In addition to travel, Diana has missed out on many special moments over the last three years—including her fourteenth wedding anniversary. “Instead of celebrating with my husband, I was in bed with a migraine, nauseated and alone.”

But last April, Diana had the opportunity to make up for that missed anniversary as one of the winners of the Rewrite Your Day essay contest, a campaign that helped 15 chronic migraine sufferers recreate a moment they lost to chronic migraines. With the help of celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss and the Rewrite Your Day campaign, Diana renewed her wedding vows in an intimate ceremony in front of close friends and family.

“It was one of the top 10 days of my life,” Diana says of her vow renewal ceremony. “I am so grateful for my husband—he’s my biggest supporter and best friend.”

In the end, Diana is grateful for everything her condition has taught her about herself, her marriage, her friends and family. “You have to keep looking at the positives,” she says. “You have to see it as a learning experience.”