Whitney Cummings and Migraine
Whitney Cummings and migraine were not things I connected with until March. I’ve laughed at Whitney’s stand-ups and roasts. I’ve watched her produce, write, direct, and act. But after this Emmy-nominated comedian spoke at the 5th Migraine World Summit, I now see her as another migraine teammate. It’s a weird thing when you relate to someone just from your disease. I understand her and think she understands me even though we’ve never talked. She would walk by me and see me as a fan of no one on the streets. While in reality, I know that girl who grew up with head pain lives her life as a guinea pig fighting a migraine disease that only grew and morphed into an adult-sized disability. I know her anger, respect, and purpose to defeat chronic illness because I am her.
I lay in bed watching/listening because the screen was too bright in my cold dark room with a migraine. As I lay there trying to distract myself, I learned that Whitney and I had traveled a similar lifetime of migraine hell and resilience. After her talk at the summit, I read her book “I’m Fine…and other Lies*” while a pandemic swept the nation. Once I sanitized the book, I read The Headache Chapter and was no longer laughing.
Whitney and my story begin the same way. I can’t remember a time when my head didn’t hurt. I also grew up feeling like I was dramatic and confused about how my head could hurt all the time. It was, “take an Excedrin and go to school.” I was an athlete, and I felt weak. Someone would take my spot if I explained how I felt. My pain tolerance grew as I did, and I also had to pick what issue I gave my attention to. Whitney Cummings migraine story is one I relate to.
We both remember medical attention towards puberty because of hormones. Like being a teenager isn’t hard enough, my body overreacted to my period. I was left crawling down the hall in the fetal position, unable to describe what pain was worse, the migraine or my body becoming a woman. I never could understand how I could be so young and look so healthy while I knew something was very wrong with me. It was beyond growing pains.
Then came the medications. Whitney and I grew up when there was no migraine medication. Every generation until now can say that, and even now, medications are impossible to figure out with children’s growing bodies. So, we lived lives of being prescribed medication for Alzheimer’s or seizures when neither of us had those. The medications were meant to help one problem and inevitably gave another 3. I took medications to prevent headaches when the side effects were headaches and a bonus of weight gain, hair loss, and cognitive dysfunction. Great!
Nobody told me you have to wean yourself off medication. Whitney had the same experience, and I’m wondering why. As a responsible doctor, I should have been told as a young 18-year-old out on my own that going cold turkey is not a good idea. I don’t think enough attention is given to side effects, how to take medication properly, and getting off medication. Going cold turkey is a hard lesson to learn and dangerous.
Seeing Many Doctors
It’s hard to explain to a doctor a migraine attack when I black out, and each migraine is different. The doctor asks me my pain numbers and questions about insurance that are difficult to answer. Why do you think I had a second child? My mind blocks out level 10s, making the explosive pain level a blur. If I couldn’t block out pain, I couldn’t live with the fact that my brain was a ticking time bomb ready to disable me at any moment. Migraine attacks are at any time, any place, any plans, and at any importance. Explaining myself to doctors was and remains difficult.
Both migraine diseases evolved and worsened with symptoms escalating in our late 20s or early 30s. It was a time when I was stopped in my tracks and smacked with the graveness of a neurological disease like a chronic migraine. My body tried to tell me to take it seriously, and I did.
I reached a point where I needed to take control of my life, or at least what I could. I wanted to start figuring out how to prevent migraine attacks and stop missing out on my life. This required throwing a lot of money at my migraine life and often relying on faith. As Whitney Cummings desperately recalls yelling, “Jesus, what causes migraine?” I often rely on God to get me through. I can throw whatever medication, therapy, and forms of relief at some migraine attacks, but it gets to a point where only God and Jesus can take the wheel.
Over the years, I have collected information about triggers like anyone else living with an illness. Life experiences have me avoiding stimuli that affect all my senses: smells and perfumes, light and eyesight, foods, and jaw tension. I’m a sunglasses-wearing, MSG-dodging, stress-avoiding machine. I’ve learned to identify my triggers and know myself well enough to feel a migraine rising. My reaction to pain has changed from panic and anger to focus on what I can control.
Allergies and Sinuses
Allergies and sinuses have been an ongoing issue. Being allergic to dust means good luck there’s dust everywhere. I, too, saw an ENT. Whitney recalls using all her self-control not to punch him in the throat. My story with an ENT is how I used all my self-control not to take off my clothes and go streaking. I don’t know why that was my panic mode, but instead, I kicked my UGGs at the nurse as she ran toward me with a paper bag to hyperventilate into. It’s funny looking back at it. I still can’t figure out why I was picturing myself ripping off my shirt and running in the office halls while he shoved something up my nose. If you can’t laugh at stories of a chronic illness, you cry. And I always laugh at this story.
The most frustrating thing about all this is that I’m not cured and far from it. I can do everything right and am hit with a random ambush of attacks like Whitney Cummings migraines. I have found better medication (because some have finally been made!). My lifestyle changes have altered every aspect of what makes me who I am. I’ve been probed, poisoned, and questioned as if living this way is my choice. It’s a life that I can be resentful for or motivated by. It’s who I am and what I make of it. Whitney Cummings migraine story seems to follow the same progression.
Mental health needs to be addressed as much as physical health. Whitney does a great job of describing how so many issues come along with migraine. Or does the migraine come along with the issues? Either way, living in chronic pain is mentally exhausting, defeating, and a huge part of the battle.
Lessons Learned with a Lifetime of Migraine
Living a life with migraine teaches a lot of lessons.
- Natural does not equal healthy
- We both have taken vitamins that cause safety concerns long term.
- We both have spent a lot (my definition of a lot and hers may be different but A LOT) of money on therapies that don’t work or turn out to give other issues.
- The migraine brain needs routine
- The migraine brain is more sensitive to outside stimuli than other people and needs to be respected for the spazz it is. A calm brain is a happy brain.
- Listen to what your body is telling you
- By listening I have avoided unhealthy behavior
- While people experimented with pills in college, I was sitting there thinking, “There’s no way my body is tolerating recreational pills when my prescribed pills were giving me side effects.”
- While moms everywhere are drinking during the COVID-19 quarantine, I’m thinking, “I don’t have time to have a 3-day migraine with 2 children, a husband, and a partridge in a pear tree all locked in this house.”
- By listening I have avoided unhealthy behavior
- Listen to what people are showing and telling you
- I’ve lost and never made friends because of migraine
- Now, I gravitate toward people who don’t judge me and love me
- I don’t waste my time on people who don’t truly deserve my shortened time and energy.
- I love Whitney Cummings’ perspective of how migraine has to lead her to a dark room instead of leading to a dark person or situation. Silver linings are important to see.
Feelings behind Living with Migraine
Overall, we all have trouble describing what a migraine feels like, how different it is each time, and how different it is from person to person. It is frustrating to see how many things can be done and technological advancement while so much is unknown about migraine. It has been around since the beginning of humans, and it seems like many doctors don’t know about it. As a society, we need to work on priorities. We need to work to fix people’s brains before we invest in fewer human issues. Whitney mentions migraine over cellulite cream, and I agree. I will take cellulite over migraine every day! But why can’t we get rid of them both?
The guilt and mental anguish of living with a chronic illness is a lifelong struggle. It is something that needs to be addressed. It tears me up that my migraine causes others to miss out while missing out on my own life is hard enough. I think it’s because I don’t want to hurt others and know I’m not the only one in pain. As Whitney reminded me, though, people may be in way more pain than some of us, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore our own.
Migraine World Summit
The best way Whitney Cummings, migraine, and I relate through advocacy. We have turned our voices into something powerful for the migraine community by bringing them to the spotlight in the best way we can. I applaud and thank Whitney Cummings for telling her migraine story and explaining it to many. Celebrity voices are important to bring migraine awareness to the media.
Whitney, keep speaking out; we need you! And keep making us laugh! My favourite distractions are tv and movies that make me laugh to escape my cold dark room. And know that you are better than fine. You are doing great! Please share this post, respond, and keep up the migraine advocacy. You are bringing the seriousness that the migraine world needs while lightening our minds with your comedy.
Due to Covid-19 taking over while The Migraine World Summit aired in March, they are graciously giving us another look. The Migraine World Summit is a virtual event you can watch from home or lie in bed as I did. “You’ll meet the global leaders in the field of migraine and headache, including doctors, specialists, researchers, psychologists, and advocates.”
Check out Whitney June 19 and all the other insightful speakers I heard speak in Arizona, like Dr Starling. Registration is FREE, and interviews play each day. (affiliate link, I will be rewarded if you sign up through this link) You can listen to “Are you really ‘just fine” by Dr Young and hear how Whitney answers with “I’m fine…and other lies.” Each day you will have the opportunity to listen to the replay of interviews for some time. Follow along all week. I hope knowledge gives you the strength to be honest to ask for help while giving you insight on how to live a better migraine life.
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Sarah tells stories of My Migraine Life. Living life through Migraine consists of advocacy, treatment, prevention, and searching for health and happiness in a positive honest way. Her kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate her to make a difference in the Migraine World.