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9 Tips for Making It Through Big Life Events If a Migraine Attack Strikes

Managing Migraine

September 28, 2022

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Photography by Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

Photography by Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

by India Kushner

•••••

Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

by India Kushner

•••••

Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT

Medically Reviewed

•••••

•••••

Navigating a migraine episode on my wedding day was stressful and painful, but it taught me about coping with the unpredictability of migraine.

Since I was 11 years old, migraine has followed me. My attacks have a way of appearing when I least expect them.

Sometimes, I’ll get an attack after too much time in the sun. In the past, they seemed to coincide with my menstrual cycle. More recently, I found that I have to get a good night’s sleep to avoid waking up with one.

Migraine episodes have forced me to miss work and more social activities than I can count. The worst part is missing major life events. I never expected to have to worry about this on my wedding day, but sure enough, when the big day came around, migraine made an appearance.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced migraine disrupting a major life moment.

About 39 million people in the United States live with migraine, making it the third most common condition in the world.

Women are two to three times more likely to experience migraine than men. Racial disparities also play a major role when it comes to migraine and headache diagnosis and care.

Due to factors including discrimination, economic issues, and lack of access to treatment, 46% of Black patients seek help from healthcare providers compared to 72% of white patients.

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How my migraine episodes feel

The main symptoms I experience are intense head pain, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. When I bring up migraine in conversation, some people are quick to write it off as just a bad headache. But it’s so much more than that.

A migraine attack forces me to crawl into bed in a dark room, with a cold cloth on my head. I have to use the bathroom frequently, fighting waves of nausea. Bright lights feel blinding. The smell of foods I usually love, turns my stomach.

My bedsheets feel like sandpaper against my skin. Moving around makes me feel dizzy, and I have to coax myself to leave my bed to get another glass of water or go to the bathroom.

Every single task feels Herculean, and I move at a snail’s pace.

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My wedding day

Being engaged was a time filled with both joy and sadness. My now husband and I had been dating for almost 10 years. We expected to have a long engagement, but when March 2020 arrived, we nervously held our breaths, hoping our summer 2020 wedding could still take place.

As summer approached, it became clear this wedding was not going to happen. We sent out the necessary emails and called guests to tell them it was postponed.

When our new wedding date finally arrived, we were thrilled.

The night before was a rush of hosting our rehearsal dinner and last-minute tasks. We wound up going to bed very late. The next day, I was bleary-eyed but felt fine. As the day progressed, however, warning signs crept up.

I started to feel a heaviness behind my eyes and pain in my forehead. Soon, I was also feeling queasy. I managed to get through my makeup and hair session, but when I finally sat down, it washed over me all at once.

If you live with migraine, you likely know the anxiety, disappointment, and pain of suffering through an event with a migraine. Here are my tips for making it through and enjoying big life events when you live with migraine.

Let people help you

As someone who has always enjoyed being the one to care for friends and loved ones, I don’t like to ask for help, especially when it comes to migraine.

I know what I need, and often, I believe it is easier if I just take care of it myself. But on my wedding day, I couldn’t ignore the pain. To make matters worse, I was in an unfamiliar place, so it was even more difficult to access the things I needed.

Luckily, I was surrounded by my bridesmaids, three of whom also live with migraine. When I explained what was happening, they jumped to action.

I was offered ginger tea. My best friend looked up the maximum amount of Advil I could take and found me the pills. Another friend got a cold cloth to put on the back of my neck. The attention and care were unexpected — I wasn’t used to being waited on.

I felt slightly uncomfortable but reassured. If only people were always this understanding about migraine. Bolstered by the remedies and the care, my migraine became a dull pain and the nausea a low rumble.

I made it down the aisle and exchanged vows with my husband. Later, as we walked onto the dance floor, the migraine symptoms faded even more, and I could truly begin to enjoy my night.

Thinking back, part of me wonders if my trigger wasn’t just fatigue but also stress.

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Put yourself first

I’m not someone who likes to put my needs ahead of others, but sometimes it is just what I need. Whether it’s asking a friend for a quiet room to lie down in or getting a ride home, if your friends care, they will gladly help.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others when they need you.

Take it one step at a time

If you want or are required to attend an event, take it one step and one moment at a time.

Even seemingly small tasks can feel impossible with a migraine. Try concentrating on the most important task at hand. Only once you’ve completed it, move your focus to the next one.

I find that often if I take it slowly, I can make it through the day.

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Stay hydrated

Dehydration and migraine frequency often link. Remember to drink water throughout the day, even if it’s just a few sips. Having a water bottle with measurements on it can help track your water intake.

It can also help to ask a friend or loved one to remind you throughout the day if you have a lot of other things to keep track of.

Stepping away to get a glass of water can also be a great way to get a breather during a busy day.

Mindfulness can ease the pain

Speaking of breaks, remember that it’s OK to step away. Taking a quiet moment to yourself away from noise and stimulation can help you feel more centered.

Try a few mindful breathing exercises. Studies show that mindful meditation can help people with chronic pain lessen their pain severity and reduce their symptoms of depression.

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Make a first aid kit

Have a migraine first aid kit ready. Whenever I’m going somewhere that will be very sunny, I make sure to pack a wide-brimmed, but stylish, sunhat and sunglasses. I carry a water bottle almost everywhere, as well as a cosmetic bag to hold my Advil. I also have a migraine roll-on stick on hand that has essential oils. I find these oils help ease my pain.

Maintain good sleep hygiene

Lack of sleep is a common migraine trigger. Making sure you get to bed early can be the difference between waking up pain-free and facing a migraine. I try to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep the night before a big event.

If you are experiencing a migraine attack, remember it is always OK to let people know you’re not feeling well and go to sleep early. This may help you feel better the next day and avoid day 2 of a painful episode.

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Remember that setting boundaries is key

If you feel like you’re overextending yourself, establishing, and sticking to, boundaries is critical. You know your body best and have the right to say “no,” even if it means missing out.

If someone pushes back on your boundaries, you may feel pressured to give in and try to accommodate them. However, if you stay firm, your body will thank you for taking care of yourself.

Be kind to yourself

Lastly, grant yourself some grace.

Living with chronic pain is a struggle every day, and being hard on yourself will only cause more stress. More stress can cause even more pain in your body. Studies show that stress may actually cause chronic migraine.

Remember that you are your own best advocate.

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The takeaway

Migraine episodes can appear when you least expect them. Often, it can feel like they occur at the most inconvenient moments.

Try to listen to your body’s warning signs and do what you can to avoid your triggers. But if you do have a migraine episode during a major life event, be gentle with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

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About the author

India Kushner

India R. Kushner is a writing and marketing consultant with a bachelor’s degree in communications, with a concentration in journalism from Goucher College.

Through her work, she has come to appreciate the power of language to uplift unheard voices across diverse platforms. Her writing has been featured on The Tempest and GoodRx. Her poetry has been published in the Corvus Review and she is a former writer-in-residence at Yellow Arrow Publishing. She has previously worked as a volunteer submissions editor at the mental health platform, Better Because Collective.

When not working, India enjoys poetry, rock climbing, hiking, traveling, and reading too many books at the same time.

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