A few years ago I went away for the weekend. This wasn’t one of those weekends when you sit around all of the time, it was one where you get the delights of cooking for a load of people so that they can have a good time.
On the Friday evening I started to feel a bit of a headache coming on, this wasn’t an unusual thing, what was unusual was that it didn’t go away. I took a few paracetamol as pain killers, but the pain carried on. It carried on all of the way through Saturday, but I wasn’t going to stop, I had things to do, meals to cook, menus to organise – and more painkillers.
I was reasonably late to bed Saturday night and then up early on Sunday to get breakfast ready. At this point I would have been quite happy with anyone who had offered to remove my head and replace it with something that actually fitted.
By Sunday mid-morning on Sunday I was worse than ever. My head felt like someone had put a vice on it and was squeezing it tighter and tighter. My eyes became blurry, and my nose started to run. Just before lunch I wave of nausea turned into vomiting. I took some more pain killers and took to my bed leaving everything in something of a muddle.
A few hours later and after chaos had ensued in the kitchen I awoke with a felling I can only describe as being punch drunk.
Being a rational and intelligent human being I went to see the doctor – except I didn’t. I figured that this was a one off, it was probably a virus or something. This wasn’t a fear-of-doctors thing, I just didn’t want to make a fuss.
A while later it happened again and this time I decided upon some self diagnosis. This must be a migraine I thought, so went to the chemist and bought some painkillers suitable for migraines. Migraines, after all, can’t be cured, so I just need to make sure I know where I can get some medication.
That’s it sort I thought, but if anything, the number of occurrences just increased. The medication would take away the symptoms, but I was never comfortable with the amount of times I would have to resort to them. I’d even get a bit neurotic about having something with me.
Eventually I did the rational thing – I went to see the doctor. Over two years later after the first big episode.
As with much self diagnosis I was wrong; these weren’t migraines at all. The characteristic of a migraine are very different to the symptoms I was experiencing. My problem, it turns out, were tension headaches, or tension-type headaches.
So what causes tension-type headaches – well it’s muscle tension tightening around the head. This tightening is precipitated by a number of things, all of which are part of my day-to-day existence: stress, poor posture, late nights, early mornings, lack of exercise, irregular eating.
The vice feeling I had been experiencing was exactly what was happening – the muscles in my head where emanating from my neck were putting head into a vice-like grip.
My problems, being muscular, meant that although the medication had been masking the symptoms, I was taking the wrong stuff and also there were things that could be done to prevent them from occurring. I needed to take medication that would alleviate this tension in the muscles not just reduce the pain.
It’s been a couple of months since I first went to see the doctor and since then I’ve been taking a muscle relaxant before going to bed. This has, in general, significantly improved the volume of severe headaches that I’ve been experiencing. I still get them occasionally and still have a bit of a way to go before I think I’m really there. This medication isn’t meant to be a long term answer and I need to do something about the precipitating factors too.
So why am I telling you this? Well, recently I’ve been in conversation with a number of people who are suffering similar things to me. I’m not trying to diagnose their situation because I’m not qualified, but I did want to share my experience.