I created this post as part of a campaign by Teva Pharmaceuticals. I received an American Express gift card for participating.

If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine, you know it’s much more than “just a headache.” In fact, anyone who says those words to me when I’m having a migraine day will swiftly find themselves facing my wrath. Saying a migraine is “just a headache” is like saying the Pacific ocean is “just a little puddle.” Yet migraines are still so often misunderstood, which is sad because they rank in the top 3 of the world’s most prevalent medical conditions, affecting nearly 36 million Americans, according to MoreToMigraine.com, with 14.8 of them dealing with migraines bad enough to keep them from daily activities.

More to Migraines

Did you know that I’ve suffered from headaches for most of my life, but didn’t actually get diagnosed with migraines until about two years ago? I thought that because I didn’t see auras or have sensitivity to light every time, my headaches didn’t count as migraines. I had a very clear-cut idea of what they were based on my mother’s history with them. When she gets a migraine, she sees glowing triangles cross her field of vision, then the headache arrives along with sensitivity to light and sound. Hers go away relatively quickly too, at least within a couple hours. Sometimes, she doesn’t even get the headache. She just sees the auras and suddenly develops nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, without the pounding.

Now, my migraines? They’re a whole different story! Let me tell you a bit about them. Knowledge is power, after all, and you may notice some similarities to your own headaches.

A Day in the Life of My Migraine

The life span of my average migraine literally lasts a day, so that subtitle is pretty appropriate. Here’s the thing about my migraines: I wake up with them or get them within about half an hour of rolling out of bed. If I can get through the first hour of my morning without triggering one, I’m usually good to go. Not always, but about 95% of the time.

If I wake up with one, the day is over. It starts with a pounding, grinding feeling in the side of my skull. Kind of like someone detached my skull, tossed it in the dryer with a few bricks, then threw it back on lopsided. It hurts so much that it makes me incredibly nauseous. I get sick, which makes my head pound more.

Meanwhile, my ears are ringing. That’s a relatively new symptom of my migraines. The ringing makes me crazy because I’m already sensitive to sounds. I can get away from all external sounds, but I really can’t escape the high-pitched tone in my own head. I start crying, which makes it worse because now I don’t just have a migraine, I also have a sinus headache from the stuffy nose brought on by my tears and sobs.

If I have to work, I can’t even go hide in my room. I am a single mom running my own business. I can’t just “call in sick” and ride out a migraine day, especially when I get them up to three times a week sometimes. So I spend all morning running back and forth to the bathroom, clutching my head, crying and trying to think through the pain. If you ever read posts that just don’t have my usual oomph, chances are they were written on a migraine day.

For the most part, I’ve managed to get my migraines under control to the point where I’m only getting them once or twice a week now. If I’m really lucky, I can go a whole week to ten days without one. Unfortunately, they seem to build up. If I go longer without, I get slammed with the mother of all migraines. Those days, I have no choice but to stay in bed. Two weeks ago, I slept until 5pm on a Saturday afternoon because I couldn’t get rid of my migraine.

So, my friends, as you can see, there’s a whole lot more to migraines than “just a headache.” I’m telling you this not because I want sympathy, but because I want you to understand that migraines are debilitating. If you know one of the 18% of American women or 6% of men that suffer from migraines, hopefully this better helps you to understand what they’re going through. If you have headaches that take on a life of their own with a variety of other components, talk to your doctor to find out if you’re actually dealing with migraines.

Visit MoreToMigraine.com to learn more and to get tips for managing migraines.