Melissa Braun spent much of her twenties like a zombie.
Avoiding light, unable to concentrate, tucking your head under the covers and wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the world – the cause of these supernatural side effects is not, however, a dystopian disease. It is chronic migraines.
Almost five million Australians live with migraines, and most of them are women. The neurological disorder is usually characterized by moderate to severe headaches and nausea.
However, migraines shouldn’t be confused with something that could easily be relieved with a dash of acetaminophen. For people like Melissa they are debilitating, so much so that the World Health Organization recognizes migraines among the most debilitating diseases, besides dementia, Quadriplegia and active psychosis.
“I couldn’t really function. I couldn’t drive a car. I couldn’t concentrate,” Melissa tells 9Honey. “You just want to be in bed, try to sleep it off when you can sleep.”
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Melissa Braun has suffered from chronic migraines since she was 21. (Included)
Melissa developed frequent headaches as a teenager, which eventually led to migraines in her early twenties.
Initially written off as an annoying minor matter of study, the now 27-year-old “didn’t make a big deal out of it” until they got in her way Career.
“I couldn’t do a lot of the things that I had to do,” Melissa tells 9Honey, explaining that while her migraines prevented her from going to work, she thought she was just “making a fuss about everything.”
“Everything” was indeed worth a fuss; Her headache got worse and worse, often causing brain-wrenching pain and nausea for three days. Working in a hospital meant that Melissa was under bright light during all her shifts, which only made her symptoms worse – although she had avoided calling in sick at all costs.
“I hate getting sick,” says Melissa. “I just assume that if I do, people will think the worst of me.”
Especially with her migraines, Melissa was quite nervous about explaining what was going on, as it is often misunderstood as a headache rather than a debilitating condition that sometimes makes people barely functional for up to 180 days a year.
And the pandemic makes it worse.
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Due to the frequency of her migraines, Melissa wasn’t sure if she would even take the entrance exam or the medical school interview. (Included)
Corresponding a recent studyAlthough 16 percent of people who suffer from migraines say their migraines have decreased in frequency over the course of COVID-19, 60 percent say their migraines have increased in frequency, and 10 percent say theirs has Once episodic migraines have now turned into chronic ones.
The migraines, when they occur, have also gotten more severe as the pandemic rages on.
While the exact biological causes of migraines are not fully understood, certain factors are believed to trigger an attack. Namely family history, gender, Depression and anxiety, or Childhood Abuse.
Lack of sleep, diet, alcohol, sensory triggers, environmental changes, screen use, hormonal changes, exercise, and stress all contribute to the complex equation of biological and environmental risk factors that can trigger a migraine at any time.
Stress is the bane of Melissa’s existence – it’s why she was stuck in a fearful Catch-22.
Migraines are the nightmares of Melissa’s career dreams
Melissa’s dream is to turn her interest in neurology into a medical career, perhaps by merging her with mental health and psychiatry.
She is currently completing her PhD at Griffith University, has been offered an internship and is well on her way to real life Grey’s Anatomy Moment.
However, four years ago Melissa wasn’t sure she would even start medical school, and it wasn’t because she wasn’t intelligent or enthusiastic enough.
It was because of her migraines.
Although Melissa now only gets migraines once or twice a year after trying various treatments, there was a time when she got them every two weeks.
“It really scared me because I didn’t think I could go into medicine, or even get a medical degree, or even a career in medicine,” says Melissa 9Honey.
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When Melissa started medical school, her colleagues were overjoyed, including a doctor who gave Melissa her first stethoscope. (Included)
Entering medical school is not an easy task – in addition to good grades, hopeful doctors also have to pass the grueling GAMSAT exam and pass a rigorous application process.
The study load alone is stressful – already a harbinger of a seizure – but Melissa also struggled with the fact that she could have a seizure at any time, which didn’t help her frequency.
Migraines don’t wait for the calendar to clear, and the clock ticked angrily at Melissa’s entrance exam and interview – preparing for the possibility that a migraine might strike at the worst possible time.
“I was freaking out,” says Melissa.
The GAMSAT exam and required interviews are only scheduled at certain times of the year, and retaking requires significant investment from candidates – both in preparation and in terms of price.
Luckily, when Melissa spoke at her interview, one of her treatments was successful, which meant her migraines were less common.
The treatment options for migraine symptoms are huge – botox, acupuncture, pain relief, and preventive medications – but when it comes to curing the cause, the options are limited.
Scientists are working to meet this unmet need, with new products increasingly listed through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which provides Australians with affordable access to essential medicines – the latest was Made available earlier this month.
“The approval of new treatments is an important step forward for the Australian migraine community and we congratulate the government for offering Australians an additional treatment option,” said Benet Irish, General Manager of TEVA Pharma Australia.
“Innovation doesn’t end with scientific discovery. It extends to making sure treatments are available to the people who need them most.”
After four years of minimal episodes, Melissa’s migraines are returning more frequently, so she looks for other options – and as the pandemic continues, millions of other Aussies join her in search of relief.
For individual medical advice, please contact your family doctor.
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