My Travel Nightmares, Part 1: Childhood Adventures

By Alisha

Having traveled from the most southern tip of Africa to one of the most northern (and hottest) parts in Africa, to multiple countries across Europe, and now in Canada, I can confidently say that traveling with migraines is quite the hellish affair. Heck, it’s even been a nightmare when traveling from province to province in my home country, South Africa.

As a kid, many summer holidays (summer school holiday is during December) were spent with me in a miserable mood. Crying, in pain, and not ‘up’ for much.

My parents were never quite sure what was wrong when I was a child. Damn, doctors didn’t even know and neither did I. All I knew was that I was in pain and miserable most the time. 60% of the time it felt like I was out of control of my own body and whenever summer holiday came along, and we zoomed off to the beautiful coast of KwaZulu-Natal, that number increased from 60% to about 80%.

Friends and Migraines

I must admit, during my early childhood–I’m talking mostly pre-school and primary school–I had two friends. Okay, this “difficult child” had more than two friends; yes, even I find that hard to believe some days, but I had two friends who really did in their own childlike way try, and even years later still try, to understand what I was and am still going through.

These two friends were worlds apart but the closest to what I would call ‘true’ friends. I am still in contact with both. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but we stay in touch, which is something incredibly special. I recall my one friend always bracing herself when coming over to my place because she knew the chances of me having head pain, still being in my PJs and having absolutely no desire to go out, was about a 150%.

She also traveled with my family and me frequently, so she got to see the dark side of migraines and the nightmares of traveling with them–the side we didn’t even have a name for back then.

The Migraine Truth

However, today is not about people “getting” it, today I want to share the first of three travel nightmares. Not because I want your self-pity or oohs and aahs. No. My primary motivation for finishing this article mid-migraine is that maybe someone out there with a migraine or headache disorder reads this and knows that they aren’t alone.

To that someone, what you experience may seem “abnormal,” “weird,” “melodramatic,” “antisocial,” “it’s all in your head,” and a million other derogatory terms to the rest of the world, but to me–and I know I can speak for the rest of us at Migraine Mantras–it is not. It is REAL. We have all been there. Many of us still experience these symptoms daily; I know I do.

Back to Traveling…

We have partnered with Chronic Migraine Awareness Inc. (CMA) and collectively decided to focus the entire month of August on Traveling with Migraines. Daily we share tips about traveling with migraines on our Facebook page, CMA shares these tips on their page, and you can read them on our Instagram page.

Therefore, today I will just be sharing my personal experience and not the list of tips I do desperately want to share with you. Instead, I encourage you to read our top 31 tips for the month on any of these pages and get involved in the conversation by sharing your tips as well!

I also encourage you to take these tips to heart and not be ashamed to wear your chronic illness on your sleeve. Put that travel pillow around your neck, use your earplugs on a plane or bus ride, and proudly carry your emergency kit with you! Plan before traveling. Whether it is a 10 minute walk or drive to your local grocer or a 10 hour flight to Paris, be prepared.

Traveling Isn’t Just an Eat, Pray, Love Experience

I’ve almost finished writing three other blog posts in the weeks it has taken me to finish this one post. There are many reasons for it. One may be because traveling is not only a trip to Italy or the southern coast of Africa. Travel is an everyday thing. I travel to health appointments daily. I travel to buy groceries or see family and friends. I travel to go to hiking spots or discover new waterfalls. If I had to cut traveling out from my life, which is something I have done before, I would be an entirely different person.

I am the better version of me, the version I love most, and who has less pain to deal with when I do cut traveling out. I know this because, for 3 months, I didn’t leave the gates of my property. I went on walks all around the property and played in the grass and rain with my cats. I did Pilates and Yoga in my backyard during rain and sunshine. I lived a life as trigger-free as possible, and it worked. However, maintaining a ‘normal’ life, hermit-style isn’t quite the way to go.

…and Sprinkle Some More Writer’s Block on There

Other than traveling affecting me daily, about a year ago I endeavored on a massive international trip that is still affecting me daily. So basically, it is like writing the tell-all while the story is still happening. Trying to find closure while your heart is split open every day. So now, three weeks later, here we are, writing mid-migraine.

Lethargic, in pain, tired, and inspired. That’s the stuff I roll on.

Summer Holidays as a Kid

We always went on great adventures. The best and the worst. I know, I am a living contradiction. That is a fact I have long accepted. Many breaks were spent at game reserves, in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountain range and then, of course, those dreaded summer holidays spent at the enigmatic east coast of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal.

Known for its vibrant culture, rickshaw rides along the Durban beachfront, sugarcane fields, monkeys next to the road and in all the trees, and authentic South African-Indian cuisine, such as ‘bunny chows,’ KwaZulu-Natal is the epitome of the South African experience.

It is also insanely humid. Summers are full of storms (a common migraine trigger) which my contradictory self loves, but the humidity it brings only increases the pain that was triggered by the storm.

This of course, was something we never quite figured out during my childhood. What we did discover was that come summer time, I would stay up the entire night before we left for our beachfront destination, overcome by excitement to escape the city life that came with much mistreatment due to simply who I was: the chronically ill kid.

In fact, I was just deeply misunderstood, and as a young child it is extremely challenging to explain the plethora of symptoms complex neurological illnesses such as migraines bring.

The Painful Memories

Arriving in KwaZulu-Natal, my pain would always increase, and although I could not pinpoint why then, I now know there were a few reasons. Humidity was at the top of that list. Migraine personality has also probably played a role all my life, but that’s a story for another time.

The worst memories were around Christmas time, my birthday, and my dad’s birthday which fell on New Year’s Eve. I was almost always miserable. I was constantly in pain and at such a young age, taking painkillers I never saw any other children my age take. The pain wasn’t as frequent or intense as it grew to be in my teenage years. However, it was severe enough to leave me traumatized and with very little holiday spirit.

Luckily, over the years, I have been able to regain my sense of ‘holiday spirit.’ I still get emotionally drained and tired around the holiday times and my PTSD triggers, but how could it not. This was a time in my life I was supposed to enjoy, or at least many children hope to enjoy, and some are fortunate enough to do so.

And don’t get me wrong, I had a lovely childhood, but I had a lot of hidden pain. I would cry often and can’t remember ever getting a proper night’s rest. Crying was my way of trying to express all the pain, unfamiliar sensations and emotions I was feeling.

The Hidden Secrets of Migraine

Migraine is such a complex illness and the different phases you experience throws your whole body out of whack. To an outsider, it may seem like you are just a “difficult child,” particularly as it is an invisible illness.

But it wasn’t all that invisible to me. I was over-sensitive to everything but emotionally strong. So I always thought it couldn’t be that I am just an incredibly sensitive person–not that I see any problems with that. However, even as a child, I never liked the sun; it hurt me. Certain sounds hurt me and certain smells made me want to faint.

Maybe I didn’t know the correct terminology, but I always knew something was wrong, something more than just my ‘head’ pain, stomach pain, mixed emotions, and constant nausea. Deep inside, at such a young age, I knew it was something much more complex.

What I didn’t know was that it would affect my whole life in ways I couldn’t imagine. It would ruin many moments that were supposed to be happy moments during family holidays. It would make me feel worthless as a child. It would make my parents feel helpless during so many vacations, and ultimately, it would leave me with trauma for years to come.

Children and migraines

So today, if I could reach just one parent, whose child may be experiencing any of these symptoms (a list of common migraine symptoms is pictured below), please, keep fighting for your child. My parents never gave up. But my doctors did. They didn’t care enough to dig deeper. And today still, migraine often goes undiagnosed in children.

The problem is, in my experience, it only gets worse after childhood. Especially since migraine loves comorbidities. More on that another time.

Migraine symptoms

The end of summer

I may look happy in many of these pictures, but behind that smile, I hide a lot of pain. A lot of sleepless nights and millions of tears shed out of pure frustration of first not knowing what was causing the pain and then knowing how limited I truly was and in many ways still am to managing the pain.

That doesn’t mean I would trade my migraines. Sure, sometimes I daydream about a more normal childhood and normal summer holidays. Filled with more laughter and playing and running around. Less bullying and mean words. However, migraine has played a huge role in who I am today, and I am proud of that person. I wouldn’t be who I am without the pain.


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