My earliest memory is of a migraine. I was sitting outside in a blue-and-white striped deckchair. The sun was too hot and the light was too bright and the pain was like a white fire up the sides of my face, and in my eyes. I drank some orange squash. It was like I'd taken a thick, choking gulp of orange-scented washing-up liquid. I knew I was going to be sick. I didn't know how to communicate any of this. My mother and I have dated this memory to a family holiday in Bournemouth when I was 18 months old.
Migraines are part of my inheritance: my father gets them, and his mother remembered her mother going to bed with "sick headaches". My usual routine when one begins is to take ibuprofen or Migraleve and then sit in a darkened room for 16, 18, 24 hours, staring into the darkness and waiting for the tentacles of pain to recede from my skull. In the last couple of years they have become more frequent. In the first four months of this year, I had about six to eight a month. Each one wipes out a day and leaves me jittery when it's over.
What to do? I could beg my doctor for preventative beta-blockers, but the list of side-effects including depression, insomnia and loss of libido sounds even less attractive than the migraines. I'd go for homeopathy or reiki except I think they're nonsense.
Instead, I spoke to an NHS migraine consultant. Are there any remedies that have actually been researched and tested? It turns out there's a very long list. And I agreed, with a certain amount of hesitation, to follow all the recommendations for a few months.
Number one, I was told, was to cut back on painkillers – it's counterintuitive, but they can cause "rebound" headaches, especially those, such as Migraleve, which contain codeine. Different people respond differently, but it's a good rule of thumb not to take them for more than two days in a week. Second, cut right back on caffeine. Migraineurs – that's people who suffer from migraine – often overuse caffeine in an attempt to regulate their sleep, but end up not getting good-quality rest.