Ava Rebbechi says migraines stole her childhood. Now she’s terrified they will steal her future too.
Speaking to FEMAIL, the 20-year-old law student revealed she was just ten the first time she suffered the devastating effect of a migraine.
‘It was just after my tenth birthday. Actually every time I have a birthday I kind of see it as an anniversary of my migraines too,’ she said.
Ava had been suffering from severe headaches for a few weeks before her first migraine, but doctors had warned her of the signs.
‘I got that aura, the spots in my vision and my heart sank I thought, “This is really serious,”‘ she said.
She was at lunch at school with her friends and was trying to read the back of a packet of snacks, only to find the spots inhibiting her vision.
The nausea came next – then the earth-shattering pain.
‘My parents took me straight to the doctor and it has been a long journey since,’ she said.
Every time she switched doctors, they seemed optimistic they could help her, only to come up with very few tangible results.
Ava’s migraines can last five days at a time. As a young girl, she would get them every week.
The pain, nausea, fatigue and general feeling of being unwell led her to isolate herself.
She didn’t want to go to sleep-overs in case she got a migraine, and found participating in sport would make her more likely to have an episode.
‘I felt like because I was a young girl, no one really believed how bad it was or thought I was making it up,’ she said.
Ava learned to push through the pain, to a certain extent, and quickly got on top of the symptoms, but it didn’t always stop an attack from leaving her in bed for days.
Sometimes she would have to carefully consider pushing through, knowing there could be a worse attack around the corner.
‘Sometimes it is like, “Should I vomit and get it over with or fight the nausea?”‘ she said.
‘I’ll never forget the night of my graduation. There is a picture where I am smiling for the camera, trying so hard not to ruin a good night. But half an hour before it was taken, I was screaming in pain, in tears,’ she said.
Ava eventually got to an age where she was allowed to try Botox to prevent her migraines and relieve her symptoms.
And it has worked – to an extent.
‘I first got Botox in 2019. Now I only have migraines every two weeks, and most of them are only for a day or two,’ she said.
‘In saying that, I just had one that went for five days. I sometimes go to hospital with those ones but they just try to give me Panadol, or fluids if I am dehydrated from vomiting.’
Unfortunately for Ava, as she got older her ‘migraine aura’ stopped coming. This means she no longer has a warning before the pain and nausea strikes.
Ava is studying law, in her third year, and hopes to one day have a career in the legal profession.
But her constant migraines have her worried about the future.
‘I am driven, I want a career, but I am also nervous,’ she said.
She doesn’t know what type of employer would be willing to hire someone with chronic migraines, or what her career would look like.
‘I would have to be transparent. I got a retail job when I was 15 and didn’t tell them and it ate away at me. Especially when I had to call in sick,’ she said.
She studies part-time at university and thinks part-time work might be the answer.
‘Ideally, I guess it would be three or four days [per week], or five shorter days,’ she said.
‘I have learned to take it easy on myself. I am known as the nap queen. I sit and watch television. And I try to keep hydrated and have medication on me at all times.’
Ava currently lives independently and doesn’t want to have to move back in with her parents or lose that if things get worse.
‘I would like to do things like get a dog – without worrying if I am going to be well enough to look after it,’ she said.
‘This has been me for the last 11 years. I lost my childhood. I felt like a guinea pig or test rat being poked and prodded to see if things worked.’
She said she feels like her migraines have ruined every family holiday or major event.
Her migraines often turn up with her period – but not always.
Ava says her migraine complaints have been dismissed by most people for years.
‘It is only now, at 20, people take it seriously. My parents always did and are a great support,’ she said.
She copped rumours at school when she missed class or social gatherings. The fact she was always underweight because migraines put her off food and made her vomit for days made things worse.
‘It was unfair. I just thought, “If you are going to talk about me, talk about the real issue instead of making something up. That’s not a fair serve.”‘
Since her first migraine aged 10, Ava has been scared for the future. She is hoping one day she doesn’t have to be anymore.
She is sharing her story ahead of Migraine Awareness Week, which begins on September 4.
New research commissioned by Migraine & Headache Australia (a division of the Brain Foundation) reveals thousands of Australian women living with migraines are leaving workplaces due to discrimination, stigma and lack of support.
This is taking a huge toll on their mental health, career opportunities and threatening progress toward workplace gender equity.
According to the research, most workplaces in Australia fail to support staff who suffer from migraines.
Nearly three quarters of people who suffer migraines are women, so it is creating a significant barrier to achieving workplace gender equality. Women living with migraines frequently are not believed, and are even bullied at work.
Many people are told they are ‘making it up’ or are bullied about the condition at work, the study showed, despite 4.9 million Australians suffering from the condition.
‘Many Australians believe a migraine is “just a bad headache”, and four out of five managers don’t think migraines are a serious enough reason to take time off work,’ a Migraine and Headache Australia spokesperson said.
Migraine sufferers are up to five times more likely to experience poor mental health than those without migraines.
While there is currently no cure for migraines, treatment can help people manage their condition.
Carl Cincinnato, Director of Migraine & Headache Australia, reinforced that urgent changes are needed to keep women living with migraines in the workforce.
‘I often hear from HR leaders [say], “If migraines are such a big issue, how come no one complains about it?”‘ Mr Cincinnato said.
‘Many people with migraine are forced to hide their symptoms because they fear discrimination and stigma. This has an immense impact on not just the lives of people living with migraine, but on workplace productivity, female workforce participation and the Australian economy,’ he added.
‘There are steps that workplaces can take to support staff who suffer from migraine that allow them to better manage their condition.
‘Unfortunately, the vast majority of workplaces are not taking these steps and migraine in the workplace remains almost entirely unaddressed.’
If you experience migraine symptoms, it is important to see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Symptoms can include severe head pain, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, visual disruptions such as an aura, sensitivity to smell and touch as well as numbness of the face, hands or feet.
Triggers can include stress, hormonal changes, dehydration and lack of sleep.