Menopause, Migraines and My Empty Nest

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While growing up three things I never thought about were migraines, menopause and having an ’empty nest.’ What I did think about were the clothes I wore to school, whether or not I had the “in” purse, how not to get my period in school and how my hair looked. When I had a migraine it was around my period and I was able to tend to it with over-the- counter medications. As I got older, my thoughts turned to my education and career goals. At some point I assumed I would get married, but only after I was set in my career. Nowhere in my ‘plan’ were children included – I just wasn’t going to have any. After high school I went to college to pursue a degree in music education. But as I’ve come to find out, life rarely goes according to any plans I’ve set.

In the middle of my sophomore in college as a music education major, I discovered I didn’t have the patience to teach music to a classroom full of squiggly little children. This confirmed my feelings that motherhood wasn’t for me. My new major in music business would be a great start in become a manager of an orchestra, or at least that was the plan. My college internship at ICM Artists (now Opus 3 Artists) in New York City was an amazing experience and my plan was set in action. But somewhere along the line I met Michael and my world turned upside down. We fell in love, graduated from college and got married. After my internship I came right home and got married – what was I thinking?

Anyways, as we settled into our lives and careers life was very good. Michael was a math teacher and I was in music administration. Suddenly after four years of marriage, my biological clock starting ticking and I wanted a baby. Soon after our beautiful daughter Sarah was born and motherhood became my new career path and passion – I was now a stay-at-home-mom. Five and a half years later, our wonderful son Samuel was came along and our nest was complete and together we raised our two gems. Motherhood and migraines seemed to be manageable during this time.

But once again, my life abruptly changed when I sustained a traumatic brain injury or TBI. You can read more about my history here. Somehow my family muddled through the chronic pain I battled and still do but no without the support of a husband. It was too much for him, so after nearly 25 years of marriage my role as a wife was over. Two things that remained constant in my life were migraines (which increased dramatically since I fell) and motherhood.

Motherhood is something I took (and still do) very seriously and went about in a “traditional” manner. My job was not to be best friends with my children, rather their mother who went about setting limits and boundaries with patience and love – most of the time. My children often heard “I’m not interested in what Bobby and the rest of your friends are doing, YOU aren’t allowed to do that.” Difficult decisions were made on a daily basis they didn’t like. For example, no PG-14 rated movies until they turned 14; no sleep over’s unless I’d already been to the house and knew the parents; shorter curfews compared to their friends, you get the picture – I was pretty strict. When my 18-year-old comes home at his assigned curfew I always get a good night kiss no matter what time it is. This way I can “see” and “smell” any signs if he has made any poor choices. So far, so good.

But the thing is Sam graduates from high school this June and is off to college in the fall. Even in chronic pain, motherhood has always been my primary function. I felt it’s important to raise children who would become respectful, independent, loyal, compassionate and loving adults, which they both are. When Sam leaves for college this fall, is my role of mother finished? I feel like I’ve been working on a ‘project’ for 23 years and its coming to an end. It feels like I’m about to make the final presentation for this project, and then, it’s over. Is this what an ’empty nest’ feels like? A glorious ‘project’ that is done? Within the last three years my role as a mother and a wife feel like they have been ripped from me. I’m thrilled that my children have made it through and turned out “OK” after surviving a crummy divorce and elated they are both starting new chapters in their lives. But this emptiness I am starting to feel is totally unexpected.

So here’s the thing – how do I fill my nest and figure out who am I now? Where to start -how does a disabled woman in chronic pain redefine themselves after being a stay-at-home-mom for 23 years? There are plenty of mothers who go back to school and find a new full time career or go back into the career they had before they became mother, but that’s not me. Battling chronic pain each day and taking it one day at a time may be the path to stay on for the moment. Because other than that, I really have no clue where to go from here.


  1. This is 2020 and the story above needs to be modified with new info. Migraine is a form of dysautonomia, meaning that it is abnormal function of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), easily “kicked off” by any form of stress that includes sunlight. Dysautonomia is caused by energy deficiency in the lower pat of the brain where the controls of the ANS are situated. This part of the brain is highly susceptible to vitamin B1 deficiency that causes a phenomenon called pseudo-hypoxia (false lack of oxygen) and an unbalanced reaction of the ANS results in changes in the arterial supply of blood (and consequently oxygen) to the brain. That is why most migraine sufferers are very intelligent because their brains require more energy than people less well endowed. By taking a regular daily dose of 50-100 mg of thiamine hydrochloride and 125-150 mg of magnesium taurate you can almost always prevent migraine headaches. It may require a multivitamin also. This is not vitamin replacement: it is using the vitamins as medication that is non toxic. If you have been thiamine deficient for a long time, you may find that things are worse for a while. This is called paradox or refeeding syndrome and it is explained in another post on this website.

  2. A mother is always a mother even if there are no kids at home. However, when the kids have left there is less stuff to do for others so it is an ideal opportunity to do something for ourselves.

    You could focus on your support of people with migraine and headache disorders, maybe get a website up if you haven’t already, even start a podcast and reach out to the world.

  3. Nan, you just keep being you. Your children will still need you, your parents will need you, and the community of people you help about migraine disease will still need you… Your nest won’t be as “empty” as you are imagining. Love your writing, thanks for sharing as you do.

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