It's 4pm on a warm afternoon but I'm lying in bed shivering. I feel like my brain is being ripped up. I'm vomiting, I feel dizzy and I want to hide from light and sound. Even my teeth ache.
"Oh, I can tell it's your time of the month. Take a Nurofen while I take cover," my husband posits - the scared swerve I hear from him every month, as my hormones make me hostile and irritable. But today, I make it clear. "The pain is so bad that, if it wasn't for the kids, I'd choose to take a pill and never wake up," I say.
Migraines aren't just headaches, and they don't feel like a bad hangover - a misapprehension my husband was under until I spelt it out. They are much more extreme, depressing and debilitating.
It has been estimated by researchers at Medical News Today that 18 per cent of women will suffer from them at some point, triggered by both biological factors (fluctuating hormones) and psychosocial ones (stress, lack of sleep), often around their reproductive age. As a 41-year-old with two young children (aged five and three), I am a classic menstrual migraine candidate.
Recently though, there was some hopeful news for women like me and other migraine sufferers - including Serena Williams, Janet Jackson and Elle Macpherson. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the United States have clinically proven for the first time that pre-menstrual tension (PMT) is a real condition, the result of a genetic predisposition to fluctuating hormones. The research also found that these yo-yoing brain chemicals cause problems so severe that one in 20 women needs antidepressants and often suffer headaches.
My first attack happened when my youngest child, Matilda, was 12 weeks old, and I have lived something of a half-life ever since. I'm perfectly fine for three weeks, but for the five days before my period, I live in shadows, functioning at minimum capacity. My cheekbones feel like they are being crushed under the weight of the pain, the right side of my skull chipped away at by axes. My children's happy chatter becomes totally torturous.
Twelve months ago, when the pain got so bad I thought I had a brain tumour, I went for an MRI scan, but there was officially nothing wrong with me. Doctors just upped my dosage of Sumatriptan, the standard painkiller for migraines.
Drugged, the migraines lessened slightly, but still continued. Then, on my 40th birthday, after a night of cocktails and celebrations, I had a vicious attack. I couldn't function or socialise with friends who'd flown in from around the world to be with me. At that point I knew I had to become my own advocate and began exploring alternative health therapies. Curing my migraines became my obsession.
My first step was to give up alcohol. I wasn't a big drinker, but booze is a common trigger. It wasn't hard to live without, but it didn't seem to help, either.
I began a strict caffeine regime: two cups every morning. Various medical studies have shown a link between caffeine and headache relief. Before a headache, blood vessels tend to enlarge, and coffee contains properties that restrict blood flow. But too much leaves me jumpy, and I miss out on much-needed sleep. This new regularity certainly improved the quality of my rest.
I also took melatonin and magnesium before bed. Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain's pineal gland, helps to regulate sleep, and an imbalance has been linked to migraines, while low levels of magnesium are often found in sufferers. Early research shows that some people have reduced symptoms when taking them.
My period came and went and although I had a migraine for 48 hours, I didn't throw up and felt less hopeless. Perhaps this was a placebo effect, knowing I was fully cognitive of my condition and taking control - but even if it was, it spurred me on.
So the following month, I started Whole30, a healthy eating reset plan, which eliminates certain food groups from your diet that could have a negative impact on your body - such as dairy, sugar, grains and sulfites. For 30 days I lived on fresh fruit, salad, vegetables, eggs, nuts, chicken and tuna, and drank nothing but water and my two cups of morning coffee.
I started reintroducing food groups slowly - most without drama - until it came to sugar. Chocolate, sweets and biscuits caused a slump in mood and then the worst migraine of my life. Luckily, I was with my parents, so I had help with my children as I collapsed and began throwing up. Chocolate, according to one study of 500 migraine sufferers, is a trigger for 75 per cent of people - me among them.
Continuing to avoid chocolate, alcohol and an abundance of fake sugars, over the following months the migraines softened and the exhaustion that came with them lifted. But still they were there. And that familiar drilling sensation in my right temple still drove me to bed for days at a time.
In control of everything I was consuming, I started to explore alternative therapies. After a consultation with Leslie Shurbet, a reiki healer and aromatherapist, I incorporated deep-breathing techniques and essential oils into my nightly routine.
"Migraines can be triggered by stress, anxiety, sleep, specific foods, hormonal changes or weather fluctuations. Once you know your triggers, essential oils can help," Shurbet explained. "A natural remedy for migraines might include inhalation of peppermint, which is a natural analgesic and helps open airways to breathe easier. Or massaging it on your temples can stimulate blood flow.
"Lavender is a natural antihistamine, known to decrease anxiety. Holding a drop of frankincense essential oil to the roof of the mouth can also help ease pain. It's a natural anti-inflammatory, with many of the same properties that are in over-the-counter painkillers."
Shurbet suggested an essential oil blend that included lavender and chamomile, to reduce nervous tension. I rubbed them on my abdomen during my menstrual cycle, and on my temples during a headache, and the smell and the ritual of applying them alone lifted my spirits and seemed to lessen the pain.
MeriJayd O'Connor, a craniosacral therapist and masseur, agrees that when it comes to migraines, there's no one-size-fits-all cure. "Each person has a unique set of conditions inside the body and life situations that can manifest into migraines. It is important to look at diet, stress and coping habits - then also dive deeper into the body to look at what is restricted and what structures would function better if they enjoyed more movement," she explained.
Craniosacral therapy, which uses gentle touch to manipulate the body, does exactly that. "Craniosacral therapy improves the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and movement of fascia, the sheath of fibrous tissue that encloses the muscle. It also greatly benefits the central nervous system, which controls every system in the body from hormones to muscles," O'Connor explained.
I headed for a treatment three months ago. Far from being painful, I nearly dozed off. It didn't wipe out my symptoms completely but I found was able to join in with my children's One Direction warbling on the way to and from school, rather than demanding we travel in silence.
Eight weeks ago, with my symptoms more in control than ever, I'd accepted I had nothing more to try, when a friend suggested I keep a diary. I started chronicling every change I felt in the run-up to my difficult week. And with this simple ritual, I am able to prepare myself.
I avoid social media as soon as the first symptoms hit. I say no to any extracurricular activities that aren't crucial to me or my children's welfare. I force myself to get eight hours of sleep. And my husband takes over the children's bedtime so I can take daily baths.
With this combination of prescription drugs, nutrition, alternative therapies and self-care, I have found an equilibrium and have won back the week of the month I was losing. I am still scared of my how my head can make me feel, but I now know how to give myself the best chance of survival.
Five top tips for beating migraines
Rubbing tiger balm around my hairline before a nap. The heat feels great and the smell clears the head.
2 Munching on a bowl of cherries. The sweetness gives me a boost, and they are packed with compounds called anthocyanins, that block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes.
3 Soaking in an Epsom-salt-and- ginger bath for 40 minutes - with candles and silence.
4 Freshening up with a powerful shower. Exfoliating and washing my hair with pungent peppermint products shrugs off sluggishness.
5 Taking a five-minute walk to pick up my favourite coffee. Caffeine narrows the dilated blood vessels that develop with headaches.