Karamo Brown is known for helping others accept themselves, grow emotionally, and feel well mentally on Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye. Now, the star is opening up about his own struggle to do all of these things while living with migraines for most of his life. Brown says he’s in a much better place with his migraine management today, but it took proper support and self-care to get to where he is.
Brown, 40, says he had his first migraine in high school. “It was one of the most debilitating things I'd ever experienced,” Brown, who is a spokesperson for migraine medication Aimovig, tells SELF. “I think it was during finals, and so the stress of finals triggered it, and I just couldn't focus. I mean, I literally was locking myself in my room, closing the blinds, because the light was making me nauseated.”
Migraine is far from your usual headache—it’s a neurological condition that causes intense head pain for hours or days at a time, usually along with other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Migraines can progress through four stages—prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome—though not everyone feels symptoms at each stage. The nausea and light sensitivity that Brown describes are both common attack symptoms (the phase when the migraine is actually occuring), along with throbbing and pulsing pain, the Mayo Clinic explains.
Many different factors can trigger a migraine, and triggers may be different for each person. Some common triggers include changes in sleep, hormonal changes, alcohol, and caffeine, along with stress, as SELF previously explained. Because stress is Brown’s most frequent migraine trigger, preventing his migraines often means monitoring his mental health, too. “I do a lot of meditation, I do a lot of breathing,” he says, in addition to exercising in his garage and jumping rope, which has become his favorite quarantine workout.
Brown also notes how important boundary-setting has become in taking care of his health. Simply telling those around him that he needs to take a step back when triggers come up hasn’t always been easy, he says, but opening up that line of communication has changed his life for the better. “[I] also communicate to people, ‘I'm feeling stressed right now, and this stress will trigger a migraine in me, do you mind if we take a moment to have a break?’” he says. “I think being open and honest and vulnerable with people who you work with, who are in your family, helps them to understand and allows them to be able to support you.”
For many people like Brown, migraines and mental health are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, stress can trigger migraines. On the other, not receiving proper care, support, and treatment for a chronic condition like migraine can be distressing in and of itself, too. In fact, Brown says that the most difficult part of his migraine journey occurred early on, when at first, people didn’t believe his symptoms. “I just remember everyone around me thinking I was either trying to get out of the test, which I actually felt very prepared for, or just saying to me, like, ‘Get over it,’” Brown tells SELF. “And that was such a hard thing for me as a teenager, because here I am experiencing this, and instead of getting support I'm told just to get over it, and that what I'm experiencing was not real. And that was difficult.”
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