Originally published April 25, 2016, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.
By David Heitz
She’s Dr. Allison Cameron on “House” and plays the “Savior” as Emma Swan on the hit ABC fantasy series “Once Upon a Time.” But when a migraine comes on, it’s a reality check for actress Jennifer Morrison.
She is one of more than 37 million Americans who suffer from migraines, which are super-sized headaches. Scientists believe the headaches are brought on by the temporal artery enlarging in response to a variety of triggers.
For many people, like Morrison, certain flashes of light bring on the wicked, debilitating pain. For others, it can be food, or a certain smell.
“For me it’s almost always a bright flash of light, such as bright sunlight, or the light hitting the side view mirrors on a car, when you get that quick glare,” Morrison told me Monday during a telephone interview. “Strobe lights will do it, too. I was recently at a theater production, and there were these unannounced strobe lights, and I just had to leave.”
As one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses, she splits her time between Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, where “Once Upon a Time” is filmed. Morrison said she suffers from migraines about twice a month, and sometimes they come on during a shoot.
The saying, “The show must go on” applies to recorded television, too. Production schedules are tight, especially when you’ve got as much work as Morrison, who in addition to her acting career recently began her own production company.
Migraine stigma and why you can’t just ‘Get Over It’
Morrison has teamed up with Teva Pharmaceuticals to promote its More to Migraine campaign. Teva has created a website featuring Morrison’s story as well as information for migraine sufferers.
While most of us have heard of migraines, the sad truth is that many people view them with a skeptical eye. How many of us have seen a co-worker who repeatedly complains of migraines being accused of “just faking it,” making a mountain of a molehill, or just being a hypochondriac.
What’s worse, many people who suffer from migraines don’t pay close enough attention to what’s triggering their headaches, leaving themselves confused about what’s going on. They are not sure whether they are just stressed out, dehydrated, or any of the other things that can bring on a “regular” headache.
One of my followers on social media, a parent, described to me the story of a teenage girl who regularly suffers from migraines at school. Her peers and other teachers aren’t always understanding, the David Heitz Health follower said, saying she often is just told to “Take (acetaminophen) and get over it.”
Morrison said that the young woman should get a note from her doctor explaining that migraines are a very real neurological condition.
“She should tell her teachers also to go look at MoreToMigraine.com,” Morrison said. “The key is to communicate with your doctor. Be aware of your triggers.”
Bright lights a common trigger, followed by blurred vision, nausea
Morrison’s story of the headaches being brought on by bright light reminded me of a friend of mine who for years complained of her migraines. I never truly understood (or even bothered to look up) what migraines are all about until one day when I was driving her to meet her daughter at school.
We were in the midst of a mid-winter deep freeze. Snow and ice were everywhere you looked, and the bright sun reflecting off of it was so intense it made driving difficult. My friend told me she was about to get sick (nausea commonly comes along with migraines,) and she did, all over the side of my car as she stuck her head out the window.
I won’t soon forget it.
Another of my Facebook followers told me her migraines are brought on by chocolate or peanut butter. A Reese’s would cause her to be in pieces.
“You need to be specific about your symptoms from which you are suffering when you discuss them with your doctor,” Morrison advised. “You may think, ‘Oh I don’t want to bring up this or that,’ but you have to.”
You may be uncomfortable discussing medication overuse, alcohol, lack of eating, or hormones with your doctor, for example, but all of those things can be triggers.
“Many people are not aware that was is happening is a migraine,” Morrison said. “The blurred vision, the nausea. But with more awareness, people are starting to get it.”
Morrison says prevention is often the best medicine when it comes to migraines. “Breathing helps. I do yoga and I try to take care of myself preventatively,” she said. “I drink tons of water, eat healthy, get enough sleep. Exhaustion is a big part of how sensitive I am to my triggers.”
On her new production company and playing Colin O’Donoghue’s love interest
Exhaustion would be a challenge for any television actor, but with as much work as Morrison has, she has to be really mindful not to overdo it.
Morrison’s latest venture is her own production company, Apartment 3C Productions.
She’s directing her first feature film, called “Sun Dogs.”
It’s part casino scandal, part terrorism, part overzealous misfit. And it’s a comedy.
The film is written by Anthony Tambakis, who also wrote “Warrior,” which Morrison starred in. “It’s magnificent, thoughtful, literary, and beautiful,” Morrison said of Tambakis’s writing. “This is an original story that he came up with that he had been sitting on for a long time, waiting for the right director. I was very lucky.”
She said Tambakis saw a short Morrison directed called “Warning Labels” that is currently airing aboard United Airlines flights and will be on iTunes later this year. “I was lucky. He wanted a certain tone and style that he saw with me. There are four great characters (in the film) looking to find purpose in life, and they have some fun adventures.”
So what does Morrison do when a migraine comes on when she’s on the set? You just have to push through as long as you can, and then seek rest.
“I find a dark room and lay down,” she said. “I’ve been lucky in that I am surrounded by friends and family who know I never exaggerate something. I’m a trooper who pushes through and finds a way. If I’m a man down, I’m really a man down.”
Speaking of men, I did ask her what it’s like having Colin ‘Donoghue, “Captain Hook” in “Once Upon a Time,” as a love interest on the show. Is he just as sexy as in person?
“The most amazing thing about Colin is that he is just as good of a person and as good of a man as he is good looking,” Morrison said. “I’m very close with his family, his wife and son. They have sort of taken me in since we are shooting so far way.”
(Photo courtesy of Teva Pharmaceuticals)