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Khloé Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres, Paul Giamatti and Erika Girardi Show the Ugly Reality of Migraine on TV
If’ you’re a fan of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (RHBH), Showtime’s Billions, E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK), or Ellen DeGeneres’ stand up special Relatable on Netflix, you might have leaned into your TV screen when scenes talking about Migraine appeared in recent episodes.
Did they get it right? We’ll share our take on each of these portrayals of the disease we all share.
Migraine, Get Ready for Your Close-Up
We can thank the makers of Emgality, Ajovy, and Aimovig for bringing Migraine back into the national conversation again. It’s hard to miss the prime time ads on network and cable for the first three medications in the anti-CGRP category that are now helping people prevent Migraine attacks.
The good news: that’s giving writers and entertainers greater permission to finally talk about Migraine on TV, mirroring what they are struggling with privately. Kristin Chenoweth and Terrell Davis shared their Migraine stories at this year’s Migraine World Summit. And People Magazine, Huffington Post and The Talk took notice – and so the buzz began.
Finally, Migraine is coming out of the closet and having a moment in popular culture.
Ellen’s Relatable: Migraine is Funny … But Not Really
Even Ellen DeGeneres incorporated Migraine into her “Relatable” comedy special on Netflix (which is excellent – don’t miss it). She jokes, “I saw an advertisement for [a pill] that stops headaches and migraines before they start. That’s some good marketing right there, isn’t it?” And then she imagines the conversation that might happen between a doctor and a patient.
“Are you in any pain?
No, not at all.
I’m going to give you something for that.
But I’m not in any pain …
… And you won’t be.”
This mention made me chuckle, as Ellen often does. She’s probably referencing the new CGRP Migraine medications which help prevent attacks before they occur, the latest entries in a slew of Migraine prevention drugs like Botox that people have been using for decades.
And who wouldn’t want that? It’s very relatable and likely to pique the curiosity of anyone with Migraine looking for relief.
KUWTK: Khloe Kardashian Experiences Scary Migraine Symptoms, Stress Triggers
Nausea from Migraine or Pregnancy? Stay Tuned
“I get really bad migraines but they’ve been increasing more and more. And I don’t know if my migraines and nausea are caused by the same thing, I’m not really sure,” she said. Her sister Kylie Jenner suggested it might be pregnancy, a reasonable suspicion that turned out to be false. It was Migraine.
“Some days I feel great and I don’t feel nauseous at all and I don’t have a headache and I’m fine,” Khloe shared. “And then the next day, the slightest thing might really upset me, and I get blindsided by them.”
We know. Attacks are frustratingly unpredictable.
Khloe continued, “I’m happy that I’m not pregnant because I didn’t want to be. But with that being said, now I’m like, ‘Why the f— am I nauseous all the time?’ I almost wish I was so I could say that’s why I’m nauseous.”
No Danger, No Answers
“Literally my whole head feels bruised because it’s been pounding for so long and it’s terrifying,” Khloe continued. “I’m supposed to go to Cleveland tomorrow to see Tristan, but the way I’m feeling right now, I don’t know if I can be on a flight like that. I’ve been throwing up blood. It’s so intense. I’m blind in my left eye.”
Some people might have dismissed the symptoms, but Khloe postponed her trip to get an MRI. No danger, the doctors said, but no answers either.
“I want everything to be all fresh and perfect for him,” Khloé said. “But today I have a migraine again, and that’s just annoying because I want to see Tristan. I miss him.”
Kudos to the producers for capturing the reality that it’s not just a headache – nausea and vomiting are incredibly common symptoms. We can also relate to the mystery of inexplicable and scary Migraine symptoms. And the stress from a move, inexplicable symptoms and the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
All in all, a pretty accurate depiction of the stress that can trigger a Migraine attack, the symptoms that accompany it, and a typical approach to medical care.
Speaking of stress, few characters experience a more intense, backstabbing daily life than Billions’ Chuck Rhoades, who plays an aspiring New York State Attorney General with a penchant for pain (of the S&M variety). Showtime can get away with that.
What made me lean in was the episode in which Chuck has a ‘tension headache‘ that his powerbroker dad tells him to suck up. Nope, it’s a migraine attack, at work, at a very inconvenient time.
In Episode 3 of Season 4, Chuck appears reclining on his sofa with a washcloth blocking the light from his eyes while he talks with his father on the phone.
Son, are you hungover again?
It’s a migraine, wearing out it’s welcome.
Well, walk it off!
Not Tonight, Honey
In the next scene, during an awkward negotiation about a bad press item, Chuck pauses to open a pill bottle and throw two tablets back without water. Delayed treatment…not the best idea.
Still hours later at home, Chuck explains to his wife Wendy, “I thought killing that article would’ve killed this migraine” and takes two more pills. No sleep for Chuck tonight – doesn’t he know they have caffeine?
Wendy diagnoses him flatly: “They’re tension headaches.”
He flirts back, suggesting that sex might be the ticket to relief. It’s not crazy – there is actually some evidence for using sex instead of Excedrin. “Well, there is one practice I’ve found helpful in tension relief.”
“I’m not a dispensary handing out palliative care, but …” she offers.
He sighs, “I’ve literally got the proverbial …” and she finishes his sentence “headache.” She still thinks it’s a tension headache, and she adds, “You still have those headaches” because people are coming after him, and he agrees. Stress is a trigger.
Next day, Chuck is still in pain. Apparently, the Excedrin didn’t help much, as he is applying a cold wet washcloth to his forehead at the office.
That evening, he and Wendy attend a fundraiser and she asks, “You okay?” He replies, “Yeah, I just need a second to get the game face on.” He fakes his way through the evening, sustained by one of his strange self-inflicting pain practices. Presumably, he thinks you truly can’t feel pain in two places at one time. Clearly, not an evidence-based relief strategy.
Storyline Misses Risky Choices
At the end of the evening, after listening to a concert, he groans and his father says “Head still pounding, eh?” Chuck nods and pops two more Excedrin Migraine. He closes the evening with a glass of whiskey on the rocks, a questionable choice if he’s really in the midst of a stubborn attack. But we won’t judge.
In the final scene of the episode, he resolves some of his campaign worries and exhaling, tosses the nearly empty bottle of Excedrin in the trash. Not exactly the best endorsement of the product, but a fairly reasonable depiction of a stress-triggered, stubborn pain that impedes your ability to work over a few days.
We can relate since working through a Migraine attack is an Emmy-worthy performance for many of us who fake feeling well in the office.
In this case, it’s not a woman having an attack – it’s a man. And he’s the one who isn’t able to make love to his spouse for a change – a nice switcheroo on the “not tonight honey” stereotype. As for his excessive use of OTC pain relievers, well, that’s pretty realistic, too, since about half of all people with Migraine never use prescription meds for relief.
Our only criticism: Chuck consumes at least eight pills in a short period of time, practically an invitation for aspirin-induced Medication Overuse Headache. The FDA warns us that’s not a good idea. Nor is chasing it with Scotch.
So don’t do what Chuck does.
As reported in People Magazine, things between Erika Girardi and Kyle Richards came to a boiling point during a recent episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after Kyle accused the singer of “being in a bad mood all the time.” Tension flared during the cast trip to Provence, France.
Girardi, 47, came down to breakfast wearing large sunglasses and a pained expression. She explained to the ladies that she had a migraine.
You can relate if Migraine attacks have ever made you irritable, anxious, depressed or a bit antisocial. In Erika’s case, she endured both the pain of the attack and the rejection of her friends. Ouch.
During her confessional interview, she revealed, “I’m not in a good mood. I have a vicious migraine brought on by lack of sleep and bitches that want you to be offended by something you’re not offended by.”
Wine and Migraine Don’t Mix
In this episode, the ladies ventured off to a wine tour via helicopter. Several glasses of wine and silly impressions followed, but Erika mainly had to abstain from drinking due to her migraine.
“When you don’t drink, you get a little irritated with the drunks,” Erika said in her confessional. To which Kyle said she felt “sober Erika” is no fun. Someone else accused her of being a “Debbie Downer.”
Again, another fairly accurate depiction of the many ways that Migraine affects our lives, including social isolation and awkward dining situations. It must’ve hurt Erika when her friends didn’t understand that wine drinking is a calculated risk of triggering more pain.
They also captured just how tough it can be to talk with friends who don’t understand their disease-induced limitations.
Ultimately, Migraine is underrepresented on television. Given its prevalence in society, we should be seeing 1 in every 5 female characters and 1 in every 10 male characters dealing with an inconvenient, disabling attack. These four examples of Migraine on TV are a start in the right direction. We just need writers, directors, agent, and actors to create the disease reality that reality stars are living out onscreen.
Comments? Seen any other credible or erroneous scenes of Migraine on TV?