Today I had the privilege of interviewing Serene Branson, an Emmy Award-winning journalist for CBS. If her name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps this video will. Serene was covering the Grammy Awards in February when she suffered a complex migraine, which caused her to jumble her speech on live television.
Serene is now teaming up with the National Headache Foundation (NHF) to raise awareness of migraines through the “More Than Just a Headache” campaign.
Here’s some highlights of our conversation:
Me: When did your migraines begin?
Serene: Probably in college/post college I started to get really bad headaches but I thought they were a stress of the job kind of thing - long hours, etc. - and I brushed them off. Looking back I realize they were probably migraines, but they were nothing like what I experienced in February. That was the perfect storm; all the triggers aligned.
Do you have any known migraine triggers?
For me, caffeine can be a trigger, and stress.
I know you’ve been asked a million times what was going through your head when you were on camera at the Grammys, but did “migraine” ever cross your mind?
I had no idea it could have been a migraine until my mother, who gets migraines, brought it up that next day. I was thinking it was much more serious because in my mind migraine was just a bad headache. My symptoms, including numbness on one side, were like stroke symptoms and migraine never entered my mind until my mother and doctors brought it up. I saw a variety of specialists and when my brain scan came back normal, that’s what they came up with. My mother hadn’t taken time before to talk to me about her migraines because it wasn’t considered a “serious disease.” She had them sporadically in her 30s and 40s but she has only had one since then, and that was after all this (news coverage from the February incident) happened to me.
Have you had any similar incidences since then?
Not similar, no. I’ve really been trying to watch the triggers, and I monitor my symptoms. I see a neurologist and have found a medication* that works for me. I also exercise because it helps relieve stress.
Have you had to change your workflow any because of your migraines?
I haven’t; I’ve just been very mindful about how many hours I’m working in the day and I’m trying not to say yes to everything - which can be intimidating because you want to be the hard worker and go getter who takes on everything, but you can’t.
Do people on the street recognize you from the video? If so, what reactions do you get?
Some people definitely have and it’s honestly been a very positive reaction. So many people came up to me and said “We were praying for you” and “Thank you for having the courage to speak about it.” This motivated me to open my personal health file and talk about it. People are hungry for more information, support, treatment and research. The NHF has recognized this need. It’s really important that they’re trying to raise awareness of migraines to recognize that they have an impact not just on individuals but family/children and the workplace. A lot of productivity is lost from migraines and if people take it more seriously they might be willing to talk. Had I known I was having a migraine I could have said I wasn’t feeling well. Not that we should use migraines as a crutch, but we should recognize it as a disease. I did more research on migraines recently and realized it’s one of the top five most disabling conditions in the world! The more education and support people can give to migraine sufferers the better. Letting people know it is a disease and a disabling disease is important. You are not alone, you have nothing to be ashamed about; over 30 million people suffer from migraines in the U.S.
*I asked Serene what the medication was but told her she didn’t have to say, since different treatments work for different people. She preferred not to say.
Serene is doing additional interviews this week to share her story and help raise awareness. I’m thankful that she and the NHF are doing this. It’s good to be understood.