Kristin Chenoweth had to perform with a migraine: ‘There’s nothing you can do’

Earlier this year, I covered a story on Kristin Chenoweth discussing her migraines, which start with vision changes and then move to nausea and a headache. She said that she’s been able to control them for the most part by cutting back on caffeine and sugar, which doctors told her to avoid. She also has to make sure she gets enough sleep. There’s an added level to Kristin’s medical issue though, as a performer she just can’t take time off whenever she needs to. (Not that many people can, but she has audiences watching her.) In a new interview with People, she described having a migraine during a performance for a show’s financial backers. It was early in her career and she couldn’t bow out at all.

Chenoweth, then 29, was cast in her first Broadway role in the musical Steel Pier. As the cast prepped for the show, they had to do “what we now call the big backer’s audition,” she explains to PEOPLE.

“It’s when all the money people come and decide if they’re going to put money in your show or not — and I have a migraine.”

“I could not get off the floor in the girl’s bathroom at the studio,” she says. “I remember the choreographer, one of the women I look up to the most, Susan Stroman, came in and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ She goes, ‘Well you’re going to get okay. You’re going to be okay.’ By the grace of God, I did the two-hour show and the minute it was over, it returned [to the floor].”

“Really and truly, there’s nothing you can do when it comes,” she says. “You can do things to prevent them, but I don’t think we’re there yet as far as what we can do when it’s actually looking at the eye of the storm.”

She continues: “I told my mom many times, ‘If I could just cut my pinky off, I could play the piano, I could play the guitar, but if I could just not have it anymore, I would.’ She said, ‘Yeah, but then there would be something else.’ Everybody has their cross to bear in this life, so there’s that way to look at it too.”

Is she saying she would cut off her pinky if that would keep her from ever having migraines again? That was phrased oddly so it’s hard to tell. I like what her mom said about how we all have our crosses to bear though. That’s a good way to think of it, “if it wasn’t this, it would be something else.”

Someone close to me had a migraine for the first time recently. We googled his symptoms, which started with not being able to see out of the corner of one eye and were followed by nausea and a headache. It seemed just like a migraine and was brought on by exercise. I hope this isn’t a regular thing for him. I think I only had one once and would never want to go through that again. I can’t imagine getting them randomly at key moments like that.

Also Botox is a treatment for migraines.

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54 Responses to “Kristin Chenoweth had to perform with a migraine: ‘There’s nothing you can do’”

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  1. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    There’s no way to function during a full blown migraine. No. Way.

    • intheknow says:

      THIS. There is no way she’d be out of bed if it is a proper migraine. I’d need to be in bed in a pitch black room. I couldn’t even stand to see bright colours like red.

      I did find a doctor who helped me tremendously in understanding the triggers from weather, food and allergies. I’d be in the ER 1-3 times a month on a morphine drip. It was HORRIBLE.

      I feel for anyone who truly suffers from migraines.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        I ask my family what they would be doing if Moses was chiseling The Ten Commandments on your skull. You can’t think, speak, move, anything. You’re probably going to have to puke, and that makes the chisel turn jackhammer. Blinking is painful. Lying down is painful. There’s no escape. Still looking for that one doctor intheknow, so glad you found your angel.

    • Stephieblob says:

      I agree! Migraines are debilitating. Performing for 2 hours with one doesn’t seem possible.

    • Slowsnow says:

      I always had period migraines where I have to lie down, can’t read, look at screens etc. but sometimes periods are right on time of social events connected to work… it’s hell on earth but I do it. As soon as I get home or to my hotel room, I just collapse and sleep for hours straight.
      However once in my life I had a full blown migraine that took me to the A&E vomiting and basically feeling that my body wanted to get rid of me through pain. They put me on something and I can’t remember what happened next. I was in my twenties. I’ve been dreading for twenty years to go through the same thing again. It was so painful that even breathing was like being stabbed in the brain.
      So yes, I am sure she wasn’t on a full blown one but I also experience very often how the sense of commitment can get you through horrible pain.

    • dotgirl says:

      Please don’t presume to tell people what their migraines are like, or how/if they can function during them.

      I get ones that are so debilitating I am throwing up every 30 minutes, blinking hurts, toradol injections don’t touch them .. and I still have to function. That doesn’t mean I don’t get migraines. It just means I’m different than you.

      Dismissing someone’s lived experience is not ok, even if it’s “only” migraines.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        I said full blown. If you get migraines then you know there’s a range. And frankly, I didn’t say so-and-so’s migraines are, or aren’t, anything at all. Jesus Christ Dot, you sound like a very angry person lol.

      • dotgirl says:

        You freaked out cause someone called you out on being dismissive when you were being dismissive .. but I’m the angry one. Lol, ok sweetie.

      • Enn says:

        I frequently function with a full blown migraine. When you have 25-30 a month, you have no choice.

      • Purplehazeforever says:

        I get full blown migraines. Nausea, vertigo & auras. I work through them. Every person is different.

      • theotherViv says:

        I’m with you here. Unless I am throwing up I am really good at pretending I am ok during a work do while dying inside. After about 30 yrs of migraines you sometimes function like a robot on triptanes- until they work or you can go lie down- I have been known to slowly walk into a bathroom stall and rest my forehead on the door for a few minutes. Can’t power through a whole day, can’t talk much in a meeting, but I have survived important work events. And yes, real migraines. Couldn’t have done it without triplanes, though- they have made my life better.

    • minx says:

      I can’t see when I get a migraine. I get the shimmering arc that moves across my field of vision. So, I could not have performed because I couldn’t SEE.

      • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

        My auras are hundreds of itty bitty twinkling lights moving at light speed from both peripherals to the dead center of my vision. It’s like a freaky wormhole in space lol.

        LMAO @sweetie.

      • Spicecake38 says:

        My daughter began with migraines in grade 3,also when she started wearing glasses.After about 6 months she woke up one day and said she felt like she was going to throw up,I was asking her could she see,(yes but blurry) was she in pain (headache)I tried to stay very calm and ask her questions while settling her in a chair with a bucket close by,and placed cool compresses on her head.After she was a bit settled she looked around the room and then back to me,and she asked me Why is the TV upside down…
        I was really worried,and just then she got up to vomit,she slept several hours with me constantly checking her,and awoke much better.
        Hers,it seems have to do with vision changes,positional changes,chocolate,they haven’t come on strong in a while,but just last Monday she was dizzy and puking ,poor kid-I get migraines with vomiting too,but at least I don’t get dizzy 😵 They are the worst

    • dialM says:

      when I first starting getting migraines my only symptoms were INCREDIBLE can’t move tiredness & vomiting. If I was moving I was vomiting. Those are completely debilitating but thankfully I was at a point in my life where I had that luxury ( living with parents and job hunting). Now, I don’t get the vomiting almost ever, and I can work through it. The ones that completely knock me on my ass are rare. But I’m also at the point in my life where I have a better regime and can just push through. There is a mortgage to pay and animals to look after.

    • Izzy says:

      I’ve sat through classes in law school with a full-blown migraine, stepping out of class only to be sick in the bathroom, so miss me with that armchair diagnosis. Not everyone deals with them the same way.

  2. Harryg says:

    Oh my god I don’t know how she could do it. I don’t have migraines but my son has and it’s just something so awful.

  3. Tezz says:

    I used to get them and I had to stay in a dark, silent room until it passed. Light and sound were so brutal. Mine were linked to childhood trauma – I was sexually abused when I was a child – started getting migraines as a teenager and when I opened up about the abuse to my parents and got counseling I never had another one.

  4. Erinn says:

    I went to work the last two mornings with one; luckily I have abortive medication, but because I woke up with them, it wasn’t as effective because I wasn’t able to catch it in the early stage.

    I’m not sure about the pinky thing. It almost sounds like if her disability was a missing pinky finger, she’d still be able to do more than living with migraines? Or maybe she’s saying she would cut it off to never have a migraine again. It’s phrased weirdly, though, so I’m not sure.

    I’d honestly probably consider losing a whole limb if it meant never having a migraine again. It’s awful. I’d always rather deal with a broken bone than deal with a really bad migraine day. Hands down. I’ve fractured my arm a few times, broken a pinky, minor crack to the nose, slipped a disc in my back and popped a bone out of place in my wrist. And every one of those scenarios has been leaps and bounds easier to function with than a relentless migraine. And if I don’t treat mine with the migraine abortives, I can spend 3 solid days in misery. OTC drugs might as well just be sugar packs.

    Unfortunately, because we live in a male dominated world and migraines affect vastly more women than men, the research just isn’t there. They don’t really know WHY we get them. They only acknowledged the postdrome phase in the 90s I believe. There research is just SO far behind that it’s staggering.

  5. Seaweed93 says:

    I used to get terrible migraines. Feels like your head is going to explode, along with a splash of unrelenting morning sickness. I removed anything w/brewer’s & baking yeast from my diet for awhile & that helped a great deal.

  6. Megan says:

    Pre-menopause, I always knew my period was about that start because I would get a migraine. Every damn month. I tired every possible hormone combination and did all kinds of diet restrictions and nothing helped. Fortunately, Maxalt came onto the market and changed my life.

  7. Tallia says:

    I admit, before having a migraine I could never really understand what the big deal was. I thought it was “just a bad headache”. Boy, was I an idiot. The first migraine that I had, I actually begged my boyfriend at the time to put me out of my misery. Air hurt. Light hurt. Breathing hurt. I apologized to anyone who has ever suffered through a migraine. They are no joke.

  8. HeyThere! says:

    I get migraines. I think mine are brought on my stress and lack of sleep but I really don’t know. I get a few a year. Didn’t start getting them until around 22 years old. Nothing helps them and they are the worst pain I have ever felt, and I have given birth twice. I can’t east, sleep, walk, I’m puking and the only thing I have found that works is 3 Tylenol PM, I literally have to knock myself out and pray I don’t wake up with it. I once had the same migraine for 4 days. Hell is the only word that comes to mind.

    • Megan says:

      Get a prescription for Maxalt. It will knock you out for about two hours and when you wake up your migraine will be gone. It has truly changed my life.

      • HeyThere! says:

        Thank you, MEGAN! I actually wrote that down and will ask about it. I also think mine are brought on my dramatic weather changes. I have two toddlers and my biggest fear is that this is genetic and they might get it! It’s so debilitating and I don’t want my babies to experience this hell! Big hugs to anyone who deals with this.

      • Mellie says:

        i take Maxalt as well. Had to take one today actually. I can control almost all migraine triggers except the weather, when we get these weird swings (like we do a lot in Indiana!), that will bring one on and today it’s getting ready for a big weather front to move in, instant migraine. Thank God for Maxalt! For me, I don’t really even need to sleep with it, I can take it and go on in to work if I catch the migraine early enough.

      • Zeddy says:

        Riztriptan is the generic. Also get them to prescribe an anti-nausea. Helps big time for attacks!

        For long term if you get them frequently, propanolol is useful. Cheap and effective for the most part!

  9. Veronica S. says:

    My read on the pinky comment is that you can still play instruments missing a finger because we all adjust to physical disabilities, but a migraine debilitates you completely by arresting your mental faculties. She’d rather have the former if it meant getting rid of the latter.

    Been fortunate never to have migraines, for which I am glad since I have plenty of other problems, and I’ve heard enough from friends that have them to never tempt fate asking for the experience. The worst I get is severe nausea/dizziness/headache from vasovagal responses triggered by dysmenorrhea. That’s quite enough for me.

  10. Megan says:

    Has anyone tried Aimovig? My sister just started it but has not yet seen results.

    • AngryBrain says:

      I’ve just finished 3 months of Aimovig. I have acute refractory migraine, however, so I’m not the ideal patient for a CGRP antibody, and it certainly hasn’t worked for me. It has given me excruciating fatigue and depression, and my primary migraine physician and I have agreed for me to stop the injections.
      If you suffer from frequent episodic migraine, I do recommend trying it. It’s designed as a preventative medication, and will hopefully stop many patients from ending of with chronic and refractory migraine.
      Good luck to all of the angry brains out there!

    • Liz version 700 says:

      I have been using Aimovig it has reduced my migraines from 10-15 migraine days a month to 2-4. It doesn’t work for everyone, but if it works it is amazing. My triggers are hard to avoid (hormones and weather changes) so this really helped me.

      • theotherViv says:

        wow, that is fab. I have the same triggers. Have you experienced any side effects? Are you using triptans/imitrex/maxalt for those 2-4 migraines?

      • Liz version 700 says:

        Theotherviv I haven’t noticed any side effects on Aimovig, it just seems to quiet down the “migraine engine.” I do use Maxalt and nausea meds on migraine days. It is so funny/sad to see how much alike we are on migraine days down to even drinking Coke. It is oddly comforting to see others describe it so similarly like others know the drill….

  11. Kirsten says:

    I’m grateful I’ve never suffered a migraine. My mom suffers greatly from them and there have been multiple instances where we had to take her to the hospital because she couldn’t keep water down for days, couldn’t walk, blurred vision etc. it’s truly debilitating and I’m imagining the one she performed through wasn’t full-blown.

  12. CharlotteLouise says:

    Imitrex (sumatriptan) is truly a gift from the gods. Plus, it’s out in generic

  13. lucy2 says:

    A friend of mine has been suffering terribly with these, and just started an injection (not Botox), which is actually working.
    I’ve only had 1, but it knocked me down for 2 days and made me vomit. Horrible! I can’t imagine getting them all the time. A regular headache is bad enough.

    Kristin is a great singer and performer, I’ve seen her a few times, and I can’t imagine having to do that in so much pain.

  14. Cee says:

    My sister has recently had migraines. She’s a dentist – she had to cancel appointments when the migraines hit her as she’s collapsed in public transport, in the street, etc. The pain is unbearable and all she craves is a dark, quiet room to rest until it recedes.

  15. HeyThere! says:

    I had such a bad one that lasted for 2 days that I only explained the pain to people as ‘if I could have hit a button to just end my life to get out of the pain, I would have.’ THAT is a migraine and I love my life and have a lot to live for but it’s hard to explain until you have one. I hate when people who doesn’t get them say shit like ‘oh yeah I get bad headaches too but I still go to work and don’t miss family parties’ UGH. Get over yourself. I had to miss family Christmas once and got accused of having been hung over, I was not, and then told that line from a man who doesn’t get migraines. 🙄

  16. tealily says:

    I’ve started getting this thing happening that I believe is an ocular migraine. Has anyone experienced that? It’s like a flashing starburst appears in my eyes and keeps growing until I can’t see anything and need to lay down for a half hour or so. It’s happened a handful of times to me. I forgot to ask my doc about it the last time I was there (it had only happened once at that point). I should probably make an appointment and go back. I really hope that it doesn’t evolve into full blown migraines.

    • HeyThere! says:

      TEALILY, yes this is one of my ‘oh shit’ moments where I know I’m going to get a bad headache, or a migraine. If I take extra strength Excedrin migraine within minutes of these orbs and it will either go away(yay) or just be a livable headache.

      I honestly believe, like most things, their are different types and levels of migraines. It’s not a competition, all migraines suck and nobody should get them. A few of mine over the years, I only get about 3-10 a year, I have had to call my mom to care for my kids. Thankfully she was able to help. Only once nobody could help and I had to do the least possible to care for my babies and then put them to bed while then taking several Tylenol PM. It’s not a pretty day. I only give my strength in going on to feed and put the kids to bed as ‘a Mother’s love’. No extras those days. Hugs, easy food, and ‘I love you’ and putting them in their cribs for bedtime.

    • phlylfiremama says:

      I get ocular migraines as well as regular migraines (thankfully, I have been able to perform Acupuncture on myself to short circuit them when I feel the aura coming on). Ocular migraines are sort of like (to me, at least) being on a psychadelic visual trip BUT I didn’t take the chemicals AND I don’t get the good parts of the experience. Very disconcerting~I was worried that I had some kind of brain tumor for a while!! The visual field disturbances CAN lead to full blown migraines, and seem to have similar triggers.

      • tealily says:

        Interesting. Do you get an aura with your regular migraines? I was wondering if there is a difference.

    • NYC_girl says:

      I wrote below about my mother’s migraine treatment – she now just gets an aura but no pain. Your visual issue sounds like an aura – a zig-zagging or throbbing/flashing thing. I have a gotten a few and they are bizarre and very disruptive.

  17. Sarah says:

    I‘m on Aimovig (plus 3 other daily rx), and the Aimovig has been a godsend. I used to have 15 migraine days a month or so. I completely understand what she’s saying. Some migraines lasted 48-72 hours.

    If I stayed home every time I had a migraine, I would have lost my job. I had to get up and go to work. There was only so much the imitrex (plus a Coke, aleve, etc) could do. You just had to gut through it as best as possible and then go back home and lie down.

  18. Amelie says:

    My mom used to get migraines. She had the tunnel vision and would get the aura signaling she was getting one. She usually seemed to get them in the morning and when she did, she’d have to go into a dark room and lie down, unable to drop us off at the family we carpooled with. Not sure about the nausea. Now that she’s past menopause she no longer gets them. My sister and I seem to not be affected by them. I think I had one once years ago, the headache lasted over 12 hours. I still remember how bad the pain was and I never have gotten one since (I occasionally get tension headaches but that’s it).

  19. HMC says:

    The closest I’ve had to a migraine was when I was pregnant and my pre-eclampsia switched over to eclampsia. It was terrifying and I can’t even describe the pain. At one point I banged my head against the wall because if my head hurt on the outside, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much on the inside (btw, didn’t work. I was cured however when labor was induced and Kiddo decided to come out and play)

  20. Migrainesarehell says:

    Longtime lurker- first time commenter. Just had to say I have struggled with migraines for YEARS- truly debilitating. I was going through 8 tabs Of maxalt a month which was insanely expensive with no insurance. Finally went off the birth control pill and BOOM- game changer. Now I get about one a month, max, and they are markedly less intense. I really wish I had figured it out sooner, I wasted so much time in pain.

    • Zeddy says:

      This was me too!! My doctors said nothing about bc being the issue, but I decided to try going off it and like magic they were severely reduced. I guess we’re some of the few where bc increases risk of stroke and migraine. Glad you’re doing better!

    • tealily says:

      Wow! It’s crazy the stuff the doctors don’t tell you about birth control. I was on it for maybe 15 years and was dealing with high blood pressure for the last 5 of it. I saw a couple doctors and discussed the issue during that time and nobody mentioned that maybe I should go off the pill. I switched to an IUD and magically my blood pressure went back to normal!

  21. phlylfiremama says:

    ACUPUNCTURE. Acupuncture, Acupuncture, Acupuncture~I can not stress strongly enough how beneficial and life changing this healing modality is for headaches of ANY type, but especially migraines. Migraines are essentially a minor cerebrovascular incident~the blood vessels in the brain constrict, which is what causes the neurological symptoms and the sharp stabbing pain~Acupuncture INCREASES blood flow, which in turn eases the headache. I got my first migraine when I was about 11 years old, living in McAllen Texas and shopping with my Mother in Reynosa, Mexico. I can still vividly recall the utter misery of both the aura and the subsequent pain. I got it ALL: the numbness & tingling down the arms, the nausea & vomiting, the light & noise sensitivity, and the PAIN that absolutely nothing helped. Since I have been an Acupuncturist, I have been able to short-circuit multiple migraines as soon as I feel the first sign of an aura by needling myself. ACUPUNCTURE WORKS!!

    • Zeddy says:

      Blood vessels dilate with migraines. The acute attack drugs are vasoconstrictors which is why they help…

      • theotherViv says:

        This! The blood vessels DILATE. I had high hopes for acupuncture but it never helped me. Glad to hear it worked for someone.

  22. NYC_girl says:

    They are awful! I had an allergic reaction to Imitrex in 2003 and since then, only take Advil. Which relieves about 75% of the pain…. working, in front of a computer, used to be so horrible. I started acupuncture in 2008 and that helped a little. One time in 2011 I was at work and the vision in my left eye went completely blurry. It was really scary. I get them every month, and they have lessened slightly since my hysterectomy, but whoa, mama…. they will knock you on your ass! And everyone’s are different – my mother used to get an aura each time. When she was 50, she had one so bad she thought she had a stroke. She met a great neurologist who prescribed a very new treatment at the time, of a specific antidepressant and another medication – she never got another migraine. That was in 1989.

  23. Star says:

    It’s so interesting to read about everybody’s triggers. Mine are dust, dehydration, and excessive crying.