I suffer from migraines. I have as long as I can remember. Technically speaking they say that they don’t start until adolescence, but I don’t ever remember not having them.
They have changed as I’ve aged. The timing of them, the intensity, and even some of the side symptoms have changed with time. Apparently this is normal. I’m going to assume it’s normal because I’ve been to the doctor and they took scans of my brain and said I’m normal…. so the changes must be too 🙂 (by the way, please note… the Dr said I am normal!!!)
Right now let me give a shout out to an amazing book about migraines for anyone who is interested. It’s called The Migraine Brain and it’s about the history of migraines (Did you know some amazing people like Julius Caesar, Lews Carroll, Poe, VanGogh, Napoleon suffered from migraines?), the science behind it, what helps some people, tips on avoiding them and what not. I’ve had migraines my whole life and I learned a lot… noticed symptoms I didn’t even realize were related. Great book!
So if you haven’t had a migraine let me give you a run down, as best I can. I usually can feel them coming in some way. Sometimes I just start forgetting words or making odd mistakes, like putting ice cream away in the microwave. It’s more than just forgetfulness, it’s like my brain suddenly has blind spots and the information is just not there. I’m slower and I have to think harder. I mix up words and generally feel foggy. Most of the time this is accompanied by a stiffness and pain in my neck or at the base of my skull. On occasion I’ve had classic visuals where my vision either experiences spots at the side or blur… on occasion I feel like I “see” sounds… I don’t know how to describe that part any other way… I know it sounds trippy but it’s true.
At this point I will try to drink some caffeine, something that helps me but hurts others. Starchy foods often help as well. What really helps is taking a nap or hot bath/shower. This is largely impossible with an active one year old.
Sometimes my husband will do a neck rub… if he can find the magic spot where the pain seems to be radiating from he can stop it. This works one time out of ten.
If I was able to take medication (still nursing so I won’t) this would be an ideal time to take Excedrin Migraine, which works nearly as well as the prescriptions I have and what I usually start with, or one of the two prescription medications I have for them. Besides the fact that I’m not taking them at this time they are powerful medications. One of which is administered as a nose spray (which is vastly useful as you’ll see later) and the other is so powerful the packaging advices me not to drive while on it…. it makes me even more loopy than the migraine itself. (Chiropractice helps as a preventative…. I’ve heard acupuncture helps but I’m so terrified of needles that I think I’d get a stress migraine just by going in.)
Oh and there are about five different types of migraines, from what I understand. I get three types…. stress, hormonal, and classic (which is a nice way of saying “We have no idea where this one came from or why you get it. It just pops up.”
Most migraines are stubborn and go from there (rarely can I stop it, sometimes just holding it off is the goal). The pain builds and builds. It moves up my neck and settles behind my eyes and through the top part of my head. The pain is intense. It’s consuming. I honestly don’t know what to compare it to.
There are levels to migraine pain. I’ve had some that make me wonder if I will have an aneurism as they are so intense. I’ve had some that are blindingly painful but duller. Some are sharp and crisp, others are deeper and aching. All of them are worse than any regular “headache.”
The pain is bad enough…. just the pain would be enough to stop me. They’ve made me cry, they’ve made me huddle on my bathroom floor clutching my head, they’ve even made me pass out… but nothing is as bad as the combintion of the pain and the symptoms that come with it.
Everyone has different symptoms that come with their migraine. I have several that can pop up in a variety of combintions.
Nearly every migraine comes with intense nausea and dizziness. Usually bad enough that I would vomit if I tried to eat anything (including medications, hence the beauty of the nose spray). Sometimes I find myself retching just thinking about or smelling food. It’s as if my stomach has become a trampoline and nothing can rest there. Imagine the pain I described above and then imagine being sick, repeatedly from it. I nearly always am sensitive to touch, sound and light. The feeling of my shirt on my skin can drive me crazy. I cannot seem to find a comfortable way to sit or lay because everything feels too hard or scratchy or awkward. Sound and light are obviously a problem. I’ve been sensitive to smells, any and every smell. Actually I’m nearly always sensitive to smells but about half the time I can smell things from far, far away and they literally hurt. If the guy down the street is grilling out, I can smell it. If the cat litter hasn’t been changed from across the house, it will drive me crazy. Those are the side effects I get nearly every time.
Sometimes I shake, for no good reason I just tremble all over. I’ve had blurred vision, numbness in my hands, “bathroom issues”, a runny nose, a stuffy nose and other things.
If people tell me, “I’m not sure I may have had a migraine once” I usually tell them they have not. There is very little doubt when you’ve had one. I tell my husband the criteria is that if the pain is so bad that you would consider asking someone to hit you over the head with a frying pain just to be unconscious, then you may have had one.
I’ve never gone to the ER, although I’ve had some where I probably should have, only because the idea of the lights and noise in the ER would probably kill me. I lay there reminding myself that I have never heard of anyone dying of a migraine and I just have to get to the other side.
I always feel that I should apologize to my husband for marrying “damaged goods.” When these things strike everything stops. I can try to soldier on, and if it’s one that is duller or weaker I really try, but I’m just not myself. And if it is a bad one there really isn’t any pushing through… I’m completely useless, doing anything isn’t even an option.
Recently we had our first family vacation to Disney. Saturday was Disney all day, Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest and fun at the hotel, before park hopping on Monday. However, I woke up Sunday on the edge of a migraine. It got bad several times through the day but I kept pushing it back. Rather than being how we planned my husband spent his day playing with LA and trying to take care of me. It was not the day I envisioned.
And that is what I hate most about migraines. They have the ability to crop up any time and spoil a good time. I had to deal with one on my 30th birthday when my husband whisked me away to an amazing bed and breakfast in Ocala to be surprised by friends and family. I had one the day before my wedding when I trembled in a hot bath praying I wouldn’t have my wedding day ruined by pain. On a night during our honeymoon. And now our first family vacation.
That’s the worst part of a migraine, they can steal any day and you never know.
So here’s the thing… everyone talks about the pain of childbirth. But I would willingly and happily take childbirth over a migraine any day!
1. The obvious. At the end of childbirth I get my baby! At the end of a migraine I get…. a migraine hangover (most of the symptoms just minus the pain). Often feels like a real hangover, no fun.
2. With childbirth you are working towards something, it’s active. You are moving towards an end. With a migraine you are just passively lying there and suffering. Not much you can do and you really don’t know how long it will last or if it will get worse.
3. Honest to God, the pain was worse with a migraine. At least for me.
4. And besides the pain being more manageable with childbirth it was one type of focused pain. Migraines really get me because it’s not just your head…. that would be more maneageable… it’s all over.
5. You have a cheering squad with childbirth…. it’s an event. My husband is super supportive when I have a migraine but the world can’t stop when I have one. There isn’t much anyone can do so you just crawl off into your cave and suffer alone. With child birth people can be supportive and encouraging and all….
6. With contractions you get a break between them to regroup…. none with migraines. Now I progressed so quickly I never got real breaks with contractions but the few I got showed me that it was really helpful (or could have been)! lol
I often wondered if migraines were really that bad, or if I was a big wuss. My midwife told me while preparing for childbirth that people with migraines (or any kind of chronic pain) usually tolerate child birth well because they already have pain management techniques perfected. So that made me feel better.
I’m not complaining… compared to problems I could have this one is ok. It’s not terminal (which I often have to remind myself)… just something to deal with. The thing that drives me the MOST crazy is when people who haven’t had them say things like “It’s just a headache, take an asprin.” I’ve had some great supportive bosses in the past, but I’ve also had ones who think I’m faking it to get out of work. Trust me… I would rather be at work any day than have a migraine! And I would Never claim to have one when I don’t!!!
So here you go…. if you know someone with migraines be kind. If you know of a mom who has one offer to watch their child, give them a break to sleep, or bring them something they might be unable to leave their house to get. I know I was truly touched when a facebook friend recently offered to come over and watch LA when I had one. It meant the world to me.