My migraines strike very unexpectedly and are slightly different each time. They always start as a normal headache, then become a bad headache, then become a migraine. I know that certain things are headache triggers for me- fast-moving screen images, dehydration, low blood sugar, chemicals in food/drink like aspartame (sweetened diet items and drinks) and nitrates (bacon, kielbasa, cured deli meats), citrus, msg, etc. I also get tension headaches from stress, sleep deprivation and even positions while sleeping. I can also get caffeine withdrawal headaches which are awful because I just have to suffer through it.
My first real memory of a migraine was when I was 10-11 and at a friend’s house for a sleepover. I remember having to wake her mom up at some ungodly hour to call my mom to pick me up.
I’ve been reading up on migraines and the consensus now is that some brains are just more sensitive than others. Dr. Larry Newman (irector of the Headache Institute at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center) says that part of the cause may be one specific nerve that is responsible for sensation in the face. It becomes inflamed, causes the release of certain chemicals which in turn causes blood vessels to expand and the brain perceives pain. Another doctor, Michael Cutrer of the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis compares a migraine-prone brain to an overly sensitive car alarm*.
I’ve had numerous MRIs and cat scans but none have shown a cause, but instead have ruled out physical causes. I’ve been told that my migraines are causing my brain to bleed and also that I’m at risk for brain abnormalities caused by lesions, something that has recently been discovered in chronic migraine sufferers. Great.
So this is my attempt at detailing what I actually feel during a migraine. Some bits are still foggy but this is what I am able to remember.
The headache started during Dr. Strange, despite closing my eyes during the fast-moving, mind bendy parts. It was a 2-3 level headache so I didn’t take anything, hoping it would just go away on its own.
Now here is where I put a special note in. *I’ve had two concussions as an adult, one sustained at a hockey practice when I was body checked and I flew backwards and landed on my head, and the second a couple years later when a window in my classroom fell on my head. I can’t watch television for long periods and get horrible headaches from too much fast-moving images, especially on large screens like at the movie theater. I’ve also had chronic headaches and migraines since I was twelve and my pediatric neurologist still sees me and has been my one constant doctor.
The headache slowly got worse. I did what I was supposed to. I ate, I drank, and I even got to rest for a bit when sweet cheeks fell asleep on me. At dinner time, it changed from a really bad headache to a migraine.
This is the point when I know that ibuprofen or OTC meds of any kind will not help.
The throbbing in my head intensified and I became extremely photosensitive to the point where I could barely keep my eyes open. The sound of the tv playing in the background was causing me to cringe. Pressure began to build in my face as if my skull was filled with nails and they were pushing outward behind my face, all at different pressures. Turning my head and standing both started to make me feel dizzy and I became nauseated.
We were trying to put the girls to bed at this point so I climbed upstairs slowly and sat in the rocking chair with my jelly bean. My brain got pretty foggy at this point and my reaction time became pretty slow. The strange part is that sitting there I knew that I was answering and reacting slowly but I couldn’t do anything to change that.
The lights were really dim and even when I could keep my eyes open, I couldn’t focus on any one thing. My eyelids closing became painful and it felt like for minutes at a time I couldn’t blink.
Then, sharp pain started radiating up from my neck, right at the base of my skull.
My husband took the baby from me at this point and I went into our bedroom to find my medication. I found it, took it and laid down on the bed in the dark. It had been a full blown migraine for about an hour at this point.
Now the pressure in my face was getting worse and it felt like the bridge of my nose is being pinched with pliers. I can feel the blood rushing through the veins in my head like a painful throbbing. My body was shaky and felt like it is trembling when in fact it wasn’t moving at all.
Within a half hour, I started to feel my mind clearing. I became fully aware of where I was but also fully aware of the pain that I was still feeling in multiple areas of my head. It takes another half hour for the pain to start subsiding, leaving me with a level 4 headache.
This was Sunday night. It took until Wednesday for the bad headache to finally subside completely.
The migraines aren’t all like this, but I wouldn’t consider this episode to be atypical. I would say that the pain got up to a 7 (I consider vaginal birth and coughing after a c-section to be 9.5). The pain is pain and livable, but it’s the other effects, foggy brain, inability to see/focus and hear correctly, difficulty answering questions/speaking, slow reaction time of my muscles and limbs and the lingering dull throb headache that lasts for days that make them really awful. I’m lucky that they most often happen very early in the morning (start during sleep) or in the evening when I’m at home. I’m also incredibly lucky to FINALLY have found medication that actually helps (after 20 years).
Migraines suck. They really do. But I guess if this is the extent of my health issues then I should consider myself very lucky.
Im just hoping that one day my health insurance would actually cover the medication….
*Health.com, “What’s Happening in the brain during a migraine,” by Suzanne Levy.