I suffer from migraines. I have for most of my life.
I’m just coming out of the other side as I write this; weakened, pale, and suddenly the owner of ravenous hunger, the worst of the side-effects. Even more so considering I do the weekly shop on a Sunday morning, so I have very little in the cupboards to sate me.
Attending UK Pride naturally went in the garbage bin too. And that’s a real shame as I painted my nails all nice for the day.
I’ve tried to explain a migraine, but it’s as easy as catching smoke with a butterfly net. I like to imagine it as an electrical storm hovering above my brain. In the sneaky ether of my subconscious. Changes in pressure, or heat, or even my brain wanting a down-day for no obvious reason, I’ll wake with the same familiar symptoms. I have yet to understand if recognising the cause of your pain is a positive or a negative thing?
On the one hand, you think ‘Oh, that’s okay, it’s just a migraine, I’ll be through it in a few hours.’ But on the other hand, when you’re lying in bed with the blackout drapes drawn, and often sunglasses on, under the duvet, sweltering during the height of the British summertime, it’s hard to think positive. Often, I’m praying for the sweet release of oblivion, so that even if it’s only sleep for a few hours, at least it’s not a conscious existence where everything you see, hear and think wants to hurt you.
So, there’s my brain, looking like brains look. Pink and quivering and covered in fleshy red veins. Then the storm starts and these black arcs of fire start striking it. causing the whole brain to start shaking, like a man in the electric chair.
When this is happening I’m often asleep. then I wake up and it feels like I’ve been kicked in the head. my brain feels crushed, probably because it’s being fried on its own electrical impulses running rampant across its surface. Massive headache, akin to having nails driven into your skull.
So, I get up and the balance is shaky, not so much nausea from a compromised equilibrium, rather my brain is overloading and it’s bleeding-off into my other sensory systems. I stagger to the bathroom, and then stagger back to bed.
I think this is the worst part. Because I know what’s coming next.
About an hour after being consciousness, the whole world kicks its noise level up to 11. Cars honking on a random quiet street sounds to my ears like jumbo jets straining on their throttles, trying to get airborne. Woodpigeons cooing sound like gongs being banged with those big strikers, incessantly. I often sleep underneath my pillows, if only to muffle the din.
Oddly enough, light doesn’t hurt me as much, on its own. But it can make the sound worse. Unfortunately, I live next to a trauma hospital, on the main route for the ambulances when they roar in with emergencies, and alongside a well-used helipad. I hate BBQ weather.
How do I beat this?
I don’t. In my life, a migraine isn’t something you conquer. You just have to let your brain reboot. I take painkiller, push the fluid, have zero caffeine, and try and sleep. Even if the sun is shining, the Pride parade is calling and the weather is glorious.
To give an analogy; the adage in medicine for flu is the $10 test. If you have “flu”, then you are too ill to rise from your bed and take the free $10 bill on the other side of the room. That’s flu.
I think it’s the same with migraines. If you have a migraine, nothing appeals. Not television, nor food, and certainly not music or smartphone tech. all you want is darkness and silence.
It will pass. It will end.
Then you spend the rest of the day recovering. Because your brain, being preoccupied with having to reset itself, has neglected the rest of its duties, normally carried out while you’re unconscious. You may be as healthy as bear, but you feel as strong as a kitten. Stamina is zero, and any mental focus, even to read a paperback, is severely limited.
My own recovery protocol is time-honoured. TV turned down low, nothing interesting, just get my brain focusing on something other than itself. Chicken soup and more herbal tea, and some chocolate but only the dark stuff, loaded with iron. Exercising is out of the question, stay on the sofa. And as long as nothing starts to smell, don’t bother about excessive hygiene. And most importantly, back to bed as soon as the sun goes down. remember, your brain hasn’t cleaned up after itself like it usually does, so it’s gonna need extra time to make things right for the following day.
And hopefully, by the following day you’ll be better. A little wobbly, but better. And then, back to life.