Roughly two thirds of the population will never experience an authentic Migraine, so it comes as no surprise to me, that most people I’ve run into just assume I mean ‘bad headache’ when I use the ‘M’ word. Unfortunately for those of us who do have to live with chronic, debilitating Migraines, this means we get very little in the way of acceptance or support when we have to abruptly desert an event/meeting/outing…desperately seeking (through blinds spots, jagged and squiggly vision) a dark, quiet room, puke bucket and ice pack.
If you are a part of the two out of three that have no familiarity with them, Migraines are indeed much more than just a ‘bad headache.’ In fact, the only thing a Migraine and headache do have in common, is that they predominantly affect the head in a painful fashion. Unlike a headache however, a Migraine is an incapacitating, neurological s**tstorm, and anyone who can function on any level of normality through their ‘localised pain in the head,’ doesn’t have a Migraine…end of.
For me personally, a Migraine looks like this; I’ve just arrived to work and am getting settled in at my desk. While reading through my emails, I realise I’ve got a blind spot which is rapidly expanding into lots of squiggly lines/flashing lights/blind spots or other similar optical instabilities. The best way I can describe it, is that it’s basically akin to the light speck(s) you get after a camera flash, or looking at the sun too long. Except this one grows until you’re able to see progressively less and less. This visual disturbance is my warning sign to swiftly find some kind of safe-haven, before the pain, nausea, partial paralysis and diarrhoea inevitably set in.
I then have to quickly inform my colleagues and superiors that I must urgently depart. These days, I am fortunate enough to work in a place that respects and appreciates my situation for what it actually is. Although, in my previous experiences, the aforementioned announcement commonly leads to others looking on in general annoyance and disdain, because they simply don’t understand why you can’t just take a pain killer and get on with it, the same way anyone else with a ‘headache’ would. No matter how anyone looks at me when I deliver the news though, I would never have the time, nor inclination, to convince them of anything either way. I would simply rush out of the office/party/BBQ/lesson/meeting and hail a cab (because I can’t see well enough to drive), praying all the way home that traffic does not prevent me from getting in bed before s**t gets real.
Thus far, I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to make it home in time to avoid the mortification and discomfort of having a Migraine publicly. I also have a husband that’s quick to pull out the ice pack, water, toothbrush and puke bucket if he sees a confused, bumbling spaz trying to get her key in the door…and happens to be at home when it comes on.
The next 6-18 hours of my life will be spent writhing in the kind of discomfort that’s on par with childbirth, except it’s in your head instead of your lady parts, (I know full well the gravity of that claim, since I’ve had two 8+ pound kiddos, sans pain medication). It doesn’t stop at that though. Parts of my body will go numb, I will vomit so much that inevitably, I end up dry heaving (no matter how much water I force myself to down between puke sessions), I’ll have to crawl to the toilet at least three times because my bowels will inevitably give way and after hours of this…I will fall into a deep, comatose sleep for hours, sometimes days. This is the good part.
Eventually, the agony lifts and I start to feel human again. I even get a sense of euphoria afterwards, knowing that I can do the things I am normally afraid might trigger another attack. I have a week’s grace period, where I feel like a free person. Can’t have a Migraine a day after I just had one! I drink red wine, eat chocolate, look at the sun…all without the niggling anxiety that it will result in a repeat of said neurological s**tstorm. The rest of my life, I share far too much of my brain space on the constant, pestering fear that I might get a Migraine and not be able to find a dimly lit (preferably pitch-black), quiet room with a bed and puke bucket to seek refuge in.
What if it happens while I’m on a long-distance flight? What if it comes on during an event in London and I’m more than 20 minutes away from home? What if I get one while I am home alone with the baby and my husband’s away on business? Is that light spot I just saw an aura, or was it just that the oncoming car had his brights on? Do I have enough cash on me to pay a taxi if I need one?
I spend a frustrating amount of time checking food labels for additives, avoiding things that *might* be triggers and ingesting various other things that *fingers crossed* could potentially help reduce the number of attacks. No one has ever been able to tell me for sure though, so it’s all theoretical guesswork as far as both I, and the medical community are concerned. That said, I think I speak for numerous people when I say that I will continue to try everything in my power to prevent them, and an unhealthy amount of time thinking about it in general…because that’s how sincerely horrific they are.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t feel sorry for myself and I still live my life regardless, never allowing my actions to be controlled because I may have an attack. I do often wish, however, that I could quiet the ever-present dread of falling to another Migraine as well. That a flash of light didn’t distract me from what someone was talking about. That the drums at a concert didn’t have me wondering whether they would do me in, yet again.
So… please don’t sit at your desk, pop a Nurofen, rub your temples, then carry on working, mumbling that you’ve got a Migraine. I know that you don’t. In fact, you don’t even know what a Migraine actually is, because if you did, you wouldn’t be thoughtless enough to suggest that you had one, under those circumstances. For those of us who are battling this disruptive, chronic ailment, it’s a verbal slap in the face when you drop the ‘M’ bomb like it’s nothing more than a mild irritation. You wouldn’t refer to nervous shivers as an epileptic fit now, would you? It also means that others out there, like you, think I’m just being absurd when I have to go home to recover from it, and I don’t deserve that. I’ve got enough to think about already, without being expected to deal with this disorder, enlighten you and defend myself in one fell swoop.