A migraine is not a headache. It is a neurological condition that affects the central nervous system. Those who do not suffer migraines dismiss them as the whines of malingerers. Those who get them want to put those people in a chair and hit them in the head with a spike so they can see how it feels.
I have been a migraine patient for 25 years (chronic for eight) and gave birth to my first child a year and a half ago. Hands down, a migraine is more painful than labour and birth (including the episiotomy, lateral tearing and forcep delivery). I think it has to with where the pain is located. Migraines occur in our main control centre; our brains. When the pain is elsewhere, I find I can use my brain to distract more effectively (ie. watch tv, read, talk, music). This is not the case with a migraine because everything is controlled by our brains. We are completely debilitated when these hit us. I would echo the above sentiments….give me labour and delivery any day!
Each round of migraine can last for days, and chronic migraine sufferers can experience this pain almost every single day.
The pain is often accompanied by extreme nausea and vomiting, visual and auditory hallucinations, temporary partial or full loss of vision, tunnel vision, a bizarre series of preliminary symptoms known as migraine aura, and days of recovery from all of the above which leave the sufferer exhausted and feeling beaten – only for another migraine to pop up and start the whole series again.
Lewis Carrol, author of Alice in Wonderland had migraines, and the hallucinatory imagery in the book is a pretty good description of the things migraine aura sufferers experience.
There is a migraine aura phenomenon named after Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (Lewis Caroll’s) story of myriad transformations: Alice in Wonderland syndrome. The afflicted person perceives herself, or parts of herself, ballooning or diminishing in size. The neurological terms for the peculiar sensations of growing and shrinking are macroscopy and microscopy. Dodgson was a migraineur.
I had my first migraines as a teenager. Several every month, accompanied by blindness and nausea, flashes of light and extreme discomfort similar to a stroke. There was no treatment for migraine when I was growing up except bed rest and a quiet, dark room. If the migraine was bad enough, a trip to the emergency room was required, and then you’d get some tests and a shot to knock you out.
Everyone in my family has migraines, and I assumed this was my lot in life. As a freelance artist with a heavy schedule, I learned to make room for them. I knew I’d lose about four days work a month, and that was that. Just suck it up and deal.
However, 10-15 years ago, I began to experience bizarre neurological symptoms that became debilitating. I wrote about them HERE in this post about Brain Fog. By 2006, I was pretty sure my publishing career was over, because not only did my memory and focus become so bad I could not remember simple things like my middle name, but my migraines went from acute to chronic, and frequency increased to 21 days a month.
The nausea and vomiting was so violent, I busted blood vessels in my eyes and face. My income dropped from a very comfortable upper middle class rate to below poverty level. I was almost completely disabled. As a freelance artist, I had virtually nothing to fall back on but modest royalties, and because I did not want to ruin my future chances of work or to be seen as whining in public, I usually kept my problems to myself.
After years of suffering, my doctor finally found out I had an endocrine issue that was the source of all of my symptoms, including the severity and frequency of the chronic migraines.
Migraines are not necessarily curable, but they are treatable. A number of my pro friends have them, but almost none get professional treatment.
Lifelong migraine sufferers like us often don’t seek help. After decades of stoically dealing with the pain, and being told there is nothing to be done (or being mocked by people who really don’t understand what the hell this is,) we get tired of asking. And, of course, for most of our lives, no medications were available.
However, over the last decade, new treatments were developed. There are also over-the-counter supplements which have been proven to reduce symptoms and frequency of migraines. They work for me, and I strongly encourage anyone who has not consulted a physician to find one who is knowledgeable and sympathetic to your issues. (Not all doctors are.)