I’ve suffered from Migraines (with Aura) since I was 11 (so, err, nearly 3 decades). A migraine (with, or without the aura) is not just a bad headache. A migraine is a dilation of the blood vessels in the brain, which can cause symptoms such as headache and nausea, but also sensitivity to sound and light, blurred vision, confusion, aphasia, cramps, sweating.
The “aura” is a cue that the migraine is beginning, and, for the 1/3 of migraine sufferers that experience it, can manifest itself differently. When I was younger, I used to see fireworks, but these days I experience a blind-spot right in front of my eyes, followed by under-water-like vision for 5-15 minutes. It is within those first few minutes that I have my only chance to attempt to take drugs to ease the upcoming suffering, because before the aura has finished, my stomach will have “closed” for business - my sympathetic nervous system will tell my mouth not to even swallow my own saliva, as it stops my stomach from processing any more food, and thus can trigger the intense nausea and vomiting.
Ultimately, in my experience, it doesn’t matter, as no drug/s have ever succeeded in reducing the symptoms of migraine. (The one “preventative” drug that I tried a while ago made me put on around 1kg per week, so that had to stop.) The only “cure” is to go to bed in a dark, quiet room, with a bucket. What follows is around 6-8 hours of torment, stabbing pain, and hopefully the occasional lapse of consciousness. After that time, I’ll stagger out of bed, head held low because raising it fully invites instant pain, and try to think about maybe eating something. It will be nearly a week before the nausea will completely subside, and any fast head movements for a few days will still trigger pain.
At the age of diagnosis, I was experiencing a couple migraines per week… After a few years, they “normalised” to around 6-8 per year.
About a month ago, after I’d had a day off due to some unpleasant gastro, my boss called out to me across the office - "It’s a shame you are so unreliable. I have an exciting job that I was going to get you to do, but with all your sick leave, I just can’t rely on you to be here for it. " (Insert eye roll… If I’m the guy for the job, she wont not give it to me…) She then followed the statement up with my personal favourite… “I’ve had a migraine before. You just need to push through it and keep working.”
So, Friday morning… 9.15am, a strong aura starts. In all my working life, that’s been my cue - Wait out the aura (cos of the blindness etc) and then get thee home to bed ASAP! But… I’m so sick of this lady… I decide the best course of action, even though she wasn’t there to witness it, is to sit at my desk and do my best to vomit everywhere. (Yes… I know… Not proud…how have I gotten to the point that this seems like a good idea…?) So I sit… I go pale… I sweat… my body continually goes numb… but no vom vom, so after 2 hours of agony I get up, tell my - well, he was my boss, no idea who I’m meant to report to these days - that I’m going home cos I have a migraine, and leave.
Unfortunately for me, having postponed any attempt to appease it by several hours, the migraine wreaks its revenge by wrecking my body. Twas not pretty. And then I get a phone call… my youngest has a temp over 38C, is vomiting (too)… I need to pick him up. I need to drive… to get him… and the other 2 kids (or else have to go out again later to get them)… with a migraine from hell… The phone rings again, still clutched in my hand from before… its my wife… the childcare centre have called her, because it’s been an hour since they called me and the bubs is still unwell and vomiting… (Did I mention, time has little meaning during a migraine)
I finally stagger out of bed… get in the car… and drive. In my life, this was the 3rd time that I have driven with a migraine, each time deemed out of necessity. For me, whether I’m driving a car with a migraine, or just getting out of bed to go pee, the result is the same - my body says NO, and goes numb from scalp to toe. I’ve read it’s a bit like having a stroke. Each time I swear I’ll never do it again. I shouldn’t have done it. Should have found another way. But there was no logic happening in my head, so I got the kids, and I got home, and 3 hours later my wife got home from work, and by around midnight I finally felt the migraine “end”. My “6-8 hour” migraine lasted over 12 hours, all because I tried to ignore it, because my boss is a bitch.
Now… I’ve always thought that, as debilitating as they are, migraines were considered “non damaging/threatening”. Well, this past weekend I’ve been reading up on this topic, and apparently there is a new train of thought that, whilst it is unlikely that a migraine could directly cause death, a prolonged migraine could bring on a heart attack or stroke in susceptible people. Indeed, a migraine that lasts for more than 2-3 days is considered Emergency Department worthy. Further, some research suggests that particularly with Migraine With Aura, frequent migraines, or migraines experienced over a long time, can cause lesions to form on the brain. Yay.
So, if ignoring a migraine, like me, causes you to experience longer symptoms… Just Stop It and go to bed!
PS When I was first diagnosed, the doctor blamed Nutella and peanuts. These days, the consensus has moved toward not specific foods, but rather - routines. If you change your eating and/or sleeping routines, it may trigger a migraine. So, eat what you want, but eat meals at the same time of the day, and don’t sleep in/stay up late… Yay, what fun lives we get to lead.