Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Talk About Migraines

Or, let's not. But I feel like I've been avoiding this post for oh so long, so OK. Here we go.

In June of 2007 I was diagnosed as having migraines. I went to urgent care because I'd had a cold that seemed to find its way to my sinuses and just lingered. And stayed. And never got better. And finally, I knew I was sick enough that I needed to get my butt home and asked an ex boyfriend to take me to the doctor.

The doctor was really good, and strangely frank about things. I liked her style. Totally no-nonsense yet reassuring. (I wish I had that kind of presence.) She said I had a sinus infection and a migraine. Huh? And gave me medicine.

I had never been told that I had migraines before, but honestly I was sick enough at the time that I filled my prescriptions and went home, took them, and fell into bed. And felt better after awhile.

The thing is, the migraine thing isn't really just a throw away diagnosis that you get one day and then don't need to pay attention to anymore. And once I'd been given that diagnosis, well, a lot of things just made sense. There had been plenty of times that I'd had horrible headaches, usually stabbing pain behind one eye, and a couple times they actually made me throw up. Lights would seem too bright. Smells would be overpowering, even though other people would insist there was nothing unusually strong about the odor. But somehow, this was just all normal to me and I never really paid much attention to it until someone had finally said the word "migraine."

So what is a migraine?

Well, first let's talk about what it's not. A migraine is not just a bad headache. It's not something that everyone or anyone can get. It's not something that comes on because of any one thing, like stress or cheap wine, or lack of sleep. It's not something that has a cure.

Migraine is a neurological disorder that is genetically passed down through families. Migraines can be caused by any number of "triggers," which can be food or hormones or lack of sleep or stress or smells or weather changes. But there's not just one thing that triggers them in everyone who has migraines, it's different for each person. Although, triggers may be similar amongst family members with migraines, since they have genetically similar neurological make up.

There are two kinds of migraines - one with an aura (where you have visual disturbances, this kind is called "classic") and the other kind that does not have an aura. Once a migraine has started, the person may have nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or smell, and usually a headache that is focused on one side of the head, generally right behind one or both of the eyes. The headache can last between 4 and 72 hours (or longer) without taking any medicine.

After having been to a couple of neurologists, I have since been diagnosed with having "classic" migraine, meaning I have visual or olfactory (smell) precursors to the headache. These auras don't happen before every migraine, and while it doesn't freak me out, it can be very odd. I've smelled things that are not anywhere near me (usually a certain men's cologne or hot dogs, go figure), and one time it appeared to me that my guy had been shrunk into a miniature size while sitting next to me on the couch. Hallucinations are not totally unusual during the aura phase, but I gotta say, when it happens it is definitely weird and somewhat surreal. That time, I just closed my eyes and refused to open them again.

I bring this stuff up because its been a rough road. It was really hard being diagnosed with something that is a chronic, invisible, neurological ailment. It was totally surreal to walk into the UC San Francisco Neurology department to speak with a doctor about what was going on. For a long time, I was very much flailing against this diagnosis. It was not right, it was not fair, and it hit me right in my own spiritual gut.

There's been a lot of growth for me in surrendering. And by surrender, I do not mean giving up (oh no, I won't give up!). I mean accepting that this is my life. I can not control what is going on, but I can control how I react to this situation. I can control what I eat. I mentioned in the twenty five things about me that High Fructose Corn Syrup is my primary trigger. I don't eat anything that has it, or might have HFCS in it. That's a battle in itself.

Surrendering also means that I have learned to not panic. Panicking makes everything worse, from my own outlook, to the pain, to everyone's reaction to whatever my situation is. I know that I am OK, and its important to put that vibe out to others. Yes, sometimes I'd like to crawl away into a somewhat cold, very dark, definitely odor free room and pass out. And, sometimes I do. But I am strong, and I sleep when I need to, and when I'm OK I come back out and get on with my life.

I feel like having migraines is part of my own spiritual journey. I felt like I needed to address it, it's very much a part of me, and I want to talk about it. I know I have a fellow migraneur who follows the blog (*waves* at Migraine Chick) and there is strength in owning the issue and talking about it. I also want people to feel like they can be real about who they are here, so I feel I need to be open about who I am.


Migrainelupe with Corset
Originally uploaded by Migraine Chick

8 comments:

Liz said...

I have only had one migrane in my life. I was at a cookout and had been talking about a major problem that I was having with a friend. Talking about the things that I was going through with this friend would upset me. We had left the party and I was upstairs taking my earrings out when all of a sudden I just grabbed my head. It was the worst pain I have ever felt. My eyes couldn't take the light. I was nauseated. My hubby being a CT Tech initially thought I had burst an aneorism and wanted me to go the hospital. I refused to go and he just fed me Aleve for several hours. Anyhoo.... I got that stressor (the "friend") out of my life and I have never had one since.

I know several people who suffer with them a lot and I feel so bad for them. I hate that this is something that you go through. I think it's great that you have found your trigger because a lot people never do.

Real Live Preacher said...

Paula,

I have migraines. Currently they seem under control because of some depression medication that I take which apparently fixes the neurological deficiency that both causes depression and migraines.

Thank you for the honesty of this. And I admire the depth in which you think about this physical thing, pulling into your spiritual awareness.

Sheri said...

I've had a few bad migraines, but my mom gets them often and she takes medicine for it now. I've actually had a few weird pains in my head over the past few days, hopefully it isn't anything major b/c well no job = no insurance so no MRI's or w/e they're called to see :(

Paula said...

Thank you each for commenting. This topic has been an "elephant in the room" for me - something that's hanging out there, that I know I want to talk about, that I need to talk about. It's important that each of us knows we are not alone. So thank you each.

I take Amerge now, which is a triptan. I think I'll do a couple other posts about migraines and related topics.

I am sorry that each of you has also gone through the trials of having migraines. It definitely sucks, and can really push you to your outer limits in many ways.

Sheri, I hope your head stops hurting. You'll be in my thoughts.

Marian said...

I decided to do anything and everything I could to figure out my migraines. I did that "surrender" process you mention and it led to soooo much! Migraines have a mystical quality. Migraines contain messages, deep beneath the horrible pain. When one of my mentors, Linda Barnett, said, "Migarine is spiritual energy misdirected," something clicked for me. The best news: onslaughts can be prevented. You might like my book Migraine: Pain of the Body, Cry of the Spirit. Written with compassion for all who suffer...

Paula said...

Marian, thank you for posting a comment! I highly recommend an elimination diet ... I really think that my migraines were tied to my gluten intolerance! I've been a changed person since I figured it out. I hope you find some relief.
Take care :)
Paula

anasuya said...

Hey, was good to hear about your migraine. When I first heard of migraine, it was when my husband's boss started taking off from work 'coz she had come down with 'migraine'. So here in India, it is associated with elite women :)- like O, she has the luxury of taking a day off 'coz of her migraine, but the rest of us still slogged on even with 'severe headaches'. The point was that we did not get it diagnosed those days. Now I really I have been suffering from migraine since I was 14 and did not know it till recently. The tablets help only temporarily but everyone at home is understanding. They advice me to draw the blinds, relax and play some nice music. I also found that my migraine was triggered by my shallow breathing. Now I make it a point to take deep breaths whenever I remember. thanks so much for talking to us. take care.

Paula said...

Thank you for replying! Cultural differences are always fascinating. I hope you are feeling better!