Thursday, April 28, 2016

M Is For Migraine

Lynda Robinson

Migraine has been a part of my life for almost forty years now in varying degrees. My Migraine history predates my marriage, my children, and my career. It predates the NBA careers of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the major milestones in the political careers of William Jefferson Clinton and George H.W. Bush, the Oscar win of The Deer Hunter, and the legal career of Sonia Sotomayor. It's older than the entire casts of movies anymore, and certainly older than the playlists of most radio stations.

My point here is--and I do have one--that like most people with any sort of Overarching Thing In Their Lives, I've simply Lived With It, and done so for a Very Long Time.

It is astonishing, however, how much of one's life can revolve around That One Thing.

Migraine has been a part of my life for thirty-nine years. It astonishes me to say that, but it's a Fact Undeniable. I got my first one while I was away at college, and it has been with me ever since, stealing entire days away from me, days that add up to more than a year of my life, and those are only the Headache Days. Sometimes there are Pre-Headache Days, and always, always, there are the Recovery Days. Migraine is the worst kind of thief.

Because along with stealing days, Migraine steals parts of Me, too. After fighting Migraine for so very, very long and losing, I feel at times like a Failure. Each headache feels like a Defeat, a Loss of the Battle to me. Like I'm not Trying Hard Enough. (And that nudges my old Catholic Guilt, which we all know I've railed against for ages.) Between my neurologist Dr. B. and me, we've tried so many things, and I've become so cagey in my strategies against Migraine. I study the isobars on the national weather map; I Never Go To Bed On A Red (wine); I only drink when I have something in my stomach and some water along with it; I gave up my treadmill for a recumbent bike; I manage what little stress I have; I get plenty of sleep; I avoid artificial sweeteners...the list is endless. But Migraine always defeats me in the end.

In my search for a magic cure for Migraine, I had to endure some frightening and awful side effects while my body became accustomed to what eventually became my Wonder Drug. Some of the effects are, unfortunately, long term, but they are not nearly as serious as the earliest ones. They pale in comparison to the more frequent and debilitating Migraines that I used to get before being on this medicine.

To call Migraine a headache is like calling Godzilla a lizard. During some episodes, I have lost all or part of my vision, vomited, sleepwalked, had vertigo and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. I have felt and heard my blood throbbing in my ears and temples. Even though I would run a low-grade fever, I would be freezing. I would be confused and unable to articulate what I needed or wanted. And on top of it all, always the excruciating pain.

Thankfully, because of my Wonder Drug, many of the most severe Migraine symptoms are rare now. Mostly, I get more manageable Migraine Episodes, and thanks to Dr. B., I can truly manage them. I think of Migraine now as a little more like a Caged Panther--still dark and wild and dangerous, but I have the whip and chair and bars to my advantage.

And, unlike some Migraineurs, I've met with nothing but kindness from other people, whether they were fellow sufferers or not. No one has ever said to me, "Take some Advil" or "After all, a headache is just a headache" as I've heard in some cases. Many people have offered remedies they've seen or heard in an effort to be helpful, a habit that can often irritate and frustrate other Migraineurs who have been on this journey for as long as I have, or longer. I am always appreciative of those who want to help, but I will say that the number of herbal supplements and junk remedies and homeopathic treatments claiming to relieve or cure Migraine is ridiculous and annoying. Kale and ginger smoothies will not cure a true Migraine. A cup of chamomile tea and a valerian root capsule will not stop a real Migraine.

I once begged my doctor to remove several vertebrae at the base of my skull if it would stop my Migraines. Do you think some cucumber-lime smoothies and a drop or lavender oil on each temple is really getting it done?
I think I've made my point.

While Migraines are Part Of my life, they are Not My Life.  And it is important to me that I always remember other people are dealing with far greater challenges, and dealing with them Every Single Day.

M is for Migraine.  But it's also for Moving On.

Lynda Robinson's work featured here


  1. Dearest Nance,

    Forgive the long absence. I have been suffering from 'work migraines' for the last month. Covering 3 extra classes (90 students) for a colleague who is out sick in addition to all the other crap that comes my way. I am so far behind in my grading it is going to take me an entire week to catch up with 120 ungraded speaking and writing assessments I need to do for my web students, and that's just 1 class.

    The above, however, is just an excuse, and certainly no match for your migraine pain (not that this is a contest, of course.) I am so glad that you have at least found some sort of manageable pain control. I am so lucky that I am not plagued with migraines. The body areas that affect me the most on a regular basis are my stomach and intestines. This makes for interesting arrangements in terms of always being near a bathroom if things get weird. And a bedside supply of Tums or similar every night, since an incline of less than 45 degrees means heartburn coming up through my nose. But again, nothing like what you are dealing with.

    Migraines are so baffling to me because there doesn’t seem to be an indentifiable underlying cause. You are either susceptible to them or not. I bet you have read every article there is on the subject. Like one I just saw on “10 Foods to Avoid if You’re Prone to Migraines.” Migraines seem to be such a crap shoot in terms of who suffers from them and how to control them.

    “M” is for “Magnaminous.” In your case, those who can get pain management under control, and when they can’t... they refuse to let the enemy defeat them.


    1. ha, ha: "Magnanimous". (I spoonerize a lot... that's my excuse, anyway!)

    2. Ortizzle--Oh, thank goodness, there you are! I have been watching with some anxiety the weather reports from TX and wondering if you were swept away in the floods or waterlogged. Glad to see you are fine.

      Gastric/Intestinal disturbance is an area fraught with uncertainty and concern, and you have my sympathy. St Patsy and my older sister both share your malady. Mom's is brought on by stress/anxiety/excitement. My sister's--also stress.

      As you say, it isn't a Contest. We all have our Crosses To Bear, and we all live with stuff we have to manage. So we do. I will say this: there would be a hell of a lot more research into Migraine if it were not something primarily suffered by Women.

      Please take care of yourself. I'm so happy to see you here (or anywhere--I'm sure I owe you an email). How soon can you take some time off?

  2. M is for marvellous - how much you do and how well you do it while fighting the beast. ( My MIL and elder daughter both have them, so I have seen what the migraine can do.)
    I do find myself glad that you are not kept entirely from your wine.

    1. Mary G--Oh, thank you; I am blushing at such praise.

      My sympathy goes out to your relatives as Fellow Sufferers.

      I am glad about the wine, too! As time goes on, I find that I cannot be as robust a Taster as I once was since my tolerance has declined drastically. I am now a Cheap Drunk as well as a Higher Headache Risk. But, as you say, I am not kept entirely from it, thank goodness, since it is one of my Chief Pleasures and Interests.

      (How slow Spring is this year! It is taking its time here in NEO, and, I imagine, up there too. The redbuds are glorious, but the leaves are still practically in bud. And I am cold!)

    2. First daffodil bud opening today. Lots of cold little finches swarming the feeders. Frost most nights. Ah well, it is deterring the bugs.
      I too am a cheap drunk and have to take care. Sigh.

  3. I still have vivid, awful memories (there's an M word for you) of sitting up almost all night with one of my college roommates who'd developed a migraine. It was 2 or 3 in the morning, and I remember her just rocking back and forth on the bed, moaning (when she wasn't trying to get to the bathroom to throw up.) In desperation, I asked if there was anything I could get her, and she groaned, "A gun." It was excruciating for me to watch, and I can't even begin to imagine how bad she felt. So glad you have found a compassionate physician and some methods for at least controlling it a bit. Oh, and I completely understand about all the well-meant homeopathic advice. I can't tell you the number of people who came out of the woodwork with their coffee enemas and vegan diets when my dad was dying of lung cancer. The last thing you need when you're already suffering is to be told that you and your doctor are doing the wrong thing and this 'simple cure' will fix it all if you'll just get off your lazy, skeptical a$$ and try it.

    1. MsCaroline--I'm sorry about your father, and especially sorry about how some people's advice struck you. As I mentioned above, I really have been fortunate in that my experience with advice has been that it has been more like you in your scenario with your roommate. Most people are so sympathetic and eager for me to get rid of Migraines that they hope they Hold The Key with this one thing they've heard or read. And they honestly want to help. After almost 40 years, I've tried lots of things, and while I wish like hell that something simple like tea or fruit would do it, I know better. I need pharmaceuticals, and High Dollar ones, sadly.

      Diet actually IS a concern for lots of Migraineurs, and because Migraine is so highly personal, it varies. I won't bore you with the details, but aside from staying very hydrated and being sure to take in adequate salt, I am free from most restrictions that others have.

  4. I have had a few migraines in my life but nothing chronic. Mine were stress related. I'm happy to read that there is a med that helps you, and that you are able to shrug off the goofy advice that people throw at you. There's so much pseudo-science floating around the interwebs that it can give a person a... migraine. ;-)

    1. Ally Bean--I'm sorry that you've had even a few Migraines. Stress was one of my biggest triggers for years and years, and I'm happy to say that it no longer is a major factor in my retirement. Weather is by far my biggest one now.

      I think people genuinely do care and try to help. But there are tons of goofy pseudo-remedies out there that desperate sufferers will probably try as a last resort. (Which I know is sadly true of so many chronic pain conditions. And diets!)

  5. I can't even imagine migraine pain. I've had headaches that made me nauseous, but nothing in the realm of a migraine. I'm so sorry this is your cross to bear. Seems very mean of the universe.

    I'm a great believer of pharmacopeia, and highly skeptical of herbal medicines. So I'll be praying for a break through amazing migraine med that works for everyone. Oh, and no side effects!

    1. Bug--I know a few people who have never even had a single headache, period! Can you imagine? What bliss.

      Thank you for your Celestial Assistance.

  6. Thankfully, I have never had a migraine. I also do not really know anyone who has to deal with them, so hearing about the awful pain they engender always makes me wince in sympathy.

    I have an autoimmune disorder, and I remember the day that I was diagnosed with it. I was angry, because I felt defective. Here was this body I had, betraying me! I was not supposed to have to deal with taking medicine every day for the rest of my life, why couldn't I be "normal?"

    Eventually I sort of got over that feeling, but I am thankful that my particular health issue is not necessarily one that causes pain. I feel for those people who have to constantly manage their pain, often with varying degrees of success.

    1. Gina--What a perfect way to characterize the feeling. It is exactly right: it is a betrayal and makes me feel defective. And no matter how carefully I watch my diet and triggers, it often doesn't matter.

      Knowing that you have your own challenge further makes my point that others are dealing with stuff as well. We all have to manage things along with our Lives. I don't think any of us runs along blithely and blissfully, able to live unencumbered by a single Unpleasantness. Life is Lumpy. And we do our best.

  7. Ugh. I'll confess, whenever I hear of a migraine 'cure', I think of you. I consider asking about it, then I think, 'Nance has certainly been bombarded with this already, she doesn't need me jumping in.' So I don't say anything. I know I've gotten a lot of suggestions on how to treat my rheumatoid arthritis, and I've tried quite a few, though none have really worked as well as the actual drugs do.

    I suffer from occasional migraines, not too often. Mine seem to be sinus related. I remember my first one, no pain, just a weird feeling in my head and weird vision issues. Likes squiggly lines around the edges. Because I had no idea what was going on, I didn't change my plans, and went to a movie. Not a good idea, with the bright lights from the screen and the loud noises. I could barely see, but I thought it was my contact lenses. Came home and barfed. My friend who I had gone to the movies with has had migraines and knew what it was. Ugh. Thankfully I now know the symptoms and as soon as my vision starts getting weird, I take a migraine excedrin, and go to bed in a dark room. It happens maybe once every couple of years, so I consider myself pretty fortunate.

    Sinus headaches come more often, sometimes due to a change in the weather (often). This week, Wednesday, I was having a really good day, got some amazing news, was very happy, and got hit by a sinus headache that made me feel sick to my stomach. Blech. Thankfully, Maya came home and finished cooking dinner while I took a shower, which along with the cold and sinus Advil, got rid of the worst of it. But I hate feeling like I want to celebrate something good and being felled by a sinus headache. I'm sure that's how you feel about migraines. I'm sorry you suffer from those stupid migraines. They suck.

    1. J@jj--Sinus headaches like that are probably Migraine. Weather-triggered Migraine. You have the nausea, and you get some relief by cold compress, dark room, etc., but it never really goes away until it fades away on its own. If you get other Migraine, this is probably one, too, but with a different trigger. Do yourself a huge favour and tell your doctor/neurologist that you have had other Migraine episodes, that weather is your other trigger, and get a proper Migraine med like Zomig, Imitrex, or Maxalt when it hits. You will get way faster relief (30-45 min) of the biggest symptoms and be able to function.

      Thank you for thinking of me whenever you do hear of Migraine solutions, and feel free to pass them on. You never know. And I'm glad for your Happy News, despite the lousy Migraine barging in.

  8. Nance, I suspect you are right about my sinus/migraines. Perhaps I will discuss next time I see my doctor, thanks for the tip on what works for you. And by the way, Happy Birthday! As you know, you and Ted share a birthday, so I'm making a chocolate cake tonight. I should get some red wine to go with it. :)


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