The morning you wake up without a migraine is always the best morning ever.
I’m pretty sure I got my first migraine when I was about 10 years old. I remember doing math exercises in school one morning and having a hard time focusing on the numbers. This visual disturbance morphed into a sickening headache that left me sitting inside during recess, unable to move without nausea and pain. I suppose it eventually passed and I just got on with my day. I don’t remember even telling anyone about it. Childhood nonchalance, I guess.
The migraines didn’t really come back until I was in college, when stress and hormones did their part to make the headaches a more common if (thankfully) still not very frequent occurrence. These days, hormones, stress and air travel are my most reliable triggers, along with (surprise!) excessive alcohol consumption - though unlike a lot of migraine sufferers, I seem to do fine with red wine, thank goodness. But sometimes there’s no apparent trigger at all. Sometimes you just get a headache that “turns” at some point; it ceases to be a headache and becomes something much, much worse.
If you’re not sure you’ve ever had a migraine, then you haven’t had one. Migraines aren’t just “really bad headaches”, they are agonizing, debilitating, all-encompassing beasts that leave you curled up in a ball, whimpering, thinking you would do anything at all to make the pain stop: cut off a limb, kill someone, throw yourself out the window. A relative of mine used to beat her head against the wall because her migraines were so bad. I tend to compulsively press on various parts of my skull as if I could find the single pressure point that would block all of the pain. Unfortunately there is no such point, and I just wind up with sore spots all over my head the next day.
As far as migraine sufferers go, I’m one of the lucky ones: I don’t get migraines terribly frequently, when I do get them they don’t last for more than a day, and if I can get to a darkened room and go to sleep they mostly pass within a few hours. Some people’s migraines last much longer. My mom has been migraine-free for several years now (thank you, modern medicine), but when I was growing up, her migraines would lay her low for days on end. I remember her ghostlike shuffling when she was in the throes of a migraine; I didn’t understand it then, but I certainly do now because I do that shuffle myself. Some people get multiple migraines in a month - or even a week. I can’t begin to imagine the suffering they experience, and I would pray to any god available that I never have to go through such hell.
I had a migraine yesterday. It was partially my fault: We were out late the night before being somewhat debauched on Halloween, and while I tried to be good and balance glasses of beer with glasses of water, I clearly wasn’t good enough because when I woke up at 7 yesterday morning, it felt like my skull had split open in the night. I drank water and took some painkillers in the hope that this was a hangover headache that would fade with a bit more sleep. Ten hours later I was still awake, still in bed and still in agony, trying not to cry because crying made it worse. At some point, someone had slowly driven a railway spike through my left eye and out the back of my head (this is my typical migraine profile). Any light was blinding, any sound was deafening. The pounding pain came in nauseating waves, over and over and over again. The wave would crash in my brain and I’d think I was going to throw up, then it would abate and I’d think “please let that be the end of it please let that be the end of it” - then it would crash again, then abate (“please let that be the end of it”), then crash again, all day long.
I rolled over and over in bed, eyeshades on, fingers pressing into my skull, wishing fervently that I could just fall asleep, getting up only to shuffle to the bathroom or, once, stupidly, to answer the phone (the person on the other end asked if I was okay, because clearly I didn’t sound okay, and when I mumbled that I had a migraine, she perkily replied, “Oh, yeah, lots of people are sick here today, it’s miserable, isn’t it?” - and it took all my willpower not to say, “Lady, you don’t have a f*$king clue.”). I briefly thought I might be able to sit and do some work, but two horrendous minutes at the computer convinced me otherwise and I blindly stumbled back to bed, thankful that I didn’t have anything too pressing to do or any responsibilities to anyone other than myself.
I kept thinking of the sumatriptan I picked up from the pharmacy a few weeks ago, but having never taken it before I was too scared to try it, particularly while I was alone. Sumatriptan constricts the blood vessels in your head, with strange and sometimes dangerous side effects. Many migraine sufferers get relief from it, but many others find the side effects worse than the migraine itself. My fear of having a heart attack trumped my desperation to get rid of the migraine, so I kept pointlessly popping acetaminophen and worrying about liver failure instead. There’s no easy way out when you suffer from migraines.
In the end, I don’t know whether it was the passage of time or the pills that finally made the migraine start to fade yesterday. All I know is that by 5 o’clock someone had started to withdraw the railway spike, by 7 o’clock I could sit up without feeling like I was going to throw up, and by 8 I was hesitantly enjoying some chicken noodle soup and rice from a local Chinese takeaway. I felt as fragile as a blown-glass Christmas ornament, spaced-out and slow, but I felt like a human being again instead of just a bundle of wildly firing pain synapses and over-dilated blood vessels.
Today, as expected, I’ve got my typical post-migraine symptoms. It feels like there’s a bruise through my head where the railway spike was. I feel a twinge there every now and then and it makes my stomach clench with anxiety - is the migraine coming back? I don’t want to move very fast, and I’m cautious about what I’m eating and drinking. I feel wrung out, not just physically but emotionally, like I’ve survived an ordeal. I’m relieved the ordeal is over, and I’m trying not to think too much about the next one, because another one is bound to come at some point.
But I woke up without a migraine this morning, and it was the best feeling in the world.