Me and Migraines.
As I write this, I’m having a migraine.
It’s not my usual kind though, it’s a much more relaxed, less utterly terrifying sort to the typical contender which knocks me sideways.
I am a ‘hemiplegic migraine’ sufferer, meaning my migraine comes with an aura or, as I like to call it, a hellish blindness which leaves me unable to see, speak or remember my own name.
What’s it like?
I’ve never really spoken about my battle with migraines before, mostly because they’re so few and far between. However, I thought it important to share so other migraine sufferers can read about my experience, spurred on by the fact that 2020 has been, undoubtedly, monumental on the health front.
I remember my first migraine well as it was, quite frankly, terrifying. I was at school at the time, perhaps eight or nine years old, gearing up for Christmas and standing in choir practice in chapel. I remember looking at my music teacher, who’d taken on the role as conductor, and she quite rapidly began to disappear as I unexpectedly lost my vision.
When I have one of my migraines, I go completely blind in one eye, which is my least favourite part about getting one. This is an ‘aura.’
An aura is so hard to explain to people who’ve never had one, but I’d best describe it as that rainbow-like shimmer you see in the petrol puddles occasionally left on the floor (I’ll pop an image in for effect.)
This is how my hemiplegic migraine begins, not with a painful headache like most people think, but instead with complete and utter blindness. Such fun!
I can always tell when I’m about to get a migraine as my vision slowly starts to disappear. I usually hold out my arm and if the hand is missing well, then ‘ding ding ding’ migraine it is! One of my worst memories was while playing the guitar and, as I looked down, the hand doing the strumming was no longer there. I’ll never forget that.
Next, once the vision goes, you’re stuck with the blindness for quite some time. Usually, this lasts around two hours for me but it depends on how bad an attack you’re having.
Can I just pop some paracetamol and make it go away? Unfortunately not, as another charming side effect of my migraines is sickness and nine times out of ten I’ll be sick during an attack, usually more than once.
The remedy? A pitch-black room, sheets over the head and total and utter silence, usually for an entire day. This coupled with lots and lots of water and I’ll usually manage to rid myself of the beast pretty sharpish.
Another cheery side effect is numbness. Usually only one side of my body will go numb, and it tends to be my hand which will go very, very tingly (kinda like when you lay on your arm all night and wake up with that terrifying numbness and run around the room thinking you’ve lost feeling for good!)
The numbness slowly begins to fade with the loss of vision, I find.
However, once the vision has returned there comes all sorts of other delights. First, a pounding headache (the migraine-y part), next I am a rare kind who suffers from sporadic memory loss. * I once told my boyfriend to clean his ‘flowers’ before he came up the stairs not realising they were actually called trainers.
However, despite this sounding funny instead of serious, it can be really bad.
Once, while recovering from a migraine, my boyfriend came in to check on me and I didn’t know who he was. In hindsight I’m very glad I didn’t call the police mistaking him for an intruder, but then I doubt I’d have remembered at the time that the number to call is ‘999’ – memory loss, you b*tch!
After vision loss, numbness, headache and lack of memory you’ll be left feeling totally and utterly awful, you’ll have a ‘migraine hangover’ so to speak. Usually, a movie night and several pints of water is the remedy you’re looking for post-migraine attack. That, and LOTS of cuddles, if you have someone cuddle-worthy around.
This is how I’d best sum up the migraine aftermath…
“The postdrome stage is like a migraine hangover, and can leave you with a brain that feels scrambled and unfocused. Not every migraine sufferer gets this, and even those who do might not experience it with every attack. Sufferers report feeling drained and having no energy or being unable to function properly despite no longer having headache pain. Other people describe it by saying their brain feels bruised, and they feel stupid or irritable.” –– The Migraine Relief Center.
My worst attack
I’ve had a fair few bad ones, but they’re super rare and I usually only get one or two a year if I’m lucky (insert sarcastic emoji).
I remember days at school where my friends would be out having fun and I’d be trapped in the sick bay lying in a very itchy and uncomfortable bed soothing a b*tch of a headache, and that felt quite isolating and scary as I was only a young’un.
However, one of the worst came in 2020 (obvs).
It was my boyfriend’s birthday and I was so excited to spend the day with him at Borough Market in London. On the menu? Oysters, Champagne and rolling into bed past midnight after the fun and frolics of the day. This unfortunately didn’t happen.
My mum was visiting us at our London flat at the time too. We sneakily sorted out my boyfriend’s cake, got his presents prepared and waited for him to come into the lounge where ‘SURPRISE’ we showered him with birthday love. I lit the candles. First mistake.
Light can be a huge catalyst for a migraine sufferer. Especially candles and sunlight bounding off car bonnets. That kind of thing.
On my boyfriend’s birthday it took just a flicker of a candle to set me off and while he was opening gifts I had an inkling that the day was going to be a write-off.
It was then in the shower about five minutes later that the migraine got into full swing. I was so upset. I felt such guilt for not being able to be there on my boyfriend’s birthday and I couldn’t believe the timing! Why this day out of all the others?
I spent the day in bed, comforted by my mum, while my boyfriend went out with a friend who was luckily on hand to do oysters, Champers and fun.
What causes them?
The list of things which are said to cause migraines is, unfortunately, quite lengthy.
Both my parents have suffered from similar attacks, so I guess that could have a little something to do with it!
For me I find it’s too much caffeine (decaf lattes have become my new best pal) but I won’t be giving up my Earl Grey tea hit any time soon.
Chocolate is something I sadly tend to avoid, though I’ve never been a huge fan anyway, shock horror!
Too much alcohol, lack of sleep and stress are other huge factors, and I have been guilty of all three at points.
Take the migraine I got the day of my boyfriend’s birthday; I’d had red wine and prosecco the evening before, had a late night and then woke up and downed a coffee. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
Guitar-gate, when I had a migraine while playing the guitar, saw me drinking cocktails and getting a late night the evening before. I then woke up and downed a black americano… can you see the pattern?
I now down water like it’s going out of fashion, try very hard to get eight or at least seven hours of sleep a night and I veer away from caffeine where possible.
Could I do better? Absolutely. But why is it always the flippin’ best things in life which we’re not allowed (sigh).
If you have any thoughts or feelings about this post, or maybe you want to get in touch as a fellow migraine sufferer. Just let me know. I’d love to chat.
Migraines are undeniably awful, but we power through them and they go as quick as they come, I find anyway.