Saturday, May 17, 2008

Of Migraines and Men!

I mentioned in a previous post that I get migraines...
There I only discussed in very brief my Ocular migraines...
Today I want to tell you more.

I want to help you understand what migraines are.
They are SOOOO much more than a little pain in the brain.... Or even a lot. :)

First, a bit of background.

When I was young, my father often got migraines...
But I never did, and hoped I never would.
He'd sit in a dark room, very very grumpy, often with a cloth over his eyes.
Boring. Annoying. In pain.

Later, I began getting headaches... Then they began getting worse.
Even these bad headaches were just headaches though.. take pain-killer... wait... pain would go away.
They were nothing but pain.

Then I began having really really BAD headaches.
The migraines had begun.
I didn't know they were migraines to start with.
Later I began suspecting it, but continued just taking regular over the counter pills and trying to work through the pain, or on rare instances, call in to work.

Then one day, I went blind while driving.

I was on my way to work, almost there, (fortunately... although home would have been better) I'm going speed limit down a 2 lane busy road... then the world went black.
There we have the split-second moment of panic that seems like an eternity.
My mind racing as to what to do, how to avoid a wreck which would hurt/kill myself and/or others.
-Hit the brakes? -NO! I don't know if anyone is tailgating me.. if they are, they'll hit me!
(I start slowing instead... light brake tap... while I think.)
-Pull over the side of the road? -NO! there's a drop-off there... I can't risk doing that!
-Well, OBVIOUSLY keeping driving is out of the question!! -AGREED!

As I made the decision that I should risk the tailgater, and stop in the middle of the road but with a slight veer to the right to be certain I didn't stop in the oncoming lane... Then let someone who would hopefully stop to see what was up move my car out of the road... My vision began returning... very blurry, very limited, very slowly.
I could see through perhaps a silver-dollar sized circle fairly clearly directly ahead... around that the rest of my range of vision was extremely blurry, with sparkles flashing through it.
WAAY better than blind though.
From what I could see, I could tell I had stayed in my own lane, and hadn't covered more than a few feet of distance while blind... It was a mere split-second that had lasted that eternity.
I could see the driveway to my job just ahead... I couldn't see any safe place to pull off the road, and I wanted to be somewhere with help and a phone anyway, since I didn't know what had just happened... so I drove slowly, carefully, on to work.

I went to the doctor the next day for the migraines Diagnosis.
I was surprised.
While I was blind, my head hadn't hurt in the least... Don't migraines hurt??
Not always.

Much time has passed since then.
Friends and family often wonder why I refuse to drive as a normal course of action.. and will only drive in emergencies. Believe me. If you have something like that blind driving thing happen, you'll think twice too.

Luckily, I didn't get migraines really often, and have only had a couple Ocular episodes...
Then something changed.
I got pregnant.
The doctors told me "We only have one migraine medication approved for prenatal, but here's some wonderful news! While women are pregnant, their migraines go away!! We don't know why, but they do!"
Unfortunately, I'm a very different case.
During my pregnancy, my migraines became more and more serious and frequent... I had one pretty much every day.
Worse news.
After my daughter was born... They continued.
I can count the days with NO migraine since I had my daughter on ONE hand.. with fingers left over. At this point I count a day with a MILD migraine as a 'good' day.

Now, What's a migraine?
I've already given a story about what a serious Occular Migraine episode was like.
Now let me explain the way my brain works (or doesn't) with a plain jane Migraine.

Migraines, in addition to or instead of the pain.. can cause information retrieval issues, and other impaired functions.

I'll start with another story, then give similes.

One day, through my 'Not too severe, but not mild either' migraine, I was trying to tell my husband something I needed him to buy at the store. Try as hard as I might, I just could not tell him. Here's something like how it went. "Honey.. we need some... some... Umm.. some.." (He's there prompting me... He understood somewhat what my migraines did to me.. but it can still be aggravating trying to talk with me.. poor guy.) "Yes?" "Well, I need you to buy something.. I just can't think of the word... but it's something really common.. " "We've got plenty (insert his incorrect guess here) " "NO! Not that !! It's Its... WHAT'S THE WORD!!!!" I then explode in frustration... "It's that WHITE condiment you find in the middle of the table for putting on your food next to the pepper!!!" "Salt??" he asks... "YES!!!! WHY couldn't I get that word!!!"

So.. look at that. I'm a native English speaker (OK.. AMERICAN English.. :) )
I could say the word CONDIMENT and use it correctly in a sentence.
I COULD NOT think of, or say, the word SALT.

That basic exchange is repeated quite often in conversations with me... only it's a different word or concept every day/few-minutes that my brain cannot wrap it's way around. Sometimes I can barely even type. This makes email conversations through a migraine especially difficult... as, even if I'm able to work my way around missing words or thoughts, my phrasing may be a bit off, and give people the incorrect assumption that I'm being 'angry' 'upset', etcetera...
To that end, When I write someone, I ALWAYS state that I'm writing through a migraine, so that if things seem stilted they understand why.
( Even so, I get upset people sometimes... I'm a very even tempered individual, but it really hurts to be accused of these things when they are not meant. The latest round of this, I've read through my emails repeatedly to see if I in fact said anything wrong, but I see nothing whatsever except slightly odd phrasings here and there. ) (sigh)

OK.. now let me give you a look inside my brain during one of those 'missing thought/word/concept' episodes.

Here are the best visualizations I've come up with... There are several different ones for different types of migraines.

Have you ever seen a Moth trying desperately to fly into a lantern to get to the candle flame?
Well, That's me too
Inside my head, my consciousness can be visualized as a moth.. the concept I'm trying to reach is the flame. There is a hard, solid barrier in between me and what I seek... I fling myself bodily on it painfully, repeatedly, trying to reach my destination.

Sometimes, instead, I visualize it more as me (not the moth) trying to work my way through a tall maze of thorns... Sometimes there is a clear path to where I'm going, sometimes the brambles fill it in. Sometimes I can push through with much pain to get to the prize I seek... but in the process, I block my way back to other things I need and I have to push my way through again.

Migraines are sometimes entirely different from the expected. NO PAIN. but they can STILL be severe.
For this, take my thorn example from above, and replace it with.. marshmallow I guess... only no good flavor. I have to push my way through a thick thick sticky mess to get anywhere I need to go, and it's elastic nature is constantly trying to drag me back to where I started.

When I have a severe migraine, these obstacles to thought are always there... they affect language, imagery, memory, original thought.. everything. Sometimes less severely than others... but they're always there.
Migraines can also include:
-The traditionally known/thought of "light sensitivity" and "sound sensitivity"
-Horrendous nausea..
-Enlarged, Exploding head/eyeballs... Well, it just feels like it. :)
-And emotional instability.
(my dad's 'Grumpiness' for example... and I'm afraid sometimes mine too)

After 4 solid years of almost daily migraines I've discovered how completely they can change your life... And I don't like it.
At first, I worked through them... Only on rare occasions did they win so that I couldn't work. When they were severe almost every day, that became... Tough.
Shortly after my daughter was born, I was laid off my job.. the whole place closed down.
Since then I've been a work at home mom... And as the migraines get worse and worse, and more and more frequent, I have more and more trouble envisioning myself getting and holding down another job.
Even my own Work At Home Business I have trouble doing.

Then there's my daughter.
I remember how bad my occasionally Grumpy daddy was..
His migraines were nothing compared to mine. A few hours in the dark quiet, and he was fine.
My daughter deserves better than 'Grumpy Mommy'. :(

I showed more of my own personal state here than I meant, rather than just 'What a migraine is/feels like'... But I hope you enjoyed the read anyway, and that this maybe helps you understand a friend who has migraines a little better...
Or if YOU are the friend with migraines, it helps you figure out how to explain them better to your friends/co-workers.

And I hope I didn't sound too 'Stilted' or 'Grumpy'...
Yes, I typed this through a migraine. :)
With me, Everyday is Migraine-day.