Migraines & Me

A picture I took of myself with my hand over my left eye, the one that always gets the migraines behind it, looking squinty and kind of pathetic. But wearing some good rings and turquoise nail polish.

A picture I took of myself with my hand over my left eye, the one that always gets the migraines behind it, looking squinty and kind of pathetic. But wearing some good rings and turquoise nail polish.

In one of the very few instances of targeted ads actually benefiting people, about a year and a half ago the internet sent me an article talking about the differences between migraines and headaches. It included this image that legit blew my mind:

Migraine v Headache.jpg

I stared at this list and realized that I have had way more migraines in my life than I had ever realized.

When I was in elementary school, I spent an alarming amount of time in the living room with all of the lights out, head shoved into the corner of the couch (the only comfortable position I could find) listening to the rest of my family having dinner in the room next door. Sometimes I ended up sleeping on the (beautifully cold) bathroom floor after hours of (apologies) throwing up.

Headaches were a given in my family. Mom got them. Most of the sisters got them. My grandfather got them. One Christmas we spent the entire breakfast with my entire immediate extended family* telling their headache horror stories. Dad even got them on rare occasions - once a year or so you’d find him lying on the floor of the back room with arm over his face, immobile for 6-10 hours at a time. The Advil lived in the kitchen next to the plates, where it was easily accessible to everyone. We all knew what time it was. This is just how life works.

The dinners-spent-on-the-couch headaches went away for middle and high school then came back around sophomore year of college. I remember sitting in my bed in my dorm room after a shift at a bakery, lights off, slowly eating an entire loaf of bread I had gotten to take home, calling my mother asking her what to do with this pounding pain that would not go away.

In my 20’s they got worse. Most weekend mornings I would wake up with a headache that would linger throughout most of the day. Starting the couple days before my period they would become more regular. Sometimes they would last for days, occasionally a week. Around that time I also noticed that the really evil ones - the ones that were seemingly immune to all drugs - were all behind my left eye. Also that sometimes when I had a headache and was biking it would get worse every time my right leg went down. Or when I walked up the stairs. And sometimes two sips of coffee would turn a baby headache into a spiraling mass. Around this time I went to a doctor for a checkup and when I casually mentioned these headaches, averaging about 3 times a week, she said she didn’t believe me because if I really got so many I wouldn’t be able to function. I blinked, told her I didn’t know what to say, they mostly managed to happen during non-work hours and never went back to her again.

Side note: These eye ones cause a very weird sensation of one half of my face feeling perfectly fine and normal and the other half feeling like it is slowly melting into my neck. Half of my brain works and half is broken and even though I’m not slurring it feels like I should be - for the words coming out of my left side. However, if one were to look in the mirror during one of these episodes, one’s face looks.. totally normal. It’s honestly shocking.

Anyway, so after approximately 20 years of benign headache observation and extensive pain relief tablet consumption I found this article and learned that all those face melty, pedal-aggravated things were migraines. I had a name and a diagnosis. I could ask for relief. I found a doctor who took me seriously. I got a prescription for a medication that works honest-to-god miracles. (And then I lost my health insurance and went back to Excedrin Migraine which, truly is a gem in its own right. What’s the level under miracle?) I started tracking them with an app and have what amounts to a simultaneously depressing and useful overview of my life (“You’ve been attack free for… 6 HOURS!”) I evangelize these drugs to EVERYONE.

So why am I talking about this now and here? Well partly just because I want to but also because there is power in understanding what’s happening to your body. To being able to pinpoint the moment it shifts from a headache to a migraine and knowing what to do next. Though the migraines have subsided in the last few years - now it’s closer to once a week, a number which my mother pointed out is still rather high - they have also started to bleed into work hours. They are also occasionally diabolical - the other day I got one of those “no bright lights” migraines but was hungry so I turned on the lights in my living room so I could backlight the kitchen enough to see what I was doing but still stand in darkness. Migraines are wild, y’all.

People talk a lot about self-care these days. It’s hard to do, and hard to hold your own boundaries. But I gotta say, it’s much easier when you can say with clarity and precision: I have a migraine and need to go lay in a dark corner away from screens for the next few hours, brb.

*Immediate extended family is the phrase I use for the direct aunts/uncles/cousins portion of the extended family. It very quickly gets much bigger and much more confusing - heyyyy second cousin once removed!

Marisa Falcon