I’ve had the ‘I’ve got a migraine’ from someone having a headache today (again), so lets publish my old breakdown of an actual migraine, to help people understand the difference. I’m not saying all migraines are like this but most of mine are. I’m not saying all headaches are minor. Luckily I only get one every couple of months now but I used to get them at least once a fortnight. And I’m lucky because I’m a bloke, women suffer from migraines far more than men do. I’m not looking for sympathy either, this is how it is, it’s rubbish but at least it comes and goes, could be a lot worse.
My trigger is usually light. Flashes of bright, white, natural light. Looking outside from inside a building at sunlight reflecting off a car windscreen will do it nicely but there are lots of reasons. Lack of sleep, lights, changes of brightness, it’s almost random.
Anyway, here we go. I’ve been triggered.
My migraine normally starts with a blocking in the eyes. It’s hard to explain but imagine black dots in your vision making it hard to look at things in detail. Don’t try reading or looking at a computer screen in this state. This then moves to flickering at the edges of my vision which slowly moves, over say an hour, to my central vision. The flickering is my trigger to speak to my boss, let him know I’m out of action for 24 hours, to get home.
I cycle to work mostly, so flickering in my eyes means I will struggle to get home in the 60 minutes I have left. I have left it too late in the past. That was a bad idea.
So, flickering starts, I tell my boss I’m out of action, he’s good, lets me go. And out of the corporate premise world I go. I ride home, the flickering gets worse, it’s enough to make me feel sick. I get on my bike and set off. On this occasion I’ve left it too late. I start throwing up riding home. Not proper sick, just bile, dry retching. I can’t see a damn thing. I’m looking at the road but all I can see is a line, it’s the pavement edge, I stick to that.
I’m home. My wife is home too. I grunt at her, she looks at me, sees my posture, gets what’s going on. she understands too. She knows she has to take on my responsibilities for the next day or so, that’s all sorted…time to get jiggy,
I get myself sorted. Empty bucket by the bed, jug of water, curtains closed, bring it.
The flickering of my vision will generally have faded by this point to be replaced by a dark shadow covering my entire vision, this will grow darker and darker until I can barely see at all. I lost the ability to recognise any fine detail an hour or so ago, at this stage I could barely recognise a double decker bus. The pain is coming, it’s been a dull ache for 30 minutes or so but now an explosion hits right at the centre of my head, the tendrils of which tunnel out to each nerve in my skull, to my eyes but most of all to my back. The pain spreads quickly and efficiently down my spine and settles in halfway down my back. The epicentre moves gradually to the base of my skull and I am rigid.
This is how I will spend the next few hours, head arched back, muscles locked against each other, each movement feeling like glass between my vertebra. Sometimes I retch, each spasm pulling my stomach ever closer to ejecting itself.
The first couple of times this happened in my early teens, I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening or why, I thought I was dying. As I became more familiar with them I understood how to handle them, they grew less scary but not less pleasant. I know longer fear I am dying, I merely fear that I will not.
If I am lucky, after an hour or so, unconsciousness will take me with it’s deep, dark forgiving caress and temporarily release me. Sometimes I will awake, still gripped by pain, a dark cloud over my eyes and a steel bar for a spine. More often though I will awake, reborn, still in pain but able to see and move. The migraine will leave me aching, sore and beaten. I will spend a few days with a stiff back and a sore head, eyes that feel hard and loose in my head. The world is dulled, muffled and grey.
So it’s over again, for now. Definitely not a headache.