Saturday, February 14, 2015

One sufferer's experience of one type of migraine

Migraines come in many shapes and forms with varying symptoms that depend on the person and depend on each specific migraine episode. One migraine sufferer could have a very different experience from another. And those who are lucky enough not to have migraines often have no idea what it actually means. No, it's not just a bad headache.

My mom wrote a great post debunking migraine myths and explaining clearly what they really are. I re-posted it for everyone to see, so PLEASE give it a read.

I only occasionally have migraines, and each one is its own individual beast. This is the story of just one experience.


I woke up on a Saturday morning, happy and refreshed having slept in a couple hours later than on weekdays. I greeted the day with a jog - nothing too strenuous but still a good workout. The rest of the morning went as Saturdays usually do, with a big healthy breakfast, a load of laundry, and a couple long Skype calls with my parents. I had a healthy lunch, and then sat down at my computer to work on updating my resume.

I was having trouble concentrating on the work, feeling restless, and had a bit of a headache in the front part of my head, behind my eyes. This is fairly common for me when I spend a lot of time motionless at a computer, and a bit of exercise often helps, so I decided to go for a walk and stop at the store while I was out. The store I wanted to go to was pretty far, and it made more sense to go by bike, but I often enjoy going for long walks on the weekend.

I set out, enjoying the warm sun and plum blossoms signaling the approach of spring. I tried to ignore the fact that the sun seemed overly bright, always shining right in my eyes. I also tried to ignore my runny nose and tingling in my sinuses that seemed to be reaching back into my brain, like too much wasabi.

After about an hour I was getting really tired and glad I had just reached the store. I could feel my pulse in my head, and thought maybe I should take the bus rather than walk back home after finishing my errands.

I only had five things on my mental shopping list, and I like to shop efficiently, getting what I need in the order than it's laid out in the store. So I walked straight to the escalator, heading to the department where I wanted to pick up a gift for my friend.

Department stores seem to be full of middle-aged and elderly women, and a surprising number of yelling children. There are also many lights, colors, sounds, and smells.

I found myself wandering in a circle, briefly forgetting what I was looking for and where it could be found, my brain fuzzy, not being able to sort through everything bombarding my senses. "The noisy part of the store, what I want first is probably near there..." I thought, changing directions once again. "Did they reorganize the store? Or is it just not here? Oh, it's probably seasonal. I have to wait until summer. I won't be here anymore then." My thoughts came slowly, one at a time, while my feet trudged along trying to bring me to my goal.

A sudden wave of nausea hit me, and I had to stop and take a deep breath through my mouth. My eyes were only half open, as I tried to filter out the light and relax my face and temples. "Ok, next. What do I need to buy next?" I walked very slowly, all the while breathing deeply but not through my nose to avoid smells that made my stomach churn. I picked up a couple items and tried to buy them, but I was at the wrong cash register. Department stores in Japan can be so confusing. I backtracked, looking for dotted lines on the floor letting me know when I had left the section my items where from and looked for the big ¥ sign within those lines, all with half-closed eyes.

Looking back, I should have just skipped the store completely and taken the bus straight home. But migraines make me think slowly and not clearly, and it took far too long to realize how bad it really was. I had set out with a goal, and I wanted to finish my goal.

I then set off for the supermarket on the first floor to get a couple items before heading home. I could no longer remember what was on my mental shopping list. I knew there were five items, one I had not found, and two I had already bought. I literally stood in the middle of the store counting these off on my fingers, because my brain could no longer just visualize it. So, two more items, and they were both food. But I could only remember what one of them was.

I walked up and down a couple aisles in a daze. I stood staring at juice for no apparent reason. I noticed a young girl and her mother were looking at me and talking intently to each other. This meant I had been this girl's English teacher, and she was working up the courage to say hi. I pretended I didn't see them, and continued staring at the juice that I didn't need. They walked up, and the girl said, "Uddo Ro-ra Sensei?" Oh great, now I have to put on teacher face and talk with them. I said, "Hello!" trying to radiate a joyful expression. Smile, Laura, smile. We all stood there awkwardly in silence, beaming at each other. The girl's mother started talking to her daughter, "It is her! Aren't you glad you said something? Why don't you talk to her?" As sensei, I realized it was my job to engage with this child. I said in a big, happy, clear voice, "How are you?" The girl grinned and hid her face behind her mom. Her mom continued to encourage her. This exchange of me trying to force my brain and face to do the appropriate things and the mother trying to get her daughter to speak more continued for a few more minutes. The whole time I was internally screaming, "Go away! Go away! Go away! I just CAN'T right now!"

I couldn't process anything outside of my immediate sphere - the overly enthusiastic mom, the shy girl, juice that I couldn't remember if I wanted to buy or not. Bright lights. Deep slow breaths. Churning stomach. Static in my brain. Static that I could FEEL, like a million little pin pricks.

Finally we said our farewells, and I turned back to the juice. Green. Green is good. Get some green juice. And GET OUT OF HERE. My brain had finally realized that I needed to go into serious emergency mode.

I bought my items, trying not to inhale the scents of the nearby bakery, and made a beeline for the door.

I'm not sure how long I had wandered through that confusing nightmare of a store, but by the time I left the sun was disappearing, the wind had picked up, and it was really cold. I crossed the street to the bus stop, and looked at the time schedule. I comforted myself seeing that the bus would come in about ten minutes, not too long. I then sat down on the bench, the first time I was off my feet since I left my apartment earlier.

I dug through my purse, pulling out the little container I keep a stash of medicine in. I considered, "Should I take two or three ibuprofen? No, wait a minute, don't make the mistake of underestimating a migraine, it's time for the big guns." I pulled out a triptan, and put my pill box away. I then realized that the foil had already been opened, and there was no pill inside. In a previous migraine haze I had probably put the empty foil back into my pill box. So I dug into my purse again, praying that there was a second triptan. There was, and I made sure to properly throw out the packaging this time.

I huddled on the bench in the cold wind, waiting for the triptan to kick in and waiting for the bus to arrive, ignoring the people and everything else around me, focusing on my breathing and trying not to cry.

A bus pulled up, and I almost grabbed my bag and got on, but thankfully realized that it wasn't the bus I wanted. It had the same end destination as my bus, but took a different route to get there - a route that would completely miss my apartment. This time I looked up the time table on my phone, knowing that I had the correct bus line bookmarked, and wouldn't make a mistake like I had with the numerous signs posted at the bus stop. I checked the time. My bus wasn't coming for ANOTHER ten minutes. Deep breath, don't cry.

While waiting, two more buses that weren't mine went by. I was the only one left at the stop. The wind was biting through my sweatshirt. I started to doubt my ability to think clearly at all, and wondered if I was even at the right bus stop. "Isn't there only one bus stop? How are there so many buses? I didn't know there were even that many bus lines in this little town. Am I, like, a block away from where I should be? Will my bus ever come? This has to be the right place, I've caught the bus here before! Haven't I? I need to pee. I think."

Finally my bus came and in my excitement I stood up too quickly and nearly fell back down. I stepped onto the bus, searching for the card reader to scan my ICOCA card to pay for the bus fare. I was dizzy, everything was fuzzy, and I could only focus on one thing at a time. Step up. Card reader. Beep. Step. Sit. Don't cry. Old lady smells like old lady. Deep breath. Home soon.

I half sat and half lay on the seat, my eyes mostly closed and my mouth hanging open. I couldn't even find enough energy to keep my mouth shut, although I was fully conscious of how ridiculous I probably looked, and hoped nobody I knew was on the bus. I couldn't bother to actually look around and check.

When my stop was announced, I lifted my arm in slow motion, like moving underwater, and reached to push the button signaling I wanted to get off. It gave me an odd sense of pleasure, that it was exactly within reach of my outstretched arm.

Once home, I dropped my bags on the floor, slowly and deliberately used the bathroom and washed my hands, and then collapsed in sobs. My brain felt like an old dish rag being wrung out, and crying made it feel like it was also being beat with a hammer. I grabbed a stuffed doll and started whacking it against the wall out of frustration. "WHY?!?!" I screamed, as tears and snot dripped down my face.

Taking a few deep breaths, I collected myself, and went about making myself comfortable - made a mug of tea and brought it along with some dark chocolate to my kotatsu table. I curled up under the blanket with the heater on, hydrated, nibble at the chocolate, and put on an old episode of Whose Line because it required no energy and made me laugh.

Eventually the pain and frustration faded away, my stomach settled, and I felt ok. Kind of out of it, but ok.

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