Monday, March 5, 2012

What Goes On In That Head of Yours?

Yeah, I know... I've neglected this blog for a couple of weeks. I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but I have the distinct privilege of suffering migraines. It's another fabulous gift I inherited from my mom. (Thanks, Ma! I still love you anyway!)

I had planned to write a post-Oscars entry, but that Sunday afternoon I found myself squinting through the visual aura that often precedes migraine headaches. And sure enough, by the time the Academy Awards show started, I had a pretty bad headache... not a full-blown migraine, but close.

Now, I've gotten migraine headaches since I was a kid. I think I was about 10 years old the first time I got one. I remember my head feeling like it was about to split open. At the time, we had one of those "living rooms" that nobody ever used except when company came. The walls of the living room were painted a calm, soothing pastel minty green. I remember lying on the sofa in that quiet, shady, cool green room, and wondering if I was going to die. I thought surely one's head cannot possibly hurt so bad without resulting in certain death. Of course I didn't die, and I've had many migraines in the years since which also didn't kill me, no matter how badly I might have wished they would, just to stop the pain.

Until Imitrex came along, nothing helped much, other than drugs that put you to sleep until the migraine headache (hopefully) passed. Imitrex has been a miracle in my battle against migraines... it's like a magic bullet. For me, it usually reverses a migraine in an hour or so. I understand it doesn't work for everyone, and I feel truly sorry for the poor schmoes that it doesn't help. I hope they have other options, because migraines are miserable.

I feel fortunate that I don't get migraines often. I got them more frequently when I was a teenager and younger adult, but they tapered off a bit in my mid-to-late-20s. Lucky me! I've also never figured out what triggers my migraines, though I suspect some nitrates might. I think we may have had Oscar Meyer hot dogs the day I got my first migraine, and to this day I can't stand the smell of them. I'm perfectly fine with other brands, but the smell of Oscar Mayer weiners cooking immediately start me feeling headachey and nauseous. Oddly enough, Oscar Mayer bologna does not have the same effect. (Maybe it's because they have a way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.)

Until a couple years ago, I had never gotten the preceding visual aura. My mom always got them, and I never understood exactly what she meant by "visual aura". Then one morning I was getting ready for work, and noticed a small spot in my vision. At first I thought it was just from the glare of a lightbulb or something. Then it grew, forming a flashing, zig-zagging circle. I wondered if I was having an aneurysm, which is not unprecedented in my family. I quickly Googled the symptoms, and stumbled upon a site that had an animated representation of an ocular migraine, a.k.a. the visual aura. Imagine my relief! I wasn't having a stroke or aneurysm... it was just the visual aura that precedes migraine headache. *Phew!* And then I realized what that meant... that I'd likely be hit with a migraine headache about 20 minutes after the aura cleared. Bummer!

Sure enough, shortly after my vision cleared, the pain started and grew fast. It was the worst migraine pain I'd suffered in several years. Five days later, I had another visual aura and bad migraine. And it happened again five days after that... three bad migraines, all preceded by visual aura (which I'd never had before), and all within a span of 10 days. Yikes! That's a major pattern change. My doc sent me to a neurologist, who did an MRI and pronounced that not only did I have a brain (which was a surprise to some who know me), it was perfectly fine. The pattern change was chalked up to normal changes likely due to hormonal shifts related to my age. (I'm still well over two decades from retirement, but I guess I'm no spring chicken anymore.) It was also recommended that I stop taking the pill. (The story of THAT adventure is for another day. Or not.)

Since then, I've gotten the visual aura several times and often I get it without the accompanying migraine headache. I've found that if I can hit it with some ibuprofen and some protein when the aura starts, I can often avoid the following pain. Or maybe the ibuprofen and protein have nothing to do with it... could just be a coincidence, who knows? I'll usually get headachey after the aura, but more often than not I don't get the full-blown kill-me-now head-exploding migraine pain. And for that I'm extremely grateful. But after an episode of any level, I do still struggle with what we migraine sufferers call "migraine brain". Things just don't work quite right up there... like there's a bit of a short circuit.

Last week, I had three episodes of visual aura with varying degrees of headache. So things have been a little fuzzy around here, and I skipped blogging while I was bogged down with a hefty case of residual spaciness. It makes it difficult to put thoughts together cohesively. As you can probably tell from this rambling post.

Some people HAVE said they can't tell the difference between my normal brain status and the spacey post-migraine status. Truth be told, sometimes I can't either!

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