I’m female, 38 years old, and I suffer from chronic migraines.
At my age, my mother had them, too. She suffered horribly, and then one day they went away. She doesn’t get them anymore. I hope the hereditary nature of the onset of migraines also applies to their departure.
I get migraines from stress, but I also get them when my body gets overheated. They’re also triggered by seasonal allergies or when someone near me is wearing strong perfume.
Sometimes I have warning in the form of sensitivity to light or sound or movement. But the scariest migraines come in an instant. One moment I’m fine, and the next I’m in agonizing pain. My neck stiffens. Pain runs up and down the left side of my head. I slur my speech and use the wrong words.
To get the migraine to go away, I must take this awful combination of drugs that makes me feel like I’m being choked. Sometimes I hallucinate.
I have to lie down in a quiet, dark place, and let the drugs work. If I don’t have those conditions, the drugs don’t work, and the migraine continues on.
The drugs need to work. The room needs to spin for a while. And eventually, my exhausted body drifts off to sleep.
Until I figured this out, some migraines went on for days, and at least two lasted a week. When this happens, I drag myself to my neurologist or the emergency room to get intravenous abortive medications.
Hours later, I come out of the migraine in a fuzzy blur. I still have trouble finding the right words. I’m still on sensory overload. My kids and my beau are aware that I’m coming out of it, and I warn them — on pain of death — to keep the noise and movements to a minimum.
My life partner was always taught to work through pain. His parents raised him to believe that by working through pain, we become stronger.
Once upon a time, I tried. I’d take the horrible medications and go on with my day. I’d try to work. I’d try to drive. And then I’d need to take another dose because the drugs simply wouldn’t work. Inevitably, the migraine would continue, and I’d wind up in the emergency room.
I racked up hundreds of dollars in copays for IV meds.
“You just need to work through your migraines,” my partner used to tell me, “You can’t just drop everything.”
One day I simply realized, Yeah, actually, I can. I can just drop everything.
Once upon a time, I worked in the brain injury field. I learned that brains need rest to heal. When a teen has a concussion, their doctor often prescribes total brain rest for the brain to repair itself. No TV, no reading, no electronics. Minimal stimulation. I realized that I could apply the same therapy — brain rest — to my own brain as I recovered from my migraine.
And so I drop everything.
If I’m at work when a migraine hits, I leave and drive home as carefully as I can, all too aware that my own cognition is compromised.
I drop everything.
The chores can wait. The parrots can be alone for a few hours. The kids can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
I drop everything.
Until I can get myself back to normal, I do nothing. If I don’t, the migraine will continue to make my life a living hell. The longer I try to ignore it, the longer it stays.
So no — I won’t work through it.
No, I won’t stay at work, even if I have a private office and a light switch dimmer. I have FMLA for a reason.
No, I won’t go pick up the kids from their activities, because I might get into a car accident and kill us all.
No, I won’t try to make dinner while I have a migraine, because I might burn down the house.
No, I won’t hang out with anyone. I need to be alone. In the dark. In silence.
No, I won’t pretend to be okay. Because I’m not.
Every time I get a migraine, I learn more about my own personal brand of migraine. The onset. The development. The duration. The drugs. The ideal recovery environment. The recovery. The aftermath. The day after.
For me, working through a migraine isn’t going to lead to more personal strength. It’s going to lead to more stupid, unnecessary suffering.
Instead, observing my body’s own idiosyncrasies has given me strength over a chronic condition.
For me — quite literally — knowledge is power.
Esther Hofknecht Curtis, MSM-HCA is a freelance writer living in Dover, Delaware. Follow her on Facebook — go to https://www.facebook.com/TheArdentReader19977/