By Mizgin –
It was the absolute worst when I was trying to teach a poetry lesson in class and suddenly felt the pressure come along. Vivid, bright, zig-zag lines started forming in my left eye and I knew it was there to last at least half an hour. I had to ask my students to read in silence for the remainder of the lesson as I put my head between my hands and closed my eyes at my desk. At one point, I felt the left side of my face droop and the left side of my body felt a little numb for a few minutes.
Luckily, though, I was used to this now. The first time it happened, I thought I was having a stroke.
The pain lasted three days straight into the weekend. I kept telling my family that my head hurt. They didn’t understand; they never did. I know it may be hard to imagine what it could be like if you don’t suffer with migraines, but I can’t describe it in any other way… my head literally hurts. It feels physically sore. It hurts when I touch my head. It hurts when someone speaks. It hurts when there’s any form of light around me. I can feel it in my eyes, my face and my head. What may seem like a normal conversation to someone else, feels like the loudest and most painful noise to me in that moment.
My head hurts – physically from the migraine. However, my head also hurts from having to explain to those around me, every single time, what it’s like to live with migraines. I’ve been called ‘a drama queen’; I’ve been told I’m exaggerating; I’ve even been told to “just get over it.” Not even my doctor took me seriously until I lost vision in my left eye in the summer of 2018 and was rushed into the Emergency Department. Initially, the doctors thought I had suffered a TIA (transient ischemic attack), but when the scans had ruled that out, I was formally diagnosed with hemiplegic migraine with aura and wasn’t really given any further advice or support.
And so again… my head hurts. My head hurts from having to deal with this completely on my own. As I lie in my bed, awake at 2am from the debilitating pain, I question my ability to wake up in the morning and go to work. A million things are running through my mind; what will I try next? More medication? Meditation? Do I call in sick? Was it something I ate or drank? Was it the music I listened to in the car? What triggered it this time? Shall I go to see my doctor again?
I have personally found that a migraine attack worsens my anxiety, which then potentially triggers a panic attack. Even though I know it’s a migraine, every time my face/body feels numb and I start slurring my words, a tiny voice in the back of my head tells me I could be having a stroke. My heart starts racing and I start feeling nauseous. If a panic attack is triggered, I also have trouble breathing and I start sweating – it feels like a heart attack. And then I remember that I have a heart condition, so I start worrying that I might actually be having a heart attack. I try to reassure myself mentally that “I’m OK” and take deep breaths until I calm myself down and the numbness and the dizziness start to ease off. I then wait until I drift off to sleep because I am so emotionally and physically exhausted.
So, there it is; just a regular migraine. It feels like fighting a war on your own and in silence. If there’s anything more unhelpful than the irritated glances, it’s phrases like “everyone suffers from headaches!” and “just take a painkiller and you’ll be OK” that upset me the most. No; it’s not just a regular headache. My head hurts – so much that I feel like there’s a gigantic elephant sitting right on it. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having an elephant sitting on my head in that particular moment. I have frequently found myself pulling at my hair in response to how painful a migraine has been. This is what I’ve been battling with – getting people around me to understand what a migraine really is like.
Yet, unless it’s a particularly terrible one that has got me bed-bound, most of the time I have learned to just get on with my day-to-day life. I rest a little, take some medication, and power through the rest of my day despite the agonising pain.
So, I suppose that’s what makes us migraineurs special; we live with a silent but painful chronic illness that isn’t yet fully understood and embraced in our society. We are expected to just get on with it and we try to do so most of the time. All I personally ask for though, is that we are not judged, mocked or misunderstood. Plus, I think we are all warriors… don’t you agree?