Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Migraine Diary, Part Two

"I don't think that we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing...".”

I make it to my front door and open my eyes wide to make sure I get the key in the lock. The house is hot, I climb the stairs, lock my  bedroom door behind me, open the windows but close the curtains, and turn on my fan to the highest it can go.

The headache is starting. 

The migraine started before I had a chance to eat breakfast. I reach for my bag, keeping my eyes closed, find the scone and break off a corner. I eat while lying down with one arm over my eyes. I’m not hungry but I know I need food for two reasons: 1. Energy to get through the migraine. 2. So that I can have something to vomit when the time comes.

The scone tastes good. I’m eating while lying on my back and I’m worried about swallowing wrong and having to cough. Coughing with a migraine hurts, I imagine it feels like a piano falling on your head while you’re drowning. I chew every bite for as long as I can. The act of chewing and the flavor of the scone takes my mind off of my head and makes me feel better. I break off another piece and repeat again and again until the scone is gone. When the scone is gone I wish I had another, it pains me that I don’t have another. I stop chewing and press both arms back over my head and it feels like the pain has increased.

It’s not a normal headache pain. It’s not like a hangover. It’s not like the pain that comes from staring into a computer for too long. It has more focal points, more areas that are gripped. It doesn’t throb or pulse or beat. It starts somewhere above the right lobe of my brain and radiates out from there with a steady pressure.

I open my eyes and see my dusty bookshelf and I begin to panic over all my stuff and what I’m going to do when I move. I see a scuff on the wall by my bed and feel like I’m living in squalor. I see the small crack by my bathroom door and think that the house could collapse in on me at any moment. I begin to worry about what I would do if something actually happened just then. What if the wires in the house are frayed and sparking? What if the power goes out and I’m left alone in a hot room over the summer without a fan? What if someone tries to break into the house in the middle of the day? Would I hear them over the sound of the fan? Do I hear someone outside my door?

It’s a deep pain that has an emotional component to it. It makes you feel bad from the inside out. It makes everything worse. It’s not just pain, but an actual change in your personality, in how you perceive the world. Everything seems terrible. It’s too hot, or too cold, or too bright, or too loud, or too quiet.  The small becomes magnified and turns into something terrifying.

In 30 minutes I’ve gone from ordering a coffee and looking forward to watching soccer, to writhing in pain, unable to function.  

I know what’s coming next. And I know it’ll be bad, but that I’ll feel slightly better afterwards. I pull myself from bed and head to the bathroom. I can tell I’m about to get sick. The effort of pushing food and liquid out of my stomach while having a migraine makes me dizzy. I bend down to the sink, rinse my mouth and let the water from the faucet flow over my face. It’s cool and calming I don’t know how long I stayed under the water. I stand up straight, slowly, and blink. The pain has diminished somewhat, it always does after I get sick. It’s not over, it’s not done, but it’s slightly better, as if there were some toxins I needed to expel or maybe as if the effort of getting sick took my body’s focus away from the headache.

I eat the blueberries and continue to drink water with my eyes closed. I press a pillow over my nose and eyes and breathe through my mouth. I try to relax and force myself into sleep. The anxiety has dimmed, the pain is still strong, but I know that sleep helps.

At night, under normal conditions without a migraine, I have trouble falling asleep. But when I get my migrained self into the sleep mindset it happens pretty easy. I know I can sleep through so much of the pain and my body gives in and I’m out.

I don’t sleep for long. I think maybe only 45 minutes, possibly less, but it’s enough to feel a significant drop in the pain. I sit up, realize that’s a bad idea and flop back down. It’s terrifying to be so sick that the energy it takes to sit up is too strenuous. I have trouble falling back asleep after the initial nap.

I writhe. I keep my legs moving, kicking at sheets that aren’t there, trying to shift my focus. I roll onto my side, I roll onto the other side, I lie on my stomach than quickly onto my back. I move because I have to. I fold my body to the side so my torso is lying perpendicular to my legs the wrong way across the bed. I end up with my head at the foot of the bed. I press the pillow down onto my eyes and forehead and begin to wonder how much pressure it would take to injure my eyes or crack my skull. I ease off the pillow. I fall asleep.

“He will probably be cured by the time he wakes, it will be the same with the others, most likely they are already regaining their sight at this very moment....”

I wake up a few hours later. The light in the room has dimmed in the afternoon. I’m exhausted. I inventory myself without moving. I’m thirsty. I can tell I’ll be very hungry soon. My head still hurts, but the pain has faded into something manageable. I’ve slept through the worst, but I’m still not done.

I turn on my computer and watch the end of the England/Algeria soccer match. Or, I listen to it, because watching hurts my eyes and feels like it could trigger a relapse. As they say, it’s a weak recovery.  

And now there’s not much for me to do. I can’t read because the words are too small and it requires too much brain and eye focus and coordination. I can listen to music softly. I can put on a movie and close my eyes through most of it. Listening and squinting a view when necessary. None of these are satisfying. I’m shackled by boredom. I’m only bored when I have a migraine because I can’t actually do what I want. I fall back asleep.

Now it’s much later. The headache has faded even more and I put on Flight of the Conchords to distract myself. I can’t move very much. Standing up long enough to put in a dvd has made me tired. Laughing moves my head and sharpens the pain at my temples. But it’s not as bad as it was and I know I’m almost through with the whole thing.

I need food. I pull clothes on and slowly walk down the stairs. I don’t want to see my rooomates because I don’t want to tell them why I’ve been home all day and where I’m going. I want to conserve my energy for the food gathering. I of course have nothing in the house and decide to try to walk to the deli on the corner. It’s after 6pm and it’s cooler outside than it was when I came home, but it's also more crowded. I feel fragile, but I can see and I’m not as shaky as I was last time I was outside. I feel like a nervous old man.

It’s hard to read the menu, but I order a big sandwich with turkey and bacon. I’m always hungry after a migraine, and I eat the whole sandwich, chips and drink a coke. The food makes me feel better, stronger. I’m eating in order to survive instead of just eating because I’m hungry. 

I walk back home and for the first time all day my skin feels good. I watch XMen2 because I can put it on and not pay attention. I listen to some music and try to write but can’t do it yet. I kill more time then fall back asleep for good and sleep for eight hours.

All the next day I feel tired with a slight pressure in the front of my head. It’s not a headache, it’s pressure, like the ghost of the migraine reminding me that it was there and that it’ll be back. I can’t do much, I’m not going to yoga or going out for long, but I’m back to functional again. I can read, I can write.

Erin and I eat dinner outside at night and the lights of passing cars and the streetlight pools of yellow light bother me, but it’s not as bad as it was. It feels like I’ve been out of society, but it was just a day. I drink a beer and I can tell my body doesn’t want it, but it relaxes me a bit, and tastes good so I finish it. I can talk. I can move my head side to side. Small things, small as a quarter, small as three blocks, but they seem fresh and I’ve missed them.

“...there are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything...”

In a way, I'm lucky. Many people have it much worse than me. Mine only last a day not a week or a month. Other people are far more light and sound sensitive than me. Other people fall deeper into despair. I've never had to miss something I really wanted to do because of a migraine. They've never happened while on vacation, or while working on something vitally important. They usually happen in the morning and are gone by the evening.

In the moment, gripped by the pain, it’s hard to imagine how it could be worse, but it could be, many people have it worse. I tell myself I'm lucky.

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