Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Migraines Are a BIG Pain

Yesterday's post dealt with some inspiration to develop our mental health.  So it seems only fitting that I turn the tables a bit today and talk to you all about some literal mental health, i.e., the bane of my existence, MIGRAINES.
I experienced my first big-time migraine on January 1st, 2009 at a movie theater while watching Slumdog Millionaire with my folks.  One minute I was fine, the next, I felt like someone had turned me upside down and dunked my head underwater.  My orientation was off, my head was whirring, and I could feel a pulsing in my ears that would put Skrillex to shame.

The sensation eventually faded, and gave way to zigzags with the consistency of TV static materializing across my right field of vision.  They expanded until my ability to see anything in my right eye was pretty much gone (appearing almost exactly like this - except mine are black and white).

Those persisted for about 15 minutes before finally tapering, and were immediately replaced with what was easily one of the worst headaches of my entire life.  I was terrified, bewildered, and disoriented.  The entire series of events completely caught me off-guard, and, for a moment, the idea that I might actually have been dying did cross my mind.

Luckily by this point, we were back at my folks' place and my mom was armed with a computer, a pain reliever, and water.  We googled my symptoms and discovered that what was happening to me was a regular occurrence for countless other individuals.

I was experiencing an ocular migraine.
I have learned a lot since my first bout with migraines that day in 2009, and my knowledge has certainly quelled much of my worry about what is happening inside of my head when they occur.

The sensation of dunking my head under water is referred to by many terms, but I prefer to call it a "head rush."  It's basically a sudden rush of blood to the head.  The subsequent zigzag vision is not only a typical symptom, it even has its own name: a visual aura.  It's dubbed by Wikipedia as being "the most common of the neurological events" (the neurological events, in this case, being the multiple-sensory auras that accompany migraine attacks). The headache, the most notorious aspect of migraine attacks, is the finishing event, just as it is for countless other sufferers.  Doctors are still trying to figure out exactly why migraines happen, but think it may be because of abnormal brain activity - changes in chemicals and nerves in the brain that make the blood-flow up there go off the wall for a little while.

It was reassuring to hear that the internet world was familiar with my type of migraine.  However, as time progressed, the attacks began to increase in frequency, and I knew I had to see a doctor for my own sanity. Together, we discussed my situation, and ways to better it.

It always surprises me to meet others who are suffering from the same or similar health issues that I have.  It's comforting to know that no matter how strange I think my body is acting, there are others going through the same thing who are probably worrying as much as I am. In fact, according to, 13% of U.S. adults suffer from migraines. That means, chances are more likely than not that I'm not the only one on this blog right now who suffers from migraines.

In an effort to help you or anyone you know who have to deal with these mental nuisances, I've put together a list of my tips and strategies for curbing migraine issues:

#1: Figure out your triggers. Migraines have a whole range of triggers, and knowing what causes them for you can mitigate the frequency of the attacks. When I first started to get a lot of them, I kept a migraine diary to find out what types of things I was doing/eating/drinking correlated with my attacks.  I quickly learned that one of my biggest triggers is dehydration (ahhh, now my love for water makes sense!).  I also have found that I have attacks more frequently when I drink red wine (and so, among other reasons, I subsequently stick to white only), or when I'm put into a situation with flashing/strobe lights.  I went to a Girl Talk concert at the 9:30 Club (watch at your own risk) last winter, and like clockwork, eight hours later, boom, ocular migraine.  Even certain iPhone games with flashing lights have triggered migraines for me!  I've learned to avoid these triggers, because the correlation seems to be direct.  However, sometimes, triggers aren't something I can consciously prevent - stuff like hormones, stress, or even changes in barometric pressure. This is one of the main reasons why I believe points #2 and #3 are of the utmost importance.
#2:  Listen to your body.  I have realized that my head rushes and visual auras are more of a blessing than a curse, because they are very tangible warning signs that a Headache from Hell is en route.  Sometimes, unfortunately, the warning signs aren't as blatant - you may start to feel a little lightheaded, smell something that isn't there, or get a ringing in your ears.  If you're having trouble with migraines, pay attention to how you were feeling right before the headache began.  A lot of the time, even if it's subtle, your body will send some cues your way, so that you can be ready to put point #3 into effect.
#3:  When a migraine hits, have an action plan prepared.  I carry Excedrin with me everywhere, since it's the only non-prescription pain reliever that works for me (and when I say "works," I mean it mitigates it, not gets rid of it completely).  I down a glass of water and pop an Excedrin the second I feel the head rush sensation. If I'm at work when it happens, I put on relaxing, soft music and dim the brightness on my computer screen.  If I'm home, I know it's time to lie down and try to take a nap before the headache settles in.  I have a friend and fellow migraine-sufferer who swears by downing a can of regular Coke and popping an Excedrin the second the warning signs appear.  Searching the internet, I have found a plethora of different ways people cope with their migraines.  It's a personal course of action, and sometimes it can be a tricky one.  

It goes without saying that everything I have noted above is anecdotal - the strategies and methods that have personally helped me with what would have otherwise been a devastating interruption in my life.  
If you are a migraine sufferer, I strongly suggest that in addition to trying out the tricks I have listed above, you check in with your general practitioner to discuss the best course of action for you.  

Migraines can be a huge pain, but they haven't stopped me from striving to live the happy and healthy life I want to live.  For migraine sufferers and for those who know someone suffering from migraines, I hope that this post has been helpful.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to discuss any migraine problems in more depth.  And remember - you are not alone!


  1. thank you so much for posting, biz! in the case of migraines, it's very comforting to have people you who understand that it is a serious situation even if they are lucky enough not to suffer! -gg

    1. Thanks for commenting, GG!! Migraines are a nuisance to deal with, but hopefully bringing the problem out into the light will be helpful for sufferers who are nervous to speak up.