What’s it like to have a migraine?  The only way to know the answer to this question is to ask every single migraine sufferer what their experience is, and then you’ll know for sure.  That’s a good few million to start with.  There are a number of common symptoms but everyone will describe something a bit different, and we can’t yet read people’s minds.  So you’ll have to take our word for it.  Here’s what mine are like:

I only get them once every two or three months, and they’re usually triggered by stress. My life is stressful most of the time, though, and I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that brought on my last one. They usually last about 48 hours, and start with a feeling that something isn’t quite right. The problem with this is that I can’t tell during this phase if I’m just perceiving the world strangely, or if it’s the beginnings of a migraine. Half the time I look back on it and think “oh yeah, I noticed something a bit odd the day before my crippling headache“.

green-spiral-fractalWell, that kinda happened this time. Monday evening, the gentleman in our office who whistles and taps on the table while working (I know, annoying, right?) seemed a bit louder and got inside my head a little more than usual. And the world developed a sort of iridescent quality (yes, I know this sounds weird). But, having a long history of neurological problems, I was unperturbed and carried on as usual. Tuesday morning arrived, and I felt just fine. For about 30 minutes. I was at my desk just staring at this email for about an hour, completely unable to think straight. It was like a fog had descended on my brain. Everything felt both unclear and very, very real all at the same time. And then the lights started. I see an orange and yellow flashing zig-zag in a spiral formation, which starts near the centre of my vision and moves outwards and becomes wider as the aura progresses. It looks like a beautiful fractal like the one in the picture on the right, but it is Extremely Distracting. I’m blind in one eye, so when I get this curvy zig-zag obscuring the rest of my sight, it’s like having tunnel vision. Not only is my visual field reduced, but if I concentrate on fine detail, it seems to “vibrate”, and it hurts my head to focus.

By this point I’m unable to function, and so I went home sick.  I wasn’t in too much pain at this point, and sometimes it doesn’t develop beyond this point. But this one did.  I don’t get any pain until the aura is well underway, so it at least acts as a useful warning.  The pain is usually on the right side of my head, concentrated around my eye socket.  It feels like my eye is under so much pressure that it could burst out of my face (nice). I managed to make it on to a train to get home (I did consider a taxi, but I was still functional enough to use public transport – just). The thing about my migraines that really worries me is the confusion associated with them.  That “really real, but not quite there” feeling causes me to question my own mind.  I get distracted and forgetful, and over-compensate because I’m scared my condition will cause me to make a mistake.  [Link: Catriona’s on-air migraine gives TV bosses a headache]

At home, the pain was increasing, but only slightly, and I decided to take a lie down. I wasn’t tired in the slightest, and I thought that 5 minutes rest might do me some good.  Five hours later, I woke up.  The pain had dissipated (typically, I have to just go to bed to get the pain to stop; nothing but unconsciousness seems to relieve it), but I felt quite dazed.  I was at home, and safe, so it didn’t matter so much, but it wasn’t pleasant.  I felt well enough to go to the gym in the evening; no idea if it did me any good but it felt right.  I went to bed tired, even though I’d slept for half the day.

Some other weird stuff happens. This time, I completely lost my appetite. I didn’t feel sick; the idea of eating just didn’t appeal to me at all. And when the pain starts, yawning seems to relieve it , but only for a few seconds.  So I yawn a lot. A lot.

The next morning (Wednesday) I woke up feeling refreshed, and unusually sparkling.  It felt great. But things were occasionally a bit fuzzy, like my brain was still a little bit ‘bruised’ from the previous day’s events. And by the evening, that was that.  Over until the next one. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

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