Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
The first time I had a migraine I thought I was losing my mind. I was only 13, far too young, I felt, to be suffering from hallucinations
. But there it was, off in the distance, the beginnings of what I would come to know as an aura.
At the time I had no way of knowing what it was I was experiencing. I wasn't even sure I was experiencing anything. All I could intuit from what I was seeing was that there was an ever-growing, pulsating globule of light that only I could see. And, given that it didn't seem to interact with anything it passed through/in front of, I felt certain that whatever this business was, it was only in my head.
About half-an-hour later I was formally introduced to what was really in my head: throbbing pain
, the likes of which I had never experienced.
Later that afternoon, lying in bed with the shades drawn and the lights out, a damp washcloth on my forehead, and a large bowl beside the bed I was attempting to arrange the pillows to alleviate the wrenching pain that plumed like magma
from the base of my neck to my temples when my dad walked in. He sat on the side of my bed and, dabbing my face with the cloth, he began to ask me very discriminating questions about the nature of my illness.
He sat quietly after I finished describing what I seen. Then, in my own personal "Teenwolf
moment," he told me it was hereditary.
I now know that I'm not crazy. At least as it pertains to the patterns of flashing light I see, and the blurred vision I experience right before a headache. Migraines, I've learned, are not a psychological disorder. They are a disease, a disease of the brain, yes, but they are entirely organic in nature and are not caused by depression or stress.
They are the result of the vasodilatation of blood vessels in the head. The theory is that some set of neurological triggers cause the arteries that supply blood to constrict. At the same time platelets in the blood begin to coalesce which cause the neurotransmitter serotonin to be released. The serotonin itself causes the blood vessels to constrict further -- the result being a massive feedback loop.
The loop keeps looping until the brain, now dangerously oxygen deprived, commands the same blood vessels to dilate. The sudden widening of the blood vessels causes prostaglandins, chemicals that produce pain, to be released from the surrounding tissue. All of which results in arteries of the face, neck, and scalp actually pumping pain to areas of the head that are gasping for blood.
However, as imaging technology has advanced in recent years evidence has grown to suggest that migraines are not vascular in nature (as the above description suggests), but entirely neurological. Though the cause is not known researchers have detected a slow spreading depolarization
of the brain the in hours preceding an attack.
The worst one I ever got was when I was in middle school. It was just after lunch and I was on my way to class when I saw the aura. This time, however, I not only saw it, but felt it. My entire body was taken with the sensation commonly described as "pins and needles," and my legs were spongy and unresponsive. I was at once flushed and chilled, oblivious and acutely aware.
It was a disturbing, yet euphoric
As I've grown I have learned, through personal experience and research, that the symptoms of a migraine include the heightening of the senses. More than likely, what I experienced in that middle school hallway was not the unusual basilar type migraine
, which occurs in the brainstem. Instead, it was sensory hyperexcitability.
Most migraine suffers will become photophobic
, hyper-sensitive to light, and seek a dark room. Others will be phonophobic and find a quiet place. I am both. After the aura has passed I require a dark, quiet room. I have to lie down, there is no sitting up, and perish the thought of standing. The blankets have to be arranged just so, for I can feel any variation, no matter how slight. And everything should smell as neutral as possible. I've been known to vomit at the wrong kind of lotion.
My migraines have persisted since then. Occasionally coming nearly one on top another, without even a moment's pause; the infamous "double-migraine." Then there have been years when I have been completely free of them.
Most notable were my college years, which were migraine free and soaked in marijuana
. Though no evidence exists, and indeed, little research has been done, anecdotal accounts (of which this author's is not the only one) suggest that cannabis can increase the time between migraine attacks.
As I have grown older I have found myself indulging in pot less and stricken with migraines more. So, though I know correlation is not causation, I cannot help but wonder, when I lie in the dark, stick straight for fear of further upsetting my stomach, what my life might be like if I just smoked a little more weed.
Unfortunately, though there are ways to stem the flow of migraines through a few proven (or unproven) methods and treatments, the causes, the triggers, are far more elusive.
Migraine triggers can be as concrete as coffee, which both for my father and me will rouse a migraine in just a few short hours. Or they can be as mercurial as the weather. Canadian
research into this phenomenon suggests that a drop in barometric pressure, a warm front, humidity, precipitation, and temperature are all related to the frequency and severity of migraines.
And, crazily enough, the researchers were able to demonstrate that wind from the southeast was linked to migraines more than wind from other directions.
When I was younger I hated my migraines. I would damn them with every breath I could pull.
It is a singular feeling of helplessness to watch an aura slowly dominate one's vision. To be able to do nothing more than passively observe, and to know the pain and nausea that will follow, is, for me, the worst part of my migraines.
I still damn my migraines, but it's a rather half-hearted gesture. They are a part of me, and though they may drive me crazy, they are not demonstrative of my own craziness or faults, just of my sensitivity.