Inside a migraine attack

Inside a Migraine Attack

Despite being a writer who has chronic migraine, I had never written anything describing a migraine attack during one. I was afraid paying so much attention to my symptoms would magnify them. But my curiosity finally won out. Here’s an unedited stream of consciousness from 30 minutes of a recent migraine attack, which I recorded as if I were an outside observer watching someone else. Thanks to triptans, it was a short, mild attack: the worst of it only lasted an hour and the pain didn’t get above a 5. It was still shockingly intense, as if my body were being violently overthrown.

This isn’t my best writing, of course. It doesn’t all make sense, but that’s what the mind is like during a migraine attack. If you get lost in the early paragraphs, skip to the one that begins, “I have lost the thread.” Some descriptions starting in that paragraph ring chillingly true.

Why is it hard to describe an attack?

Yesterday, I was lamenting the lack of descriptions I had written about what a migraine attack feels like. Today I'm in one and remember why. It's more than not wanting to have a record. It's that writing is difficult when you have few words. Clever analogies, clear explanations, vivid images... none of those can be written when you can't even remember the name for that thing in the kitchen that heats up food quickly. And the clumsiness means indecipherable typos and autocorrects. Because of course I'm not on my computer. I literally cannot sit up straight. I could prop it on my knees while lying down, but the risk of it falling in my face is too high. My grip is weak and my fingers are fumbling. And prior to TheraSpecs, the computer was too bright to look out (autocorrects for that sentence include lathe for the and Beiruit for bright).

How does migraine affect my cognition?

Everything blurs in the haze of cognitive dysfunction. My mental abilities are dull, shrouded in a thick layer of pillow stuffing. Cognitivedullness combined with extra-sharp sensory receptivity makes for an overwhelming combination. I get all the input at a much higher rate than usual but cannot process it.

How do things feel so overwhelming?

I am overwhelmed with minute details of every little thing around me. The smells of the neighbor's lawnmower exhaust from four houses away. The sounds of birds chirping like needles in my ear drums. The lights as if I were being interrogated by a corrupt cop. The feel of my normally comfortable clothing constructing around me as if it were a size too small. All of these sensations all the time and there's nothing I can do with them.

What do I mean when I say I can't hold myself up?

Many years ago, my husband had to hold me up when we left a movie we’d seein in downtown Disney on a Saturday night. I was technically walking, but it was more like I was hanging off him like a monkey. My arm was draped over he shoulder. Late at night on a Saturday, I could hear onlookers remarking on how drunk I must have been. I wish.

So when I say I literally cannot sit up straight, this is what I mean. When my niece was little, she'd go limp when someone picked her up. Most kids hold on with their arms and grip with their legs; my niece became an anchor, as if she were unable to grip.

I wonder now if this was a sign that chronic migraine was coming her way. If perhaps the times she begged to be picked up were when she could no longer hold herself up. That's how I feel in the midst of a migraine.

So you can see why it looked like I'd been clubbing in downtown Disney, not sleeping through a midnight showing of a cartoon.

Where am I now?

I have lost the thread. Lost any direction I was writing in. I reread what I've just written and it is like my memory is full. I cannot take in the information, even just long enough to remember what I wanted to say next. It is there. I can look at it. I can basically comprehend it, but that is it. It's like pouring water on concrete. It cannot soak in, it just pools up, then dissipates.

I want to keep writing. I want to get these sensations down. But it is hard when my mind continues to fade. I am dumb right now and getting dumber as the minutes tick by. There is a sensation of descent, a spiral into increasingly worse symptoms. Clumsier, weaker, duller, dumber. It just keeps getting worse.

What have I feared with chronic migraine?

One if my biggest fears when I was severely chronic was that I was losing my intelligence permanently. I now know it was temporary, though when temporary lasts more than a decade, it doesn't feel like it's temporary.

What's that word?

My hands are weak. My mouth and my younger are weak. I have to leave that autocorrect in because I cannot spell the word for the organ where my tastebuds are located. I cannot figure out where the U goes. Even when I can think if the words, I cannot form them correctly. The come out slurred, slushy. I do not know if my jaw is weak. My mouth hangs open, so the answer if probably yes, but the hinge feels rusted sh*t, clamped down so tight it is frozen in this semi/open position.

The autocorrects are getting stranger. More amusing, but also more annoying. Am I going to be able to read this when I'm sober.

That's a strange word to use, but it keeps coming to mind. I am impaired. Much of my nonevent is loose and slow as if I wore drunk, my mind has the dullness of smoking pot, without the bonus of feeling remarkably clever.

I have long ... got interrupted and have no idea where the thread is.

I answer a question slowly. All my words have extra space between them, but the pauses become more profound when I forget a word. Which happens three times a sentence.

Can I drive?

Ah, I have long known I shouldn't drive during a migraine, but I did it anyway. As I observe myself right now, I know I am too impaired to drive. As impaired as if I'd smoked a joint or drank a bottle of wine. My reflexes are slowed. The time I lost six miles of driving on the freeway is the time I mostly gave up driving during an attack.

Am I making sense?

Finding the right word during a migraine is tough, but maybe I could have done more free writing during them. Except I was doing no freewriting at the time. I was in my edit as I write, try to make it perfect as I go along process that is the norm for short blog posts. I'm not a journaler, I never have been. After all, If I do not write for publication, there is little point in writing at all. But the U.S. Good grist for the mill. How's what for autocorrects? And I didn't want these details. Now I do want them and am trying to absorb all of them

Before, I'd stop writing when I felt dumb. I didn't want a reminder of what it was like. And I saw little point in writing pages of rambling. Now I hope to get some good details that I haven't been able to access in retrospect, though they are vivid while I am in them (even if I cannot describe them vividly).

How long until it passes?

Last night I told my husband that I was tempted to skip my meds to get a reminder of what a severe migraine was like. The migraine I am in, which may have gone from accidentally skipping DAO, is not severe. But it's all coming back.

Also, before, the inability to think frustrated and scared me. Now I know it is temporary so I'm ok with being in it. Maybe the same goes for being in the migraine if don't have to fight being in it all the time because I know it will pass.

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