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Wading through the postdrome

It’s been awhile since I made a point of writing while in the throes of a migraine attack.

This afternoon, a migraine that had been creeping around for a good 12-15 hours finally set in for good, and I took my naproxen + naratriptan combo and lay myself down, hoping the pain and distractedness I was experiencing would soon dissipate. I was not sleepy, though, and I was itching to do something.

“I know!” I thought. “I’ll write a post for migraine.com during my migraine and see if I can actually capture what it feels like as the medication kicks in.”  I’m not sure what I’d hoped to accomplish with this self-assigned task, but it was pretty much a bust. It’s probably worth mentioning that my medication sometimes works within 25 minutes and sometimes within 2 hours (if at all), so my hope of capturing the moment the meds kicked in was kind of naïve.

Even after turning my computer monitor’s brightness to the lowest level it can go, the screen still felt too bright.  I put on my prescription sunglasses and breathed a sign of relief. I felt much better for a minute there, not having that piercing light shooting daggers into my left eyeball.  I bunched up some pillows behind my back and put the computer on my lap and opened a new blank document.

And then I sat there. My mind was blank, not able to think coherently enough to express the swirling symptoms and frustrating lack of focus I was experiencing.  I know many of you know this feeling, but I had hoped so much to capture it eloquently so I could share it with those out there who have never had a migraine.  No dice.

It’s now been nearly two hours since I took my acute medications and, thankfully, the pain of the migraine is gone.  I can imagine my non-migraineur friends breathing a sigh of relief.  Oh good, they’ll think. Janet feels back to her old self again. She’s better!

But here’s the thing:  just because the head pain is gone doesn’t mean the migraine is done taking its toll.

I am now wading through neck-high water. I can see the ground at my feet, but the light is refracted and reflected such that I can’t trust my feet to touch the earth where they need to to ensure I will not trip.  I tell my arm to reach out to touch something, and my brain waits a few beats before it will transmit the message to my limb.  When I do reach for the book, or the light switch, or the doorknob, my fingers feel floppy and weak—I am afraid I’ll lose my grip. I hear a joke that would ordinarily have me giggling, but the time I get the joke and try to laugh, it comes out warped and a full minute too late.  I wash my face to freshen up and the effort of those sixty seconds exhausts me—even picking the towel off the rack to dry my face requires more effort than my weary muscles can take.  (It took me about five seconds to think of the word “dry” in that previous sentence.)

What most non-migraineurs (and even some migraine patients) don’t always realize is that the migraine attack, for what seems like the majority of us, has very real effects even after the headache phase has come to a close and the nausea has passed.  Between this phase, the postdrome, and my medication’s side effects, all I can trust myself to do is lie down and stare into space.

What is postdrome like for you? How do you explain it to friends, family members, or even coworkers? What are your most frustrating or debilitating postdrome symptoms?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Raithnait
    3 months ago

    I always called it “the aftershocks”. The main earthquake is over but there’s still recurring damage happening.

    For me it feels like my brain and body have been scraped out and I tend to feel fragile & hollow. I also frequently feel a bit floaty, but the fragile feeling is something I deal with every time.

  • C.Williams
    2 years ago

    First, thank everyone for their contributions, and this site for existing. My Postdrome was like a full body hangover, accompanied by a lasting subtle dizziness. 48 hours at least. I’m writing because I wanted to share my treatment, in addition to I’d say at least 10 hours of sleep, exercise, ginkgo biloba for the brain fog, and a hard core multivitamin. Of course I have nothing but a personal anecdote but the migraine must leave the brain with some mineral deficiencies. This was my first time having a postdrome strong enough to recognize, and quite frankly the dizziness a full day after my migraine was gone more than freaked me out. On day 3 it’s reduced at least 80%-90%. In my case, it feels like I may have even been able to prevent it entirely had I been on this regimen instead of a sleep-deprived-because-of-work regimen. I realize now it’s never worth it to send yourself into how ever many hours of torture, especially if it’s for someone else’s gain at the end of the day. Many thanks and my best wishes to everyone who has to deal with this sort of personal monster. Blessings!

  • tomtom
    4 years ago

    Thank you for writing this. I had not heard the terms prodrome or post drome before but they perfectly describe what happens to me. Am currently sitting in cool silent room as I wait for what I now know to call post drome to subside. Yes it’s eggshell feeling, very emotional, hyper sensitive to odours and touch at first with the sensitivity gradually fading. I know my triggers and am ‘lucky’ enough to experience auras so know to take pills and get to bed asap to avoid a lot of the pain but have never really been able to explain the washed out, floaty but heavy feeling that comes after an attack before. For now I will stay as comfortably cool as I can in reduced lighting, drink plenty of water and just wait to feel myself again! When I woke up I was craving a cold lemonade but stuck to water to avoid mucking up my blood sugar too much.

  • minddoctor
    5 years ago

    Janet thanks so much for writing about this. I have many of the symptoms that you and others described, particularly following a lengthy period of chronic migraines. Over the past month I have been stuck in a sea of triggers that has left me with only a few migraine free days – frustrating, depressing, and PAINFUL on those days alone. But sometimes I find it more challenging to cope with those few days where I’m relatively pain free, but absolutely exhausted, mentally foggy, coping with medications side effects, anxious about everything I’ve fallen behind on, and depressed from lack of living any quality of life. Sometimes it’s all I can do to take a shower when others around me, and especially my own inner critic, feel I should be living life to the fullest as technically I’m not in acute pain anymore. I suppose that’s like expecting someone to break their leg, get the cast off, and then run a marathon the next day. It makes sense that our bodies and brains need a chance to recover.

  • nevada_knitwit
    5 years ago

    I describe postdrome as the “eggshell” phase. Although the searing pain is gone, I still experience the clumsiness, body aches, dizziness, and mental fog (slurred speech, delayed responses, etc.). I feel as though my skull is extremely fragile, and I must protect my head while it heals.

  • AudreyB
    5 years ago

    I often feel as if I’m recovering from running a marathon that also messed with my brain. Another migraine friend says it’s as if someone poked a hole in her big toe, and her insides have drained out.

    I’m really interested in knowing how others treat their postdrome, other than with more rest. I also find I can watch television in low lighting, so I will often do that.

    Speaking of cravings…a bad postdrome is the only event that sends me (what am I saying? It sends a family member.) to McDonalds for a meal. What is it that my body wants? The salt? The fat?

  • Flapharder
    5 years ago

    I also called my postdrome, a migraine “hangover”, partly from the meds and partly from the actual migraine. I suffer from lethargy, often needing a whole day in bed (after the pain is gone), just to rest. Many times postdrome brings on depression too. Worst of all is the cognitive issues, like not being able to put a thought or sentence together properly. Hoping people don’t notice all the gaps in my memory from the just before migraine, the actual migraine, and the just after migraine experience. People take advantage of the memory gaps….it’s just wicked. One of the most annoying things is when the migraine is gone I start craving sweets and chocolate (WHY? They give me migraines)…..stupidly I often give in to the cravings, just thinking “I don’t care, why should everybody else get to have them, and I can’t….I just have it!” Obviously I suffer for it in the end. Does anybody else crave something sweet when their headaches go? Or is it just me?

  • barryolliver
    5 years ago

    When people don’t understand what a postdrome is, I explain it by saying: “imagine you were dropped into one end of a very long, deep vat of treacle 48 hours ago, and you’ve been struggling non-stop to reach the other end ever since. How would your mind and body feel right now?” That usually helps their comprehension of what a postdrome is for me.

  • bluebird
    5 years ago

    Thank you! thank you! thank you. I want to send your post to everyone in my life.And to my “inner critic”.
    What I have called “having the rug pulled out from under me” is the greatest challenge to my sense of self. Sometimes I feel like the guy in the myth-Sisyphus – condemned to roll a boulder uphill for eternity. Just when I think my chronified migraine might be letting up & I might be able to count on myself to make real commitments to others or to my own learning and sense of community… the state of vulnerability you describe so well, challenges all my wisdom and commitments to wellness.
    Begin again. Begin again. Beginner’s mind is a great place to be! But I get tired.

  • Terrygrush
    5 years ago

    For decades I didn’t know of the existence of postdrome. But I was going through it nonetheless: days of lethargy, tinnitus, and the general feeling that I must have been a loser at life because I couldn’t compel myself to do even simple tasks. Then one evening I watched a TV show about migraine and one of the victims referred to the “nuclear winter” aftermath of a headache. It was reassuring to hear of others going through the same symptoms. Holly says it right when she talks of walking on eggshells.

  • NDL
    5 years ago

    Thank you for so clearly stating what the aftermath of migraine entails. Clumsiness and inability to think clearly are among the most prominent postdromal symptoms for me. Fear of making costly mistakes is another.

  • iainstuart
    5 years ago

    I think this is the first time I’ve felt like someone understood the weirdness and drag after the pain leaves. It sometimes makes me very clumsy for a full day afterward. Thanks for posting even through the pain.

  • Holly
    5 years ago

    It is difficult to explain it to people because it is hard to understand if they have not experienced it. Sometimes my meds make me feel emotional and weepy. I get frustrated easily. My whole body aches. I feel spacey. I can’t think clearly. The pain is gone but there is still pressure. I feel like I need to walk on egg shells for awhile so it does not come back. I am very cautious. I wish people understood.

  • jwb
    5 years ago

    I like the word “postdrome” as opposed to “hangover” which for lack of another word I had been calling my post-migraine days. Lack of energy, unfocused and hard to concentrate on work. I crave carbohydrates…It seems to take a full 2 days after the pain is gone to get back to “normal.”

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