It Started With a Concussion

Unlike many people who live with migraine, my journey had pretty clear beginnings. My very first migraine came on while I was hanging out with friends in a Toronto restaurant called, of all things, Nirvana. First the lights started glowing more strongly. Then my friends’ voices and the clinking of dishes became loud and distracting. Then my head began to feel just a tad too tight for my skull. The only thing I could stay focused on was my post-dinner chocolate craving, which was more intense than usual. I took myself home to my dark quiet bedroom and then the nausea crept in. I wondered briefly if these were the pesky “migraines” my mother was always dealing with. Then I slept if off, and more or less forgot about it.

What happens after the fall?

A few months later on a beautiful spring day, I was cycling home from the gym (a place I used to frequent with voracity) with a friend.  I made a brazen move to pass another cyclist and landed my front tire directly in the rut of a streetcar track. Time slowed, and the feelings of panic and calm washed over me simultaneously as my body floated down to the black pavement. A quick moment of darkness, and I was already trying to push myself off the ground. Helping me to the sidewalk, my friend and I inspected the damage. Bloody elbow, knees, and chin. Very sore jaw. I’d been over my handlebars before and bounced back in a jiffy. Surely this would be no different.

Weird symptoms

But it was. I wanted to lie in the dark and sleep for days. I was tired all the time. As the scabs fell off and the scars started to fade, I started to experience constant muscle stiffness, endless urges to nap, trouble with word retrieval, jaw pain that interfered with regular chewing, and for the first time in my life, carsickness. Instinctively, I took up gentle exercise and yoga. These helped a little.

The following fall, I started to have weekly migraines. My doctor prescribed triptans. I medicated at the first sign of attack, always. The migraine attacks became more frequent. The triptans stopped working. My doctor prescribed T3s. The migraine attacks became more frequent again. The T3s stopped working. My doctor finally referred me to a specialist. I had chronic migraine, in part no doubt to medication overuse, and I was forced to take sick leave from my teaching job.

In hindsight…

Since then my life has changed dramatically to treat and accommodate migraine. There have been many silver linings. But, like most of us, I can’t help asking myself sometimes, what if? What if I hadn’t made that dumb move on my bike? What if I had been referred to a specialist right away? What if I had learned about preventative “lifestyle” modifications and medication overuse back when the migraines were still weekly? What would my life look like?

Of course these questions are not really productive. Maybe I would still be working my but off in the big city, rocking my number #1 career choice. Maybe not. It really doesn’t matter. But one thing that does matter, that could actually improve outcomes for other people in the future, is if migraine disease were handled with greater care and seriousness the moment it rears its head. Although both concussion and migraine are still poorly understood and difficult to treat, there is a part of me that wonders how things might have turned out differently if I had some basic information early on.

I'm curious to know if there are readers out there with similar experiences. Did your migraines start or escalate as a result of concussion?

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