Mania & Migraines

"I miss out on life's little moments," said the woman on the commercial before the announcer launched into the long list of potential side effects. It caught my attention because I assumed it was an advertisement for a chronic migraine medication. As I continued listening, I was interested to learn this commercial was for a bipolar disorder medication.

Comparing migraine to bipolar disorder

In my endless quest of trying to help others better understand life with chronic migraines, I have often employed my rudimentary understanding of bipolar disorder, as there are some basic similarities between the two conditions. Most especially related to the extreme highs and lows that can come with living with chronic migraines.

The extreme lows

Down for the count for days on end, perspective gets lost and a sense of hopelessness can set in.

The extreme highs

When wellness emerges, all that tamped-down optimism can spring forth, and along with it, a sudden feeling of invincibility. There is a desperation to make up for lost time. Suddenly firing on all cylinders and wide awake, grand plans are laid, and promises are made to oneself and others.

There is almost a manic buzz of excitement at the simple prospect of productivity. And because there is no guarantee of how long wellness will last, the idea of pace goes out the window, and life is lived a thousand miles a minute.

Excitement leads to another attack

In a chaotic blur, we strive to see all those with whom plans were canceled, and do all that fell by the wayside during the migraine storm. In one breath, we catch ourselves saying: "I'm finally going to..."

  • "Clean my house top to bottom…"
  • "Finish that major project…follow through on that application…"
  • "Make reservations to travel to that place I've always wanted to go…"
  • "Read that book I've been meaning to get to…"
  • "Plow through my to-do list…and…and…"

Eventually, and ironically, the very same excitement generated by all of those great ideas, plus maybe a couple of wired, sleepless nights will very likely lead got it: the onslaught of migraine all over again.

Resorting to mind-numbing activities

So back we go, under the covers, into hibernation, quiet contemplation, or rather, lack of contemplation. Because with migraine, many times, it is better not to think. Mind-numbing activities are best to quiet the brain until the pain follows suit and finally quiets too.

It's a roller coaster

What a roller coaster: the wild swing between the high/exhilaration/adrenaline, brought on by the wondrous relief from severe, prolonged pain – and the low, bummed out, self-imposed quiet when the pain returns.

What is bipolar disorder?

WebMD describes bipolar disorder as “a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior. People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish."

My understanding as a migraine patient

My basic understanding of the disorder – that of manic energy and mood swings is but one piece of a multi-faceted puzzle for those living with a very different and life-altering challenge from chronic migraine. However, the above description illustrates that there are numerous similarities between the conditions. Migraines are neurological events that also impact sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.

What does the research say?

Interestingly, bipolar disorder is one of the comorbid conditions that accompanies some people living with migraine. Conversely, several studies indicate an increased risk of migraine in patients with bipolar spectrum disorders.

Other studies have noted the similarities between prodrome and postdrome symptoms of migraine and those of bipolar disorder: "Migraine attacks often are psychiatric in nature, such as depression, elation, irritability, anxiety, over-activity, difficulty thinking, anorexia or increased appetite."

My comparison isn't meant to minimize

By comparing the two conditions, I certainly don't mean to minimize or oversimplify the very serious nature or complexities of either. Indeed, for me, the comparison has been merely incidental in nature. I do not have bipolar disorder and respect that it is deeply challenging to manage. That said, there are some similarities that exist. Chronic migraine is also deeply challenging to manage.

A way to help people understand

The analogy between bipolar disorder and chronic migraine is an attempt to help people more fully understand what it is like to live with chronic migraine. I wouldn't wish it on anyone else, so I am left trying to explain why: why I have to cancel so many plans; why it's not possible for me to work right now; why I have to have to ask so much of others; and, why I sometimes miss out on life's little moments, too.

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

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