When I read about people with migraine disease who “push through,” who go to work despite pain and fatigue and nausea and vertigo, I breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer have to make those decisions about when to go and when to just give up and stay home. I was having to miss so much work, and getting sick in the middle of shifts, that I had to quit my job. I applied for disability and was approved. I now work from home.
Acting in a play with migraine
However, even though my clinical trial is over and I had such a rough couple of months, I recently tried out for a play. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, to be in a play with my family again, because it could be the last time. Our two community theatre groups are collaborating on a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The last time they put it on was in 2014, right after my first clinical trial started, and we were all in it then too. And now we are all in it again, after the end of my second. I am playing the same part: the antagonist, a gossipy church lady. This time I’m allowed to play her younger and sassier, with tattoos and piercings on full view.
Major migraine attack
I’m in the midst of the worst migraine attack I’ve had in about a month. The pain has been here since 1:00 yesterday, when I was watching Wonder in the theater with family and friends, right after a strong cold front went through (this is known as “trigger stacking”). The pain hasn’t gotten too severe, but the rest of the symptoms are pretty significant, and I’m still in pain 26 hours later. And sitting at rehearsal. It’s the last play practice before Thanksgiving and the next one is the beginning of tech week. We’re running through the play twice on the stage tonight and I really, really did not want to miss it. If the pain were worse I would have had to, but at a 3 I can certainly sit manage. Other symptoms right now: fatigue, asymmetrical facial puffiness, increased numbness and tingling, muscle weakness, dizziness, vertigo. Rehearsal started at 6:00 pm. What follows is my “pushing through” diary.
Pain level at a 6
4:23 pm. Lying in bed with a heating pad over my face, I peek out and text John. “I don’t know when I should get up,” I say. He responds quickly. “5:30. I’ll get the girls food now. You get up at the last minute and we’ll all go together. Let me know if you can eat.” I am relieved. He is in perfect caregiver mode, which is not always the case. I decide to get dressed now, which I do painfully slowly and then crawl back under my feather comforter, scroll through meditations on my phone and select one, close my eyes and pull the heating pad back over my forehead. The pain is at a 3, mild, but sharp, pricking my temple and brow bone on the left side. Overall I’m at a 6.
Getting myself up for the day
5:30 pm. I slowly sit up. The pain isn’t worse. I don’t feel too nauseous but I know I can’t eat. I wait a bit to let dizziness subside, and stand up. Okay. Walk down the stairs. Take more acetaminophen with caffeine (my last Imitrex was taken this morning), put my hair up, brush my teeth, cover up my shadows and puffiness with a fabulous thick concealer recommended by my friend Selena, and select eyeliner. I can’t multi-task whatsoever, so when X comes to show me a funny meme on her phone I can’t focus on her. I tell her to read it to me, then I explain my situation. John starts going through getting-everyone-ready-to-go motions.
Making it rehearsal
5:45 pm. I definitely can’t eat but I make sure I have water and Cherry Coke. I decide I’m going to write this story so that all of the time I am offstage (most of the play, really) I don’t have to just sit, I can do something distracting. To just sit there would be unbearable. I slip the laptop and mouse into my huge bag, turn off lights the rest of the family has forgotten, and follow everyone else into the garage. Halfway to rehearsal I realize I have forgotten my phone. That is really annoying.
Facing the noise
6:05 pm. Oh my gosh, the loudness. At least we’re going to be here in the church hall from now on, a much larger space so the noise does echo but at least it’s more spread out, and the lighting is less painful, and the chairs are comfortable. But the 25 or so kids, ages 4 to 14, are loud. So loud. I have to put my hands over my ears.
6:10 pm. Rehearsal is starting and our director, K, who is a friend, is saying that during a particularly chaotic scene the noise level has to be just a bit lower so we don’t burst the eardrums of the audience. Tears prick my eyes. I had just emailed him last night that X and I couldn’t handle the noise level during that scene because of our migraine situation. He made it seem like it was for another reason. I am grateful for his kindness.
6:15 pm. The laptop isn’t working, it’s doing this thing it’s been doing lately where it starts “thinking” and that stupid revolving wheel shows up and won’t go away. I can’t handle it. My irritability spikes and I look at John. “It’s doing that thing again.” He is a tech person and starts working on it. He fixes it. It seems to take forever. I make sure to look him in the eye and thank him. The screen doesn’t hurt my eyes but I have to choose a different font and make it huge.
Getting on stage
6:30 pm. I have my first line on stage. All I have to do is step out the door with a cell phone in my hand and say “Hello, Grace?” with a devilishly pleased look on my face. It goes fine. I smile. I project. I carefully navigate the stage left stairs and come sit back down next to John. The kids are on stage a lot, as the “pageant kids.” John has only one scene, as Reverend Hopkins.
6:55 pm. I have a Salonpas menthol patch hidden under my bangs and it is working so remarkably well. I can barely feel my pain right now. Most of what I am experiencing is brain fog, which I imagine surrounding me in a cloud. I’m almost grateful for it.
6:50 pm. Until now. All my stage action is coming up. I go around to backstage left and see my friend, L, the one I’d recently had an argument with. Thankfully everything is okay now, mainly thanks to our daughters. I remember that I missed the last rehearsal when we went over the blocking on the actual stage (part of why I really couldn’t miss this one). K had said I didn’t need to come early to the next rehearsal to go over it, because, he emailed, “you know what you’re doing.” Except I realize now that I don’t. There are two stage left places to enter from. L says I should enter first from the front one. I climb the stairs carefully with my dishcloth prop in my hand. I perform flawlessly.
Feeling numbness and tingling
7:00 pm. The kids all exit before my next entrance, clomping down the stairs, kid after kid after kid. It seems like I’m going to have to enter late, but there’s just enough time. I run on stage yelling “Fire!” as I’m supposed to, my legs feeling like I’m moving through molasses. I yell and gesture and wave my arms and the chaos isn’t nearly as loud this time, thank you K. I get it done, come off stage and while talking to John one of the kids taps me and reminds me I’m supposed to be back onstage and I realize I missed my next entrance and have no idea what to do. I have to stop the run-through. Dangit. I step on stage as myself. “I’m sorry,” I say to K. “I’m sorry I missed the blocking rehearsal last week.” He tells me it’s all right and we back up. I do my next lines so well I make C, who plays the adult protagonist, break character and smile because my yelling at her is so effective. I am happy. John does his bit as the Reverend. I sit back down, not feeling any pain but definitely feeling numbness and tingling in both my feet.
Getting through to the last scene
7:20 pm. My last scene is to sort of summarize the whole play as my character, Edna (this time renamed Edie), realizes she’s been wrong and Grace has been right the whole time. It goes fine. I start to wonder if we’re going to run through it a second time as K had suggested earlier. I wonder if I can handle it if we do. Enough extra people are here that there is some applause after the last line. Yay!
Mothering with migraine
7:30 pm. K says that we aren’t going through the whole thing, but need to work on the Fire scene blocking. It is the trickiest scene anyway, so I don’t feel bad. Zo says she needs water and I know I don’t have another, so I ask John to go fill her empty bottle from the water fountain.
7:40 pm. As notes continue I dig through my bag for lotion and find another brand new bottle of water. I must have grabbed an extra water instead of my phone. I look sheepishly at John and hand it to X since she needs some too. This makes sense to me because mothering instincts tend to be the last to go during attacks.
7:50 pm. The left side of my face starts to feel prickly. Uh-oh. I take off my patch to see if I can figure out what’s going on. The strong menthol adhesive lingers afterward and I’m not sure. I feel pain on the right side of my forehead and start seeing the clear squiggles of additional aura. K is talking and talking and talking and talking………….
Pushing through the brain fog
It is now the next day. We did walk through the Fire scene a few times, which went fine, but the molasses feeling and brain fog cloud increased and my legs felt weaker than ever. There were no mishaps and the four of us left the church and John drove home. Back at our house, I glanced around for my phone in the obvious places but didn’t see it. With dawning awareness breaking through the fog, I understood that it had to have been in my cavernous bag the entire time. And it was.
This morning I seemed firmly in the beginning of postdrome. There was only shadow pain, continued weakness of my legs and dry mouth. So, this time, pushing through didn’t end up prolonging my migraine or causing additional issues, though I was only able to do it because my pain had stayed fairly low. I’m glad I went to rehearsal, but I am also glad that pushing through is not something I have to do too often.