Drawing of Mark Tamer among representations of ambient squares

Mark Captures His Migraine Triggers Through Photography

The Editorial Team at Migraine.com is highlighting people in the migraine and headache disorder community in a series of interviews. We talked to Mark, a photographer, who had depicted his vestibular migraine and triggers through a photo diary.

Abstract photographic art by Mark Tamer.

Mark's migraine story

I’ve had headaches most of my life, but in 2007 I suddenly developed a balance problem. I felt as if I was falling through the floor or walking on a ship in a storm. This came with a lot of new symptoms - tinnitus, facial nerve tremors, unsteady vision. It was scary at first and took about 18 months before I was diagnosed with vestibular migraines. I had to give up my job as a picture editor as I couldn’t work with computer screens anymore. I had a few very bad years before I went back to my first love, photography. So I reinvented myself as a photographic artist.

Vestibular attacks and balance troubles

I’m a chronic sufferer, getting around 18 headache days a month. I get headaches (without aura) but, I don’t always need to have a headache for my balance to be affected. Often this happens independently from any head pain. It also has a continuous hangover effect, where I have brain fog and feel off-kilter all the time. It’s tiring for my brain, so I’ve had to adapt my life around this, taking more breaks or naps, slowing down, and being careful of any potential triggers.

My photographic series

I’ve been working on different photographic projects over the years, but I’d never done anything personal to me. Then last year, I was commissioned to do some work that responded to a historical weather diary. I thought I could create my own version using the headache diary that I keep and make something visual rather than using text. So, I put a selection of food and drink items that were potential triggers that I’d consumed on a particular day onto photographic paper and exposed it to the weather elements - sun, rain, ice, etc. to make 31 photographic images for 31 days from my diary.

What does each image represent?

Each image varies not only with the food and drink items (honey, parsley, fruit, carrots, vinegar, chili, tea, coffee, wine - you name it, it all went on) but also with the representation of the pain and visual disruption caused by the migraines. It felt like a way to create something positive from all the discomfort. You can see the whole series on my website - www.marktamer.co.uk.

Abstract photographic art by Mark Tamer

The worst triggers

Well, the triggers I love! Cheese, chocolate, wine, coffee. So, it’s the after-effects that are the worst. It’s often visual things that are the biggest triggers. Being in a busy environment like a crowded street or supermarket can be overwhelming and cause my vision and balance to become overloaded and a headache to appear.

Finding a little bit of comfort

Lying still in a dark room helps calm things. It’s a small comfort that the restrictions of COVID have actually made life a little easier. More space, less people. Overall though, the impact of having migraines on my life has been enormous. There’s no “off” moment between the attacks as the dizzy, unbalanced feeling is there 24/7.

For me, there are some positives

While having any form of migraine can be debilitating and an enormous challenge both physically and mentally, there are some positives to be had. I now feel stronger and more resilient in other areas of my life, having coped for such a long time. My changes in employment meant I got to be at home and spend time with our daughter, and I’m now much happier creating work for myself rather than working in an office every day.

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