Migaines: My 40+ years struggle
My story starts when I was in the 6th grade. We had to turn in an assignment on the constellations. I drew Orion and was handing it in to my teacher when I saw that half the drawing was missing. But when I looked at it again, a different part was missing. It was quite scary for a 12-year old to comprehend. I guess I got pretty upset and had a hard time explaining what I was (or wasn’t) seeing. I went to my class and was called on to read out loud from our textbook. The words kept disapperaing and reappearing. I couldn’t even read the simplest words, let alone a complete sentence. Then the headache started. I wanted to scream, it hurt so bad – really sharp and nauseating. My teacher had another student walk me to the nurse’s office. There I was made to lie down and tried to sleep with a cold compress over my eyes. My mom was called and she came and took me home. She didn’t seem at all surprised that I had this terrible headache. I found out on the drive home that my dad also suffered from this same type of headache – complete with affected vision and nausea.
Over the course of the next few months, or so, I got probably another three or four migraines that were just as disabling as the first one. The trigger at that time was sunshine on snow. It was blindingly bright and the spots would happen almost immediately. I knew the headache was on its way and my mom would shut my drapes, make me lie down and put a cold washcloth over my eyes. She also told my sisters to keep the noise down so I could sleep and not be disturbed by any loud sounds.
Then just as mysteriously as they appeared, they went away. I thought I was done with them – until I was in my early 20’s.
The aura (jagged blind spot) started up again and I could not read a simple sentence. That frightened me more than the pain that was on its way. I had another three or four intense migraines over the next year-and-a-half. And then again, for whatever reason, they stopped.
I didn’t get any more symptoms for about six years, then I started getting just the auras and not the headaches. I started a journal at the request of my doctor to keep track of what I was doing, eating, or drinking at the onset of the auras.
I found that my caffeine consumption from diet soda seemed to be a trigger, so I cut out caffeine, or at least didn’t have as much as I was using before. That seemed to work well to keep the auras at bay. I also noted that the more stress I was under at work, the more frequently the auras would appear. I drew a graph which showed that my most intense auras happened in the middle of the week and not on the weekends. Wednesdays showed a huge spike in aural activity, but not so much on Saturdays or Sundays.
During this period of time I was seeing a neurologist who prescribed blood pressure meds for me. The problem with this was the more I took of these meds, the more I would get the auras, so I was presceribed higher and higher doses which made it more likely I would faint upon standing. I had to come off of these very gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. What a mess! The auras didn’t seem as though they were worth the headache (pun intended) of dealing with the side effects from the meds I was prescribed.
When an aura started, I would put on dark glasses and just keep working. If I had to drive, I would need to wait about 30 minutes for the aura to pass to the outer edges of my vision so I could see where I was going. This still holds true today.
My father (the other migraine sufferer in my family) passed away about 12 years ago – the result of a hemorrhagic stroke. He has been taking blood thinners at the time and this was a possible negative side effect from taking those meds.
Then about nine months ago I, too, had a stroke. Mine, however, was ischemic – the result of a blood clot caused by extremely high blood pressure. I was taking somethere between 1800-2400 mg of ibuprofen daily – hence the high readings. I guess I shared something else with my father – we both had/have high blood pressure. Were we more likely to suffer stroke because of our shared history with migraines? My husband found several medical reports online that supported this theory – and just as many that claimed there was no connection.
I faithfully take my meds every day, excercise and make healthy food choices to avoid another occurrence of stroke. I limit my intake of caffeinated diet soda to avoid migraine auras. I recently discovered that strobe lights and intense high-beams from cars can trigger auras. Our fire drills at work can be a source of migraine because the strobe lights are intense. So just in case, I keep my dark glasses handy for when the auras make their presence known.
I hope my story helps you understand what you experience. Take heart – you are NOT alone.
Thank you for reading this. Take care. R-