You slowly open your eyes in the darkness, realizing the migraine you went to bed with is still here. You wait, trying to determine how bad it is and what you may still be able to accomplish.
You get up slowly and make your way to the closet to get a robe. You brush your teeth, noticing as you do that they all feel numb – normal for you when you are having a migraine. This one is on the left side so everything on that side of your face feels odd, swollen, different somehow.
You go slowly down the stairs, holding on tightly to the railing and watching the stairs carefully so you don’t miss a step. You let the dogs out and start the morning ritual of making a pot of tea. Sometimes the caffeine in the tea helps with migraines, but it can be hard to drink anything when your stomach is as nauseous as this. It is known that migraine medications need to be taken at the very start of the migraine. This is because your digestion slows down during a migraine and the meds just won’t work past a certain point.
You manage to get one cup of tea down and then you have to lie down again – this time on the couch. Putting any pressure on the left side of your head is excruciating so you try to adjust yourself in the most comfortable position possible. Your cats are happy to see you and they cuddle up close which is comforting. Of course, they don’t know you are ill, they are just happy to have a warm body to lie on.
An hour later and the pain has worsened along with the nausea. Light hurts. Your glasses sitting on your nose hurts. Moving hurts. Looking at the phone, even on it’s least bright setting hurts. Even thinking hurts. You are now hot and sweaty, another symptom.
You drink another cup of tea, hoping for relief even though you know it won’t come. Plans you made for the day now have to be rearranged. Things you wanted to do have to be postponed or delegated.
You climb the stairs slowly and carefully and make your way back to bed. Because you are hot, you turn on the ceiling fan before getting under the covers. The air feels good. Your left ear is aching as if someone has hit you.
You arrange your head carefully on the pillow and cover your eyes with the lavender eye pillow to block the light. The weight of it on your eyes and forehead is soothing somehow. You are careful not to let the eye pillow touch your nose though as that is too painful.
You lie very, very still. Still nauseous, still in pain. Hoping you won’t have to vomit because getting up is going to hurt too much. You uncover one eye and message your husband a few things that need to be done. Thank goodness for smartphones, even if looking at it causes sharp spikes of pain to shoot through your left eye.
You cover your eyes again and try to rest. Now you are shivering with cold even under two blankets, a quilt and a sheet and the damn fan is on. Yes, changes in body temperature are a symptom. You pull the covers all the way up to your chin, being careful not to touch your throat because that makes you even more nauseous and you lie still and just wait. Waiting is all you can do at this point. The left side of your head feels as if it is likely to explode at any moment. Your eye feels like it is popping out of the socket, much like the old cartoons when their eyes would expand to show excitement or disbelief. The nausea is terrible.
And now comes the guilt. It isn’t your fault you’re ill but you feel guilty nonetheless. All the things you were going to do. The chores you normally do. Spending time with the family. Crafting. Chatting online with friends. It can be overwhelming. At some point you know you’re going to force yourself to get up, shower, get dressed and go back downstairs despite the pain just so you can feel slightly less guilty. But not yet. Not quite yet.
The ding of facebook messenger shoots straight through your head but you don’t want to turn it off as it is the only contact with your family at this moment. The guilt increases as they tell you they are going off to do the things you planned…without you. Your twelve year old is downstairs having to fend for himself. Yes, I know he is twelve, but mom guilt is a terrible thing.The logical part of your mind knows that you shouldn’t feel guilty but you still do. That’s just how it goes.
It always surprises you when you see yourself in the mirror during a migraine. How can you look so normal when you feel so badly? The left side of your face feels huge and swollen. You eye feels as though it is bulging out about three inches from your face. Your left ear feels as if it looks like cauliflower – all crumpled up and lumpy. Your teeth feel too big for your mouth and loose and numb all at the same time. Your tongue is dry and furry, like you have a hangover. But feeling body parts differently is just another symptom.
My friend in England always knew by looking at me if I had a migraine. She said I would be very pale. I find this amusing as I am always very pale. But she is quite sensitive to noticing things like that. Somehow it gave me a bit of validation that she could actually see my illness. When you have an invisible illness you sometimes think people might not believe you are really ill. That you use your illness as an excuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would rather do anything than lie here uselessly.
And now you have to pee. You lie very still, wondering exactly how long you can hold it in because getting up isn’t going to be easy. Then you realize that you’ve already been holding it longer than you should have and you don’t have a choice but to get up. So you do, slowly. It’s probably about ten feet from my bed to the toilet but the distance seems immeasurable with a migraine.
You stand up while the floor rolls beneath you. You reach out to hold on to the wall for support even as as it moves and your head swims. It’s like being dizzy and underwater and on a boat all at once – and let’s not forget the accompanying pain and nausea. Mission accomplished, you make your way back to bed, freezing cold again, and try to make yourself as comfortable as possible.
Is it possible the pain is abating just a little? Must lie still and mentally probe every corner of my mind and body to see if it is so. Ear still hurts, eye still hurts, head might hurt just slightly less. Stomach not quite as bad. Light isn’t quite so painful. I may be able to get up soon, but not yet. Not quite yet.
It is terribly boring to lie here with nothing to do but think. Sleep won’t come because I had two mugs of tea so the caffeine keeps me awake. Even knowing that lying still is the best thing you can do for yourself doesn’t make it pleasant. There is nothing to do but think. Your to do list grows larger the longer you lie here. So many things you just cannot do. It kills me to do nothing when I want so much to be doing something, anything except for lying still against my will.
It is a small consolation to know that this will pass, as it always does, because you know there will be another one coming. Just when all is good in your world, it will sneak up on you to remind you that you’re only human after all.
Even after the pain subsides I won’t be quite back to normal for about 24 hours or so. I will feel exhausted and weak. I won’t eat as much as I usually do as my stomach will feel rather “delicate” for a bit. My hands may shake a little. My head might not be as painful, but it will feel different. I will probably be colder than usual for about a day. Thinking will be muddled. Teeth will feel odd. Vision won’t be as clear as it should be. Movements will be tentative, as if I am just waiting for the pain to return. And it will. But not yet. Not quite yet.
I have had migraines for as long as I can remember. The earliest ones I remember are from about the age of six. In children, migraines don’t usually involve pain but there is nausea and vomiting that comes on suddenly. As a child, I would develop a terrible pain in my head. Shortly afterwards, I would vomit and the pain would magically disappear. (http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/Migraine%20in%20Children.html)
I wasn’t diagnosed with migraines until my teens. I have different triggers. Hormones, artificial colors, stress, getting dehydrated, weather, alcohol. And sometimes a migraine arrives and I don’t know the cause. It is frustrating. I have tried many medications with varying degrees of success. I just hate all the side effects of the medications. I read up on new research excitedly, hoping for the day they find a cure.
I have written all this while lying in my bed this morning. It is a true moment by moment account of what this migraine, and most migraines, feels like to me. It hasn’t been easy to type this on my phone during my migraine, but for some reason I felt compelled to explain it all. There have been many, many typos made while doing this. Thank goodness my phone is smart and enables me to make corrections easily and almost painlessly. Not all migraine sufferers feel the same during a migraine, but I hope this will give you some insight into what it can be like for us.