How Headaches Have Changed My Life

I have never made the mistake of having exceptionally high expectations for my birthday but, despite my best efforts, other people always anticipate that it’s going to be this magical moment for me. It is widely held belief that a birthday is supposed to be filled with favorite things and good times. This year mine began with me waking up with a slight headache. I had not slept well the previous night, attributed the pain to that and left for work. However, while there, my headache went from a Three Mile Island to a full on Chernobyl. By noon, I found it impossible to keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time. Looking at my computer screen, it might as well have been the sun because staring into it felt exactly the same. I began to adjust the levels of natural and fluorescent light in the office and quickly realized that anything other than complete darkness was still going to be a problem. I had been getting rather serious headaches fairly routinely but this one felt different. This one felt special.

By one my capability to do work had completely and utterly dissolved and I was amazed that I could even still hold a conversation. However some of my responses were not entirely effective at conveying complete thoughts. The rate at which my brain could process external stimuli had dropped off dramatically so I routinely found myself talking in circles while still trying to assess what had been said to me. On several occasions I had to use random filler words to give myself the extra time needed to retrieve information that the headache simply wouldn’t let go of. A sentence would often begin and then sort of meander until it wasn’t quite what I had originally intended to say. For example, if someone had asked me if I had planned on grabbing lunch, my response might be:

“Yeah, I uh… was probably going to be…with… my… uh, computer… working on it all day today.”

Honestly I thought it was pretty impressive that I didn’t just start crying, but I’m a master at keeping my cool. Still, things kept getting worse and I was starting to feel ill and little bit worried. I concluded that if I ventured out to get some caffeine and a small amount of food, there might be a way to turn this all around. I had already decided that there was no way I was going home because nothing is more suspicious than going home sick on your birthday.  Saying you’re too sick to work on your birthday is the social equivalent of cracking open a beer, pulling down your pants and skateboarding all the way out of the building to Smash Mouth. While every single person probably should have the right to take the day off for any reason, that’s not the way our culture works. We are supposed to lie and then feel really guilty about it. That way we never know if we can trust each other.

So I shambled to the elevator and, once inside, proceeded to hate every person on it for making normal human sounds. Breathing and soft coughing all sounded like explosions and the pressure behind my temples intensified. By the time we had reached the first floor, my stomach had soured and I felt like I might pass out. My sense of balance was off pretty dramatically and it made me stumble around like a drunk. As I made my way to the café, I began to become convinced that I had somehow managed to poison myself by accident. By the time I made it back upstairs and into work it was pointed out to me that I looked terrible. After examining myself in a mirror, I had decided that terrible was an understatement. I was pale and sweaty with dark circles under my eyes. I also looked like someone had just given me the worst news that I had ever heard. It was also becoming painfully clear that, at some point, I was going to need to throw up… a lot.

I made it back to my office and attempted to craft some kind of plan. Once I began involuntarily shivering, grimacing every few seconds, I figured that the best case scenario was that everyone would assume I was a drug addict going through severe withdrawals. There was absolutely no way I was going to make it through my upcoming meeting, let alone the remainder of my day. I didn’t care that it was my birthday or whether or not people thought I was faking it, I needed to get out of there. I gave a sweaty rambling rundown on how I felt and made a few confusing phone calls to postpone any birthday plans before running down into the city streets. I was half-convinced that I had contracted malaria so I immediately made for the most crowded public place I could think of: the subway. If I was patient zero for some new doomsday virus, I was going to make damn sure I was going to be the most famous sick person in history.

The ride home was nothing short of a nightmare. After five minutes, it became abundantly clear that the odds of me vomiting on a stranger were incredibly high. I started to look around and decide who would receive the brunt of my fury when the time came to unleash it. Time was running out and every bump and clack brought me that much closer to oblivion. I was so zeroed in on how awful I felt that I would lose track of short spans of time. I kept lying to myself that I would make it home but continued to plan for the contingency. I had finally narrowed it down to throwing-up on a business man or this attractive young woman who refused to give up her seat to an elderly person three stops earlier. But, somehow, I made it to my stop and walked all the way back to my apartment without looking up from the sidewalk once. All sounds had vanished and my peripheral vision turned into this creeping gray haze. I fumbled with the locks, collapsed onto the bathroom floor and screamed out my internal organs. If there is a god, it was pretty obvious that he was punishing me, probably for sentences like this one.

When I regained consciousness, I was pretty unhappy. Whatever energy I had left was used to crawl into bed and will myself to sleep. Historically, this was not my favorite birthday, but it was a memorable one. These migraines are among the worst things I have ever experienced physically (and I’ve been hit in the crotch with a pipe before) but they are only growing in frequency and intensity. Normally they vanish after a string of debilitating attacks but I have begun to wonder what would happen to me if they continued to remain a prevalent part of my life. Would I become a stronger willed person? We can’t let life’s inconveniences, no matter how invasive or terrible, keep us from doing the things we love to do. It’s too easy to make up an excuse not to do something, let alone actually have a legitimate one. It’s important to reach for that brass ring, no matter how broken down the marry-go-round might be. So, despite a rather serious headache, I still managed to draw this really great comic:

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65 Responses to How Headaches Have Changed My Life

  1. urbannight says:

    Okay, this sounds a lot like the one and only migraine that actually sent me to the ER one night. I’ve had others but none as bad as that. Suicide was starting to feel like a reasonable way to stop the pain. And I did end up bawling from the pain.

  2. My Mom has had migraines for over 50 years now. I had them for a limited time after a car accident. I have great sympathy for your experiences. If your migraines are getting worse, please see a specialist until you find something that helps. Good luck with treating a very difficult problem.

    • Have to agree with this. I was losing chunks of the month to these things until I saw one and started hormones. (At 20. o_o) The worst thing was because after one of those things lifts, I typically don’t remember what happened for several days prior because of migraine hangover. Definitely get looked at before they get much worse.

      • Posky says:

        I don’t currently have health insurance so it’s going to be green tea, aspirin and alcohol for me.

      • At the time, I didn’t either. Luckily being female it just meant SO MUCH HORMONE PILLS. Several kinds. One of them since discontinued since migraines + estrogen = possible stroke (Dodged that one!).

        Ah…also I’m going to have to warn you that the alcohol might not help. At least, it didn’t for me. ^^; Giant ouch. Green tea and aspirin, though–works better than the giant “this pill is so big you’re gonna have to cut it into tiny little sprinkle pieces and put said tiny little sprinkle pieces on a spoon of frosting to take” Imitrex. Also green tea and aspirin don’t make you hallucinate.

      • Posky says:

        You’re really selling me on Lmitrex. I heard cocaine is also good for really bad headaches and lethargy– but that’s probably not something I could convince a doctor to hook me up with.

      • For the record, that Imitrex dose is the highest you can actually take orally. If they get any worse, the next step’s the Imitrex shot. (The pills are available generic, but I have no idea about the shot…and I SERIOUSLY hope I never have occasion to find out.)

  3. I can relate to this so much that I had to put the mobile device down to make a proper reply, and you have ALL of my empathy. I knew it was a migraine before you even got to the word ‘migraine.’ They are the worst. And this is not hyperbole.

    Let the record show that I am liking out of being there for you and not out of some sick schadenfreude. I wouldn’t wish migraines on my absolute worst enemy (…actually, he’d have them coming…) because I know that pain, have been there got the t-shirt and the continuous-dose beta blockers to prove it. They’ve scanned my head, done x-rays, put me on about a bajillionty things to see if they’d work (only two of those bajillionty things worked). And the consensus is an ATROCIOUS, UNACCEPTABLE “Uh…we’re not sure what cause them, really.”

    It’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks. Except if your spaghetti sticks to the wall when you throw it, you’ve overcooked it.

    Also, the spaghetti is actually your head, and it doesn’t stick. It ricochets when it hits objects. Or moves. Or senses light. Or senses sound. Or you try to put a sentence together. Or breathe. And it can last a week.

    I sincerely hope you feel better in less than 48 hours…they haven’t invented a word suitable for describing these things.

    • Posky says:

      I used to think anyone claiming to have a migraine was just being a big baby but, once I had a string of them, I changed my tune pretty quickly. They are impressively awful. It’s almost like all of your senses are being simultaneously turned against you while this sharp pain continues to swell inside of your head. It’s sort of ridiculous that there isn’t more known about them– especially when there are so many people online who seem afflicted. Running any kind of search about how to get rid of migraines always took me to some forum where hundreds of other people were asking the same questions.

      • Yeah, I remember those days. I was so convinced that they weren’t a thing–just that it was a headache and that I was a giant wuss–that I didn’t get diagnosed until ten years after the first one, at a routine physical. As ill luck had it that day, I had one–and word salad as a result. Tried to explain the pain and I said–doc remembers this fondly: “I have a head side spike pounding.” That resulted in a needle-stick, some icky pill, and asking me about it again fifteen minutes later.

        “Yeah, that’s a migraine.”
        “Are you sure–”
        *paper rustles softly. Feels like a SCUD missile going by.*
        *Twitch-seize-pain-twitch-convulse.*
        “Positive.”

        Any condition that presents predominantly with a pain you can’t attribute to a break or a contusion or a bruise usually gets relegated to people thinking it’s not really there. Doctors recently have started taking such things more seriously, which was long overdue, but they still know next to nothing about them. Heck, when something WORKS on a migraine, even the announcement of how its action begins with something like “It is believed that [migraine drug name here] works on [receptor here] to block [receptee?]. It is unknown why it works.” By this point, I’m just glad something can stop the tics and convulsions. >_<

  4. jessmittens says:

    Despite being a really terrible account and a horrible condition (can we call migraines a condition?) this was actually a really good read and I hung on to every word like it was a story!
    That sounds awful – I know that feeling of just not caring at all what people think any longer because your migraine is just sending you out of there.
    Mine aren’t so bad as this one, I was put on blockers for a while. They were okay.
    Good luck with finding a solution, because even though we should still do the things we enjoy because we want to, when a migraine like this hits we shouldn’t be expected to.

    • Yes. They are a condition. A horrible, horrible condition that, were it a person, we could all rise against it, capture it, and then have it shot at dawn. (We’ll give dear Posky the missile launcher. I’m fine with a poison dart gun.)
      Ooh, beta blockers. Those are absurdly cheap. A $4 generic actually. They take a while to kick in, and they don’t stop every one of them in their tracks, but the migraine doesn’t last quite as long on them. Those little blue bastards can shave days off both the headache and the postdrome (the aforementioned migraine hangover).

    • Posky says:

      I’m always hoping to entertain and, while this story wasn’t hysterical, I though it was almost as funny as it was bleak. It’s always okay to laugh at another’s misfortune if they’re presenting it for that purpose.

      I’m hoping that they just sort of fade away. That’s usually how it goes, they come on strong for a while and then vanish for a few months. This just happens to be their most impressive return.

      • Well, that’s the good news: you don’t have chronic migraine, which is basically you take a calendar, cross half of it out–and that’s how much cumulative time you’re going to spend with a migraine that month.

        It’s always nice to get a few laughs out of them afterward, though. There are lots of amusing stories out of me coming out of migraines that feature prominent cases of word salad.

        Unless “Couch needs guineas vicinity” actually means something.

      • Posky says:

        I’ll definitely look into beta blockers. I’ve just been trying to ride the bouts out. It’s usually like a month or two out of every six where I get them regularly. They’ll still spring up during that interim period but it’s much more mild. However, I’ve noticed them getting worse lately.

      • Yeah, if they’re getting worse, now’s the time to get’em checked. When they get much worse than what you’ve described here–I call those “TUESDAY”–you can get some really janky problems. One minute you’re hallucinating bats, the next you’re as blind AS a bat.

        Of course, it lets up as soon as the migraine ends, but that sort of crap will seriously bake your cookies.

        (Fair Warning: Most BBs are uncoated and they taste godsawful. I’m still not used to them after six years.)

        They’ll make the ride out a lot easier. Sometimes it’ll even halt them before the explosive pain hits–though things will still look…well…strange.

  5. Anna says:

    Sorry about your birthday. Great comic.

    • Posky says:

      I think it just made the story richer. I can always have a make-up one anyway.

      • That’s the spirit! Make up for missed fun after the construction crew exits your brain! =D

      • Anna says:

        I know what’s going on, Posky. These “migraines” are just an excuse to get a couple extra birthdays out of the year. EXCUUUUUUSESSS!!! Having never had steady-growing, wit-obliterating, puke-inducing migraine myself, I can say with authoriTAH that you are conning your “friends” into buying you extra drinks/presents, and duping your readers into comments full of unwarranted sympathy. Pah.

      • Posky says:

        I haven’t taken advantage of any of that yet. I still haven’t even had makeup birthday.

        However my readers DO seem particularly keyed into this topic.

  6. I “liked” your post because you expressed your pain so well in words and made me feel darn glad I don’t get them anymore. However funny you want to be, Posky, I am relaying to you how deeply sympathetic I am to what you are experiencing. I at first thought you were describing the symptoms of a stroke – there are similarities. I hope you find something that works for you from someone who knows what they are doing. Let us know how it goes. Best thoughts your way.

  7. eyeLaugh says:

    What a hellish story. Happy birthday

  8. Xenogirl says:

    I am so sorry… I also suffer with migraines and an assortment of other headaches so I do know your pain. Folks who have never had a full blown migraine (or worse a cluster headache) have NO idea how totally disabling they can be. Hope you are able to properly celebrate your birthday after the migraine passes.

  9. Soul Walker says:

    That is a truly wonderful comic there with the flower. Please get better soon. While I realize that last bit is a bit of an odd thing to say if taken seriously… still I feel that social convention is lost if it has to make sense ALL the time.

  10. prenin says:

    If you were here in the UK I’d haul your sorry ass to the doctor and sit on you until he arranged you to see a specialist! :(

    Hard to believe our UK NHS is being converted to private medical care by the Tory’s so they can make more money for their supporters!

    Sorry you don’t have insurance my friend – I just wish I could help!!!

    God Bless and be well!

    Prenin.

    • Posky says:

      I’m sorry that things are getting privatized Perrin. I’ll promise to try to be okay if you do the same.

      • prenin says:

        It’s a deal! :)

        Diet could be the cause as others have noted.

        I suggest you keep a food diary – anything that gives you heartburn in particular.

        I had a very bad stomach for years and all the doctor would do was shovel Gaviscon at me.

        Then I started recording everything I ate and drank and discovered I had an allergy to pastry, savoury pastry in particular!

        I cut it out of my life and never looked back, but I still eat the occasional pork pie even though I know I’ll pay for it later! :)

        Hope this helps! :)

        God Bless my friend!

        Prenin.

  11. saradraws says:

    Are you sure it wasn’t meningitis? If you’re dead, it was definitely meningitis. I hope the mean, greedy, pretty lady got it too for being a twerp to that old person.
    On another note, happy birthday!
    On another another note, I wish you had a pinterest button so I could pin your comics (which would lead back to your blog, by the way). The flower comic made my day.

  12. WhiteRidr says:

    I almost could not even finish reading this because it was taking me back to every migraine I’ve had over the last ten years of my life. But I loved the 2nd half of the last paragraph. I know for me, it has made me a stronger, more resilient person. But it is a long, bloody battle, the fight to live your life and continue to do the things you love. So, I am quite impressed with the comic.

    The thing that changed my life, and the only thing that ever works is Zomig (triptan). Expensive without insurance, though.

    Here’s to your migraines fading and never returning… *spits on ground*

    ~Kim

  13. neeliecrow says:

    I love this so much! I also wrestle with (sometimes) severe migraines, and I too spent my last birthday with one! Omg, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve imagined there must be a major tumor growing inside my head because this can’t be normal, haha. I recently wrote about my experience with a scintillating scotoma, as I typically don’t have terribly visual migraine aura, so that turned into kind of an interesting voyage in self-observation and cryptic note-taking.

    Really, the best thing you can do is have a sense of humor about your limitations and not let yourself become defined by them, which I think you’ve expressed in a lovely way, especially with the final cartoon :)

    Cheers, and happy birthday to you, btw!

  14. Not having insurance sucks majorly! I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 21. In the 15 years since, I have been on and off insurance. It definitely makes it very difficult to live with chronic disorders and diseases. Best of luck to you.

    My Mom has been on and off tons of medication. Some work for some people and not for others, so don’t let others deter you from finding what works *for you*.

    If memory serves, here’s a list of common triggers, although they might not all apply to you:
    chocolate
    MSG
    red wine
    echinacea
    stress (good and bad, sudden increases and decreases)
    sinus infections
    red wine and balsamic vinegars
    dehydration (which alcohol assists with in a huge way)
    hotdogs (and other meats with nitrites)
    weather changes

    That’s what I remembered. There are a laundry list of others.
    http://www.joybauer.com/migraines/common-trigger-foods.aspx
    http://www.ivillage.com/dealing-10-common-migraine-triggers/4-b-108845#108846
    Just to start!

    And this article might be one you find interesting if you haven’t seen it before:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/major-headache-common-migraine-triggers/story?id=4170218#.ULAEkteuauY

  15. melwing says:

    I can recommend Excedrin Migraine and Sudafed. Awesome combo. I too have felt this pain and you captured it so well. Hope you find some relief.

  16. Oh gosh. I get migraines too. They are terrible and I really feel for you. I hope that you are feeling better now and managed to celebrate your birthday!

  17. Migraines are awful. They’re the most unpleasant, most debilitating thing I’ve ever experienced. When they hit, the only thing I can do is curl up in the fetal position in the dark and pray for recovery or death, whichever comes first. I hope they don’t become more frequent for you. And the cartoon is pretty awesome.

  18. seaofcarnage says:

    You know it may be a food sensitivity as well. It is not understood why certain people are affected by certain foods and not all of their lives. I would put money on wheat. Try to remove that from your diet for a couple of weeks and purge any wheat out of your system. If you can find a a sliding pay clinic, I would definitely go and at least get some sort of idea what the cause is. I have never had migraines, thankfully, but I do know many people that do suffer. I cannot empathize, but I do feel very bad when people suffer. I honestly thought you were going to say you had food poisoning, because the last time I got it, that was how it felt in the beginning.

    Hope you feel better………

  19. The wheat embargo is not a cheap thing to do, and as far as food triggers go, with the relative infrequency of his migraines, I doubt there’s a food trigger at work here—there’s not enough of them for me to think this is a gluten intolerance.

    Quitting wheat seems to be the new big solve-all, and while I have no doubt it’s helped you, that switch is best implemented with the help of a doctor. (Did ME no good, that’s for sure.)

  20. annsflair says:

    It is a terrible burden to have an actual work-ethic and yet have a debilitating illness. I don’t suffer migraines, but have friends who do and it is obviously a miserable experience. I hope you find something that works!

    • Posky says:

      Yeah, the worst thing about the headache is how it takes me out of the game. I can’t work as well or think as clearly and I know that I’m just losing valuable time.

      I love the photo of you and Daisy. I want to pet her.

  21. UndercoverL says:

    Good God, Poksy! I am so sorry! I am also a miserable migraineur with aura. What a crap way to spend your birthday. Not that it will get rid of them, but next time you’re out, pick up some peppermint oil. When you get a migraine that causes nausea, pour about 7 drops into a warm bath and breathe in the peppermint. It helps… a little. Also, get yourself one of those sleeping masks if you don’t have one. And no matter how much it hurts, don’t bash your brains out with a tire iron. I hope you find what causes yours. Haven’t found mine, yet, but I think it might be my husband… O_o

  22. Harrowing! My mother used to get those awful headaches so I feel for you. Hope you’re feeling better.

  23. Time for me to visit your house.

    My g/f experiences headaches like this, almost every day. She’s got this thing called fibromyalgia, which is a sort of degenerative muscle disorder, or something, which means she’s often feeling a lil vomy. I don’t know how she deals with it. I had chronic fatigue, and I guess to a certain extent I still do; though much more mildly now. I can’t even begin to imagine how annoying it must be. Kudos for not letting it stop you live normally.

  24. gingerjudgesyou says:

    This might be a pathetically unhelpful suggestion but it worked for me. I have only ever gotten eye migraines so that means I can’t see properly for about 30 minutes whenever I get them, but I’m spared the pain and vomiting (I don’t get the actual headache). I found I would go through periods of not having them and after some experimenting, it seems that as long as I drink enough water every day, I don’t get them!!! So maybe you should try keeping yourself hydrated.

    • Posky says:

      I’m not a huge fan of water. How about coffee and vodka?

      I know what you mean, sometimes it’s painfully apparent that I just need to have more fluids in my system. When I stay on top of that I tend to get them less frequently but it isn’t quite enough. Solid advice though and something I’ll need to remind myself of.

  25. andyql88 says:

    Haha this made my evening, awesome read buddy!

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