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NaBloPoMo 2010 -12 — migraines

12 November, 2010

NaBloPoMo 2010 -12 — migraines

This is not my typical post. It’s not about teaching or history or anything else like that. It is instead all about me. I’m blogging it because honestly, when you only have your own body to compare with, it’s hard to know what is normal. So I suppose I might be some freak of nature and you will all run screaming the next time you see me. But probably not.

This odd thing happened to me at the therapist’s the other day. She suggested that my brain sounded like it had some form of ADHD, but then retracted that when I pointed out that I can totally concentrate, sometimes almost obsessively, on one thing for literally hours on end, once I’m stuck in. This is so true that I can actually forget to drink or eat. But most of the time, my brain is spinning. I can feel myself trying to shove things aside till I’m in something like ‘the zone.’ I am not so much able to live in the moment, because there is always so much happening. My students have been known to tease me because I can be writing on the board and talking and, mid-sentence, tell a student to stop texting or sim, and then go back to the same idea. Or I can be mid-sentence and have an image flashing through my mind that takes me horribly off course, and sometime after a digression into why they should all see Casablanca or read the Bible, wend my way back to the topic we were discussing. It’s less like being a butterfly than having a magpie in control… “Ooh! Shiny!” or like the dog in Up: “Squirrel!”

What does this have to do with migraines?

Well, I have them. They come in many flavors: the kind with kalleidoscopic vision and bright colors; the kind that feels like someone took a rubber mallet and hit the side of my head; the kind that feels like my head’s in a vise… any or all of these can be accompanied by extreme pain and nausea, although fortunately as I get older, it’s more nausea and nagging pain that drugs can dull to where it’s bearable.

But there’s another thing to my migraines. When I get them, I become incredibly sensitive. I’ve noticed it before, obviously — these things have been plaguing me for 20 years. But this morning, as I lay in bed, not able to work because I couldn’t see and sort of wanted to throw up, I realized that my migraines are like exaggerated versions of what my brain is always doing. Migraine brain is freaky, because so many things are going on, and it’s like I can see them close up. My eyes are closed, but there are still the flashy lights of the aura. There are so many things happening — there’s the garbage truck coming down the street, and the signal at the next block has changed because someone is grinding his gears moving from first to second, the little cat is purring, and the big cat’s fur is rustling on the pillowcase next to my head while he purrs in a different key. I can feel not only the sheets against my skin, but evey place that my skin touches my skin feels like it’s almost burning, or electrified. Meanwhile, I’m noticing and trying to focus, but that only serves to make one thing louder — everything else is going on. And of course I’m thinking thinky things, about writing this blog post and what I need to do at the office and whether I’ll make it to my gym class and how loud everything is. At the same time, I feel entirely disconnected. That may be the sumatriptan, though 🙂

I have no idea what migraines are like for anybody else, but for me, they are all about sensory overload. The pain and the nausea are in some ways merely secondary discomforts. I monitor the pain because they tell migraine sufferers to do so, just in case this time it’s an aneurysm or stroke. The hard part is the being so conscious of everything — and then the exhaustion later, both from the pain and, as I realized today, all of that processing.

And I think I know why I feel like I needed to write this down. I wonder if whatever it is that makes my brain susceptible to migraines is related to why I often feel assaulted by noise that other people might not notice, or why I sometimes have a hard time compartmentalizing and focusing. hmmmm. Anybody else out there have migraines and recognize any of this?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 November, 2010 4:19 am

    sorry for your pain. Do you mind if I talk about something else in your post? I thought not.The story you told your post about how you think in all directions at once sometimes reminds me of the great comedian Jean Shepherd, who made a career out of this. You may know him for the movie A Christmas Story, about a Midwestern kid and his horribly embarrassing Christmas memories. Jean Shepherd was on a New York radio station in the late 60s every evening Monday to Friday, telling stories of that sort. He would begin one, and then break off and start a second one, and before he finished the second one he would be into a third one…and then halfway through his hour long show he would start going back the other direction, finishing each seeming digression, all in the proper order, and all with enhanced dramatic effect. The man was a genius. And he could write too.****My students have been known to tease me because I can be writing on the board and talking and, mid-sentence, tell a student to stop texting or sim, and then go back to the same idea. Or I can be mid-sentence and have an image flashing through my mind that takes me horribly off course, and sometime after a digression into why they should all see Casablanca or read the Bible, wend my way back to the topic we were discussing. It's less like being a butterfly than having a magpie in control…

  2. 12 November, 2010 5:52 am

    I don't have migraines. Apart from that, this sounds exactly like my brain, and my reaction to the world much of the time.

  3. 12 November, 2010 5:53 am

    i have a friend with adult adhd and hyper-concentration is one of her symptoms.

  4. 12 November, 2010 8:58 am

    I'm exactly like that, from the hyperconcentration (not as bad as it used to be!) to the migraines.

  5. 12 November, 2010 12:25 pm

    I don't get migraines often, fortunately, but when I do they are very unlike yours: so painful that in fact my only recourse is to go to bed in a dark room and enter a coma-like state in which I essentially pass out. I emerge from it, hours later, with almost no memory of what happened.Oliver Sachs has written brilliantly on the spur to creativity that migraines give some people.

  6. 12 November, 2010 12:57 pm

    I suffer from pretty evil migraines, although, as for you, these have become a lot less evil over time – they no longer mean three sleepless days of screaming blinding pain. I agree completely about the sense of sensory overload. For me, I'm sure they are related to panic attacks I've experienced – in both cases there is a desperate need for the world to just STOP. With the migraine, though, it is there chattering with a million amplified voices the wrong side of my eyeball; with the panic attacks (which I usually manage to fend off, so that they are just panic looms, for want of a better expression) it is always impending, just about to break out into something horrible and utterly unknown. One other thing – the font in which comments appear on here is enough to induce a migraine in itself! Otherwise, thanks for the post, good to hear it put so well!

  7. 12 November, 2010 2:56 pm

    I don't have migraines (happily for me), but I do have ADD, and hyper-concentration is absolutely one of the features. Identifying the ADD and working with it has helped me enormously in many areas of life. Here is a link to a description of life with ADD: if it resonates as strongly with you as it did with me you might want to explore the idea.

  8. 12 November, 2010 4:44 pm

    I have migraines but mine are more likely triggered by environment. Still, the brain racing and hyper-focus does contribute to the problem. It's the inability to turn off the reactions to the stress, major or minor, that increases the migraine intensity, I find.

  9. 12 November, 2010 10:14 pm

    Wow! So many comments! @Steve — yes, to the Jean Shepherd, and I hope to the analogy :-)@Dame Eleanor and Gill, that's a reassuring thing to hear, especially as I tend to think of you as very together people!@Anastasia and abd 07 — I had no idea! And some of the descriptions in that post included much of the same language the therapist asked when she was asking me questions the other day — and she mentioned ADD, but only (I thought) in passing. I looked at the Mayo Clinic site, and it seems that adult ADHD symptoms are often mistaken for (or come in conjunction with) depression symptoms. And I've always been a daydreamer, not in the "creating fantastic worlds" way I've always associated with the word, but definitely lost in my own thoughts, especially as a child. It may be something to ask about, although it could be, as I said, that we just don't know what normal is, only what we experience!@JJC — ugh — sympathies. I used to have those in grad school — 2-3 days of amazing pain that I tried sometimes to fight through, but mostly just lay around feeling debilitated and wussy. At the time, I just thought they were bad headaches…@janice and Polvo. just lots and lots of yes. I used to have a horrible time trying to explain to X that, when I had a migraine, I could be all the way down the hall with the door shut and the sound of the TV or stereo, turned so low he could barely hear it, was still painful to me!

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