If you know, you know. No, this is not a, “I found my soulmate and I am getting married,” column. I am talking about migraines. If you have migraines, you know that they are no joke.
Migraines run in my family. My aunts, cousins and more have been hospitalized over our debilitating migraines on multiple occasions. As a joke on my mother’s side of the family, we call the migraines the “Baire Family Curse.” So, let’s get something straight at the top: migraines are not headaches. I woke up on Tuesday morning with a headache. I took some ibuprofen to no avail, one of the sure signs that I am going to be in “migraine survival mode,” as I call it, for a few days.
The longer my migraine goes, the more of a monster it becomes. By the end of the work day, I was having a hard time looking at my computer screen, sounds made me flinch and nausea had set in.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Migraines are a recurring type of headache. They cause moderate to severe pain that is throbbing or pulsing. The pain is often on one side of your head. You may also have other symptoms, such as nausea and weakness. You may be sensitive to light and sound.”
Ding, ding, ding! I have had plenty of headaches in my life, but my migraine pain is like a throbbing burning behind my left eye. When it gets worse, it spreads further. I woke up for work on Wednesday morning and my vision had blurred. I rubbed my eyes in my half-awake state and realized that my migraine had evolved to something I (thankfully) seldom suffer: an Ocular Migraine.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, “Ocular Migraine is a term that has been used to refer to a number of migraine subtypes that are characterized by a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars.”
The first time I had an Ocular Migraine was in 2013. I was nineteen in my finals week of my second semester of college. I remember it so vividly because it was so terrifying. In addition to the finals week stress, I had just switched majors which had been near impossible with Marshall University’s decision to combine the two schools I was trying to switch between. I was nineteen and under more stress than I had ever been before. I would kill for that amount of stress now, but hindsight is 20/20, right? Now, back to the first day I lost my vision for a few hours.
I was sitting in an art critique final on about two hours of sleep. I had a headache that I could feel turning into a migraine and couldn’t wait to nap before I packed up my dorm room for the summer. Suddenly, my vision started blurring and shimmering at the edges and I felt like I was going to vomit. I ran to the restroom and by the time I got there, I collapsed on the floor. It felt like someone was shoving a hot iron cattle prod through the back of my skull. My vision slowly closed into a small dot and then, was gone. I could vaguely see some of the brighter lights in the restroom but nothing else. Literal blinding pain had overtaken me. I remember feeling around on the bathroom floor for my phone and using “Siri” to text my best friend in class and beg her for help. She half-carried me to her car to go to the ER. I was diagnosed with my first ever “Ocular Migraine attack.” As I calmed down my vision came back in a matter of hours. I still cannot help but think what would have happened if I hadn’t been in class with a friend nearby...what if I had been driving? Luckily this has only happened to me a handful of times since and I can always feel it coming and do my best to make it to a cold, dark room to ride it out.
So, when I woke up this week on Wednesday morning with my vision still blurring and a dull stabbing in the back of my skull, I laid back down with a lavender pillow over my eyes and breathed deeply. Slowly, I felt the tension and stabbing pain in the back of my head subside and was able to go to work a half day, with some help from Beagle Ridge Herb Farm’s migraine balm. I still feared the Ocular Migraine attack for most of the day. Thursday, I woke up with the same blurry, shimmering vision and the stabbing pain had increased. I immediately texted my editor, Samantha Perry and told her that I needed a day to rest my head. She was of course, kind and gracious and wished me well. I spent yesterday in bed, in the dark, with the lavender eye pillow. Today, the pain in my head is still throbbing and burning, but it is manageable.
This week, I am grateful that I knew how to take care of myself and had the ability to do so. I am not that scared nineteen-year-old in the bathroom floor of Smith Hall anymore. Headaches and migraines will be a part of my life and I’ve accepted that, but if anyone ever tells you they are canceling plans over a migraine, hopefully, my story of pain and fear might inspire you to offer help, as my friends have this week. Thanks guys, another “migraine survival week” has passed.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice