Not every headache one has is a migraine. Not every headache I have is a migraine. It’s a pity though that people will sometimes claim they are suffering from a migraine when it is, in most likelihood, just a bad headache. A migraine is a lot more than the usual ache at the end of a stressful day. It is a debilitating condition that strikes without a moment’s notice and leaves you paralysed, unable to perform even the most basic functions.
I’ve been dealing with migraines for a lot longer, but I was only medically diagnosed about two years ago. The first episode I had was when I was 18, writing an exam for a tough subject. I remember it being an unusually hot day, a bit of me already suffocating and ten minutes into the start of the exam I was struck by a powerful pain. I don’t remember the next three hours, except that I struggled to write, but my fingers could no longer grasp the pen, nor my eyes read the words printed on the question paper. I remember scoring a 19 on that paper. Out of 100. I attributed it to a bad headache. I remember it continuing for a few days, and then, when I could deal with the pain no longer, I sought medical attention. An MRI, blood tests and a doctor’s appointment later, I was told my brain was the brain of a genius. By the doctor. Her idea of a joke. She gave me something to relieve the pain. She did not tell me it was a migraine.
Over the years, I would continue to suffer from such disabling headaches. Once I was on holiday and my head threatened to explode. Or implode. Or both, simultaneously. I refused to get out of bed, and my family harangued me for spoiling the vacation. They didn’t understand my pain. They didn’t think anything was the matter with me. I was perfectly alright up until an hour ago.
Two years ago, the monster episode struck. In the middle of the night, I had this sudden pressure build in the left side of my head. I tried moving my neck. Tried getting up. Tried calling out to my brother in the next room. I couldn’t do any of those things. I lay in bed for over an hour trying to summon some strength. Then, when I thought I was going to pass out from the pain, I mustered the courage to get up and hunt for the medical kit. I couldn’t read the names of medicines. I didn’t even know what medicine I was even supposed to take. Some painkiller should do the trick for sure, I remember thinking. But I didn’t know for sure. I had lost all sense of rational thought. Of recalling. Yes, that’s how crippling a migraine can be. I believe I collapsed on the bed. I don’t recall if I even took something for the pain. The next few hours remember a blur in my memory to this day.
Sometime during the day, a friend of mine, seeing that I wasn’t in at work, texted me. Then called. Then became frantic. I didn’t see any of her messages. I don’t even know where my phone was that day. When my brother checked on me and found me asleep, he attributed it to a bad case of a headache. Or whatever other ailment I might be suffering from but choosing not to tell him. In the end, I let myself hurt for about 14 hours before I told my brother I needed help. We consulted the closest physician we could find, who seeing the look on my face, and assessing my symptoms, knew exactly what was wrong with me. He provided me with temporary relief. Advised an expert consultation. A series of tests. Another MRI of my brain. That’s how I was diagnosed with a migraine.
The next six moths were an agony for me. I suffered more physical pain than I had ever had in my life. But it wasn’t just the throbbing that was troubling. It was what a migraine really reduced me to. Nauseous all the time. Cranky. Shuttered windows, lights turned off, absolutely no sound allowed to filter into the room. Unable to move. Unable to talk. Unable to think. Unable to sleep. That was my misery. I even had to visit the ER once.
I got through it, though. For the most bit. I learnt to identify my triggers. I learnt to cope with them. I knew how to spot the onset of a migraine, hours before it hit with full force. When pink, green and yellow spots would dance in my vision. When the music got too loud for my hearing. When I started sneezing because of temperature fluctuations. And I learnt how to get through it.
Today, a migraine episode lasts no more than three days, where it used to last anywhere up to ten. I have increasingly fewer episodes each year. The last bad episode I had was in July of this year, right after the birthday dinner I hosted for friends. It left me helpless for three weeks.
The episode I have today is not nearly as bad. But it has still left me feeling drained of energy. I pretend I’m okay. That I’m not hurting. That I’m fully functional. The truth is, I’m not. I’m seated in my favourite seat at Starbucks, but even getting up to order and picking up a drink is a mammoth task. My eye feels like it’s being pricked by needles. The left half of my face throbs in pain. My shoulder keeps reminding me that flesh, bone, sinew, all can hurt like hell, simultaneously. I could have chosen to sleep at home. But I didn’t. I don’t like being paralysed. I don’t like having my day wasted because my body won’t cooperate. These are things I can’t explain to people because I exhibit no outward symptoms of being unwell, except I’m unusually slow. Yet, it is a condition that forces me to alter my daily routine, disrupts my regime, makes me withdraw from friends and family.
So only someone who suffers from migraines will understand my pain. And they alone will know, that a migraine is not just a headache.