Saturday, August 31, 2013

Migraines of a Forgotten Era

I've had migraine symptoms since I was a child, but no one ever called it that. "Sick headaches" was the closest anyone in my family ever got to saying migraine, and I remember my grandmother telling me that was what I had, as she lay a cool rag on my forehead and told me in the quietest voice I ever heard her use that I just needed to go to sleep and I'd feel better when I woke.

It can be an odd feeling to look back on memories with a new perspective, whether it's realizing all those seemingly unrelated and random symptoms were actually connected by a common disease, or that your parents weren't really wrestling that time you barged in at six am. The dawn of understanding sheds a light on our experiences that may not always be flattering, but damned if it's not interesting.

Another vivid migraine memory is of riding in the passenger seat of my mom's car on the way to school, and the sun being so blinding and bright, it was intolerable. My eyes would water and shut involuntarily, and all I could do was cover my face until it passed. It felt like a sort of eyeball/brain-seizure -- with the same buzzy feeling I've mentioned before that accompanies some of my weirder symptoms -- and the pain was terrifying. It would only last a few minutes, and it didn't happen often, but it happened more than once on the ride into school.

I've seen halos around lights for as long as I can remember. Streetlamps at night, in particular, would trigger this effect. I always thought it was pretty.

Sleep disorders aren't strictly migraine-related but they are more common in migraineurs. When I was small, I experienced night terrors. I grew out of that to become a sleepwalker. It was pretty frequent when I was a kid, I'd wake up in weird places or hear stories the next morning about the strange conversations I had with someone.

All of the symptoms and migrainous events I can remember from childhood were directly related to stress. I was tired, or had been in the sun too long, or I'd been crying. While these symptoms were frequent enough to be familiar, it apparently didn't seem worthy of any significant mention to my parents. I can only recall experiencing one "real" migraine before they went chronic on me -- no wait, I just remembered another.

In high school, I was at color guard practice in the morning, and the sun was bright as hell. We were in the middle of learning a new routine when my head went swimmy and I was confused and pissed off for no reason, so I sat down, refused to twirl my flag anymore, and started crying instead. My head hurt, but it was in the background, mostly I was confused. I couldn't explain what was wrong, I had no words, and my coach sent me to the nurse's office. It was a morning practice, before classes, so the nurse wasn't there yet. I sat on the floor outside her office and cried some more until an older student walked by and asked if my head hurt. I remember being so relieved that she had asked me that, I never would have been able to tell her if she hadn't said the words herself. I tearfully nodded and stopped crying, suddenly much less freaked out. I don't remember the rest of it, whether I made it through the day or the nurse called my mom to come get me. Maybe she just let me take a nap, because I actually remember doing that quite a few times over my school career. I was always on a first-name basis with the school nurse. Huh.

I've probably always had migraines, I just never had a name for it.