Count yourself very very lucky if you’ve never had a migraine before.
The very first of my migraines, as far as I can remember, happened when I was in college. I was in UP, and I had a headache that was so terrible. I sat by the UP Quill tambayan, and I threw up on the grass. My orgmate Bits, who lived near me, offered to take me home. He hailed a cab and brought me home.
I don’t even remember if I split the cab fare with him, or if I ever thanked him properly for that. I think I threw up in the cab.
I do remember that I spent a miserable night at home, and my mother took me for a checkup the next day. We also had my eyes checked, and that’s when I found out that I needed glasses.
Since then, I’ve had migraines maybe every few years. I had one when my stepdad died, and we went to his cremation. I cried so much, and I was so tired from the emotional distress that by evening I was a helpless mess. I could barely see, and it felt like my head was going to split open because of the pain. I don’t remember what medication I took, but I remember asking someone to buy me White Flower.
The one and only time I threw up during my pregnancy was because of a migraine. It was the start of summer, and I woke up with the pain in my head. Soon it progressed and magnified. The bright sunlight hurt my eyes. I had an ice pack on my forehead, but it did little to blunt the pain that threatened to cut my head open. Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t take anything stronger than paracetamol. I dabbed White Flower on my temples, my forehead, my neck. I felt some nausea, and I stuck a finger in my throat to induce vomiting. Only then did the worst of the pain pass, and I fell asleep. I woke up with my head feeling muffled, stuffed, the pain leaving but making its exit quite conspicuous.
I had a migraine at the start of the pandemic. I was sitting in the dining room. The bright afternoon sun persisted on the shiny windows of the house across the street, bouncing right into my face. We were only weeks into the quarantine, and there was so much we didn’t know about COVID-19. I was only months into my new job, and I was overwhelmed and stressed and languishing. Soon the pain was splitting my head open, like an unfortunate fruit.
I took a painkiller and lay down, ice on my head, pillow on my face, White Flower everywhere. I forced myself to throw up.
Late last year, after months in lockdown at home, I suddenly needed to travel across town for work. I thought I had to go to a hospital where we had a project, or to a slum community where we were supporting the health centers. I imagined the virus lurking amid crowds, between shanty walls, in the streets, and I imagined all sorts of catastrophes, all ending in me getting COVID-19.
The anxiety led to a migraine, on the day I was supposed to visit the office. (I ended up rescheduling the visit, and to be perfectly honest the team took such good care of me: sending a van to pick me up and take me home, and buying me lunch too!)
It was a similar anxiety, I suspect, that led to my most recent migraine, as I needed to visit the office to shoot an interview. I was stressed over the equipment I would need, and if I would be able to use it properly. I was stressed over being in an office full of strangers. I was stressed over having to travel 16 kilometers, after staying (mostly) at home for over two months.
I woke up on a Saturday morning and things seemed fine. But after breakfast, I noticed that I couldn’t focus my eyes. If I was looking at a picture of a person, it was like I couldn’t see the whole person, only their hair, a smile, the way they held their hand. My phone screen seemed terribly bright, which was odd because I always kept my phone brightness at the lowest possible setting. I felt a dull ache around my head.
Oh no. A migraine.
I took a painkiller and lay down. Oneal turned off the lights and kept Lucas in the living room. What was a dull ache soon became a piercing pain, like a horrible line burning above my right eye. I waited to feel the nausea, but there was nothing. I got up to have lunch, and I needed sunglasses before I could leave the dark bedroom and make my way to the kitchen. I could barely see, and Oneal had to guide me so I wouldn’t crash into anything. I could barely eat. Loud noises hurt, as if the sound came in through my ears and banged around inside my head. Eventually I gave up trying to eat, and I made my way back to the bedroom. Oneal turned on the aircon, and brought an ice pack for my head.
I vacillated between shivering and sweating. My clothes were damp and pressed uncomfortably against my skin. I didn’t want to risk falling in the shower, so I did something I hadn’t done in about five years: I asked Oneal to help me shower. I sat on a stepladder while he washed my hair and soaped me, and all I could do was sit, eyes closed, praying the pain would leave. I could barely dress myself.
That afternoon, the nausea came, and it was so bad that I didn’t need to induce vomiting. I threw up three times, and each time, I thought, ah, here comes the relief. But only after the last, most painful episode, the one where it felt like I had nothing left in my stomach, did the crippling pain finally subside. Only then could I sleep.
It was early evening when I woke up, and I could still feel the postdrome buzzing in my head. It was getting dark, but I still needed sunglasses, even inside the house. I kept the ice pack on my head, as it still offered relief. Bright lights, loud noises and sudden movements still hurt a bit, but at least I wasn’t curled up in bed or vomiting anymore. I managed to have dinner, and watch some TV with my family. My son hugged me, and as I hugged him back I had to remind him to be gentle, and to speak softly.
After Saturday’s excruciating pain, I spent Sunday getting my eyes checked. It had been over a year since my last eye checkup, and apparently it was time for new glasses.
By evening, I started seeing an aura again. Immediately I took two Flanax and a sip of coffee, then I turned out all the lights in the bedroom and put on an eye mask so I could lie in the dark. My mom gave me an ice pack. I tried to induce vomiting, but no luck. Lying on my back was nauseating, so I sat up in bed and fell asleep. If Saturday’s pain was a ten, this one was an 8. It still felt like my head wanted to split in two, but the pain was blunted. Again, bright lights, loud noises and sudden movements were painful, and we had to remind our poor son to be quiet and gentle around Mommy.
The medicine and the caffeine seemed to work, because I didn’t need to throw up. By morning, even the postdrome didn’t seem so bad. Still, I could feel some lingering pain, and I tried to thwart it with coffee, yoga and mefenamic acid.
It seems far too many among my friends and co-workers suffer migraines too, and now I’m tempted to form a Migraine Club. My migraines seem to be consistently related to eye problems and periods of chronic stress and fatigue, but others have mentioned possible factors. Given my age, shifting hormones are a possibility. Have I developed any allergies in recent years? Perhaps I need to see a neurologist.
The nice thing about having friends and family who are all too familiar with migraines is that I now have a slew of remedies and medications to try. Two dear aunts recommended Excedrin–two tablets as soon as I see the aura. Another friend said he was surprised that essential oils worked really well for him. Someone else suggested listening to binaural beats to ease the pain.
I really hope I have no need of these remedies anytime soon, and I really really hope my new glasses will keep my migraines away for a few years.
If you’ve never suffered a migraine before, count yourself very very lucky. Yes, I absolutely would wish this horrific pain on the most loathsome people on the planet.