There’s a volcano in my head. It spits and seethes every now and then, threatening to boil over but most of the time it lays dormant, a silent monument to some particularly bad days growing up. It’s quiet for months on end, so long that I start to forget just how easily it can go off. When it erupts there is no running or hiding, just a fiery orange sea of molten lava in my brain.
Anyone who has ever had a migraine can likely identify with some part of this experience. Those who casually complain about getting migraines all the time have clearly never had one. Allow me to set the record straight. A migraine is NOT just a headache! Not even close. It is such a uniquely unpleasant sensation that I can tell in seconds, from the very first hiss of volcanic steam which sends spots dancing across my vision, whether it’s a migraine or not.
I’ve learned to never, ever be without my trusty rattling bottle of Excedrin pills, whether I’m going out for five hours or five minutes. I’ve been caught off guard too many times. When this angry titan rears its hideous head, whatever plans I had for the day blink out of existence. I transform into a wretched vampire who cowers and curses the Sun for its sharp rays that feel like needles being driven through my eye sockets.
I’ve never been known to swear much in public but when hit with the full force of a migraine, I can unleash a slew of profanity befitting only the most drunken of sailors. Not only do I spew some incredibly emphatic choice words. Slurred speech and complete sentences become an issue as well. Stringing words together in the correct order suddenly requires an inordinate amount of concentration. All this behavior was so foriegn and out of character that my former boyfriend once considered driving me to the emergency room during an especially bad migraine.
I’ve grown up recognizing the signs, the zinging pins and needles feeling in my fingers and lips as they go numb, the television static that smudges my vision and the pressure in my temples that’s always dull and manageable at first. Most of the time, that’s all that happens. Regardless of whether I take Excedrin on time, I always have to hunker down for at least a couple hours with the blinds closed, huddling under three blankets and my favorite handknit sweater and wishing that I could float so my head wouldn’t have to touch the pillow. Hours later, I usually wake up completely exhausted and ravenous.
Migraines are not simply an excuse to beg off of work for a personal health day. They can be totally physically and mentally debilitating. It’s natural to try to identify with others when we hear about their problems but when it comes to migraines kindly refrain from comparing them to the nagging stress headache you had after fighting with your taxes for three hours. To anyone in the room who actually does get migraines, you will only sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about. Instead, it’s best to try to greet them with compassion and genuine sympathy.
What are your do’s and don’ts for proper migraine etiquette? Feel free to share in the comments.