Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Head Hurts

Three little words that seem so innocuous, so simple.  "My head hurts."  That's all.  And when a lot of people say that, it means just that...their head hurts.  They have a headache.  If they take some aspirin and get some sleep, maybe if they eat something because their sugar has bottomed out, then they'll feel better.

And then there are those who suffer from migraines.

Some "fun" facts for you from The Migraine Research Foundation:

  • Migraine is an extremely debilitating collection of neurological symptoms.
  • Migraine is a severe recurring intense throbbing pain on one side of the head, although in about 1/3 of attacks, both sides are affected.
  • Attacks  are often accompanied by one or more of the following: visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face.
  • In 15-20% of attacks, other neurological symptoms occur before the actual head pain.
  • Attacks usually last between 4 and 72 hours.

Something that I never knew until I was several years into suffering from what I originally called "My Four Day Headaches" is that migraines are more like epileptic seizures than headaches.  That is why they don't respond to headache medicine, because you are treating the wrong thing when you take headache pills for a migraine.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when a doctor finally explained this to me.  No wonder the handfuls of over the counter remedies weren't doing anything except making me nauseous.

Go back and read item numbers 2 and 3 in the list above.  Please note the words "severe", "extreme", and "attacks".  Every migraine sufferer has individual combinations of symptoms, and no two people ever have the exact same migraine,but something that they all have in common is that they are deeply, frighteningly painful.  A minute with one can seem like an hour, and an hour can seem like days.  But again, each person's migraine is different.  I have one friend who has to be in a completely dark and silent room when they get a migraine, because any light or noise at all will ricochet through their head like a bullet inside a bell.  On the other hand, I am generally okay with basic levels of light and sound, though really bright or flourescent lights hurt and anything louder than a normal conversational level can be like I'm sitting inside a bass drum while someone beats on it with Muppet-like energy.  My biggest issue is scent and focus.  I have a hard time focusing my eyes, so I squint a lot when I'm dealing with an episode, and the slightest whiff of a scent is overwhelming to me and spikes the pain.

Yeah, I'm loads of fun in the workplace.  I literally had to move desks so that I could have a cube with high walls in order to help block scents.  What seems like an ordinary, inoffensive amount of perfume or cologne to most people is horribly strong to me, to the point where it seems like the person bathed in it.  It isn't THEIR fault, they didn't really overuse it, my system is just overreacting and using that slight breath of scent as a reason to start ringing a klaxon inside my head. Sometimes it feels like that is literally true, not just a way of describing it.

At this point the pain starts, usually behind one of my eyes, and begins spreading.  Again, everyone experiences it differently, this is just a description of my typical migraine.  Soon my entire forehead feels as though someone has wrapped it in a red-hot steel band about an inch wide and is squeezing it tighter and tighter.  At the same time there is a small work crew inside my skull working with increasing intensity to drill holes through both of my temples.  Another crew is apparently using pickaxes to try and dig my eyeballs free of their sockets.  The pain continues to spread, working its way around to the back of the head and then down the neck muscles.  You know how everyone kind of did that scrunch up and twist their faces up thing whenever Spock did the Vulcan Neck Pinch in Star Trek?  Imagine what they were trying to get you to think it felt like. Now, quadruple that in intensity, and put it on both sides of your neck at once.  It isn't exact, but it is a rough approximation of what it is actually like.

Soon your back muscles and your shoulder muscles start to tighten because, well...PAIN.  What do you do when you hurt? You clench your muscles,of course!  It is a natural reaction. Eventually it is all that you can do to just curl up in bed, pull the covers over your head, and wish someone would just come and take a sledgehammer to your brain to get it all over with.  

This can last a few hours...or days at a time.  My average generally runs around 3 days at this intensity, my longest so far has been six days straight.  That is at the 8, 9, 10 end of the 1 to 10 pain scale most medical professionals use.  Quite frankly,I rarely have a day where I do NOT have a migraine of some kind.  If I'm lucky, it is down around a 2 or a 3. By now that has become so normal for me that you probably can't even tell I have one. I go to work, do my job, run my business, and do everything I need to do. The extras don't get done, of course, because walking about in constant pain is so much more draining than anyone can ever realize who hasn't had to do it.  But that's why they have lawn mowing services and house cleaning services.

On the 4 through 7 days, I can generally still do minimal functioning.  At the lower end of that I have been known to go to work.  Sometimes if it is one of the times when light actually is bothering me, I'll work at my desk wearing sunglasses.  I've never been so glad I actually splurged on those prescription sunglasses last time I went to the eye doctor.

I miss work because of the migraines.  I have FMLA Intermittent Leave for them.  I try not to use it, and most months I don't use all that I qualify for because I make myself go in to work anyway, but I am very glad it is there for the times when I can't even sit up without the room spinning and my head exploding.

This has gotten longer than I intended.  It isn't meant for self-pity, or to get people to pat me on the back and tell me how brave I am or whatever.  I decided to write this blog post because I need people to understand that when I, or anyone who suffers migraines, says those three little words a whole lot more is meant by them than what you may realize.  So if a migraine sufferer says to you, "My head hurts.", don't respond with disbelief, or scorn, don't imply by your tone or your words that the person is just using that as an excuse and could totally work through the pain if they only put their mind to it. They can't.  Believe me, they would love to be able to never have to deal with migraines again.  They would love to not be exhausted from constantly being in pain.  They would love to be able to plan things with their friends and not have to bow out at the last moment.  They would even love being able to get up for work every morning with no more worries than whether the alarm clock went off on time or they hit snooze one time too many.

Trust me, what they are dealing with sucks.  You wouldn't want to change places with them.  If they love you, they wouldn't let you anyway because they know what a hell it can be. So cut them some slack, understand that they're doing the best they can, and let them know that it is okay.  They need to hear it, because they're being harder on themselves for letting people down than anyone else could ever be on them.

Now I'm going to go take another prescription because my head hurts.