Passing Out And Going Through (the migraine)

(Andrea has written other posts related to migraines

– see list at end of this post.)

A mere headache is to a migraine what a slap on the face is to getting body-slammed by the Terminator.

At the beginning, there is the warning sign known as an “aura”: I get vertigo and the room spins, or walls telescope away. Parts of my vision are seen through the radiating fractures of a cracked window. Color flecks in the linoleum or carpeting waver, making the floor pitch as I stagger about. My head feels impossibly heavy, as though my cranium could unhinge and my brains fall out, and that might actually make me feel better, as I am irrevocably diving into the ne plus ultra of headaches.

I have but 20-30 minutes warning before I retreat, taking some migraine medicine and carefully composing myself in bed. Even at the height of summer I feel cold and pull on slippers. I drape across my eyes a sock filled with dry rice to shut out the much-too-bright light (despite window blinds), and drape across my chest a used dental x-ray apron, a five-pound weight that is a comforting compression to help me feel “grounded” and less vertiginous and nauseous.

My head is caught in a bench-vise squeezing the parietal lobes of my skull, and maybe the bones will crack along the sutures and maybe they won’t. My jaw no longer seems to fit into the temporal joints, and I must make a conscious effort (when I am sufficiently conscious) to leave it open just a bit, lest I end up clenching my teeth in the pain, and thus induce further, future abuse upon myself.

Once a month the county tests the tornado warning system, essentially air raid sirens. Woe is me, for the wailing rise and fall as they are sequentially tested sounds as though the devious bovines from Gary Larson’s “Far Side” cartoons are in anime mecha (giant mechanical armored suits from Japanese animation), and these robotics-enhanced cows scream Godzilla-like threats at me and pound on my head.

“Alice in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll and surrealist painter René Magritte are collaborating on short screenplays, semi-conscious dreams that are an ever-changing series of vignettes. Like the vivid and bizarre nightmares induced by fever, they are a product of my sane but pain-wracked mind:

A woman in a white 1890’s wedding dress is standing with her hand resting atop a vanity dresser, both of which are upon a black-painted stage in the middle of a flat, sunlit grassland. The woman has no head. At the top of her neck is just an oval gray fizz of television static. I open one drawer, and discover it to be an old-fashioned library card-catalog. Only this is not an Author or Title drawer but a Subject drawer, and when pulled, hundreds of cards suddenly go flying out like a cloud of moths, for I have released a Pandora’s Box of memes that go and infest the planet.

Then I am trying to remove teaching materials from my briefcase, and for some reason there is a colorful play ball that I must first remove, but I cannot because it is larger than the briefcase. But it is imperative I remove it, because I really need to retrieve the Möbius Strip and Cuisenaire Rods to teach today’s calculus lesson – the students need to know how to survey Turkish carpets so they can design flowerbeds.

Such visions might be diverting, were not my head still trying to implode, and my body being subjected to devious tortures. Random muscle twitches make odd little jerks here and there over my arms and legs, but I must otherwise remain perfectly still lest I throw up. Swarms of mosquitoes armed with shish kebab skewers roam around and randomly prick patches of my skin. I lay with my legs straight, left ankle crossed over right, to help reduce the shooting strains as though a demon is pulling off my kneecaps.

These compete with the horrifyingly exquisite hypersensory input from the outside world. I can hear everything: trucks shifting gears from the construction site three blocks away, in the next room my wristwatch is ticking and marks the seconds to my death like a venerable grandfather clock, dust motes land upon the furniture in an infinitesimal clatter of micro-gravel, and the bathroom shower of my neighbor is a giant waterfall beside me. I’m a synæsthetic migraineur, experiencing not only head-cracking agony, but also sensory cross-talk: the color turquoise sounds like the crunching of very dry snow pellets; swingset squeaks from the playground at the end of the block feel like I am turning over a giant piece of stiff paper, the texture of my pillowcase makes everything taste like chrome, and the sound of the air conditioner in another room feels like water running over different parts of my body.

My migraines last two or four hours. Afterwards it takes me an hour or more to emerge – or re-merge – back into the world, stiffly easing upright without falling over, passing out, or throwing up. I’m trying to adjust to the glare of a darkened room, and often my eyes will not focus to the same distance, or one will wander inward. I am oh so very thirsty for a liter of cool water, if I can just manage to drink it without dribbling. And yet, despite having lain down for hours on end, I am irrevocably tired. After all that invisible torture, my mental faculties are no better than a bowl of tapioca pudding.


The good news is that I have some new medication that will, if taken quickly, reduce the migraine from a have-to-get-better-to-die experience to merely a very bad headache. “Taken quickly” means I have one already unwrapped and loose in the bottle poised at the bedside, as some bastard has chosen to package each pill under TWO layers of cardboard AND a heavy layer of foil. The problem being that it can take half an hour to muster the resources to reach over, open the bottle, and swallow a pill. I can but hope that I won’t eventually find it has become useless, or start giving me worse side effects.

These photographs have been modified to demonstrate some of the visual disturbances I experience during migraines.

If you’re doing up a diary/log of your migraines, here’s a listing of possible symptoms to tick (lots of interesting terms for word-nerds).

We find a number of little ways to make life easier; they may seem like piddly little things, but they add up, including some really unusual ones (lead apron from the dentist’s office, anyone?) Small Comforts.

Everyone in life has to compensate in some manner or another, because no one excels at everything. In fact, the economy depends upon people’s interdependency — earning your living doing things for others is important to the Gross National Product, is important to a town’s sense of community, and is important to a person’s self-worth from feeling useful. The problem with over-compensation is that although I have at times felt that I had vanquished my personal demons of incompetancy by having overcome various failures with landmark achievements, those successes do not mean that I cannot or will not have future problems! Running With the Red Queen.

Bad equipment can trigger or worsen migraines: My Off-and-on-and-off-and-on Love Affair With Computers.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve actually had good results with most of the professionals whom I have seen. It would be rather a fallacy to broadwash a whole bunch of specialists on account of a few fools. But boy, when you run into an fool, it’s usually a doozy! Whining From Another Hysterical Female.

Boy howdy, are there a lot of nonsense “cures” to be found on the Web! Is That Ringing Sound … the one in my ears, or cash registers?

The reason for the ADA Restoration Act: You could be considered “too disabled” to do the job, but “not disabled enough” (dare I say, “too high-functioning”?) to qualify under the ADA. Of course, in the rational world, disabled people apply for jobs that they can do, given sensible accommodations. (Gimme a “Duh!”) Mitigating measures.

Spot the cat extends his sympathies: A Week Too Long. (short piece)

We have a number of little things that not only delight us in small ways, but even make life just so much more pleasant, and reduce our stress loads. As usual, “you don’t appreciate something until you’ve lost it” so we often don’t realise just how much these mean to us, and how supportive they are, until we’re away from home. Here are some of my faves, which fall into two categories: technology that enables me to do things, and creature comforts. Favorite Things.

We tend to view pain as strictly a physical problem, treated with various analgesics and/or physiotherapies. You hurt, you take treatment, the pain goes away, your wound heals, the event stops. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and if it doesn’t, then you’re not doing it right. We even have child-birth classes to teach people the “right way” to have pain (yes, I say “people” because their partners are there to learn how to reinforce the appropriate responses during L&D). But chronic and re-occurring severe pains don’t follow that socio-medical model. It’s a Real Pain.

NOT a recommended medical practice: Smack me upside the head. (single paragraph piece)

Some people with migraines and other neurological issues find that the flickering of fluorescent lights can be a trigger. What do we do when the need for greater energy efficiency becomes a false economy at the personal scale? It’s Not Just Me.

There’s more than one sort of migraine; sometimes I get the “ice pick” variety: Pain “All-Sorts”

But what about when a migraine interrupts those scheduled events that cannot be made up? (includes a different description of a severe migraine) Horrid day for a migraine. Could have been worse.


  1. cripplecave said,

    8 November 2014 at 22:49

    That’s quite vivid! Yikes! I see where the Lewis Carroll reference comes in.

  2. Julie said,

    26 April 2010 at 7:12

    I’ve recently realized that one of my migraine triggers is related to my Auditory Processing Disorder – if I try to focus on only one sound (ie the lecturer) and ignore others (so called “background” noise), it can be a migraine trigger.

    • Sg said,

      18 March 2012 at 1:33

      Does anyon else have information about migraines relating to Auditory Processing Disorder. My 12 yr old was just diagnosed with APD and also just had his first migraine which sent us to the hospital. Does APD often trigger migraines?

      • 18 March 2012 at 4:07

        No, there’s no correlation between the two. A neurologist who specialises in migraines may be of help, but migraine triggers vary considerably. I’m sure that you will hear lots of “helpful advice” about what triggers or helps one person and another. Personally, I have found that most of the things people mention do not make any difference to me.

        Stresses can certainly aggravate a migraine (or be a “tipping point”) but it’s hard to prove direct cause and effects.

        My neuro says that regular sleep habits, getting exercise, and making sure I get some protein at breakfast are all helpful as general practices.

        I take a preventative twice daily, which helps considerably — now most of mine are just caused by sudden drop-rises in barometric pressure from fast weather changes.

  3. 24 April 2008 at 11:09

    We need all the help we can get for people with migraines

  4. Maggie said,

    4 March 2008 at 20:46

    What a wonderful description of the tortures of migraine! It brings to mind the many years before Triptans that I found myself being driven to the hospital once again, barfing in a bag all the way, and then sitting through the intermidable wait time in the waiting room (with the wonderful bright lights), barfing in a bag in front of everyone else waiting for their turn. Not only was this humiliating, but you better make sure you picked a bag that didn’t have a hole in it!
    Thank God hospitals have gotten a little more humane in dealing with migraine patients, getting us into a room more quickly and turning the lights out until the dr gets there. The most memorable visit for me was the time they gave me an IV of migraine medication that made the migraine worse! There I was, waiting for relief and thinking nothing could be worse than this, when “worse” started to happen! What an oxymoron, hooked up to an IV in the ER and looking for something, anything to kill myself with! About 8 hours later, we finally got the head straightened out and I walked out of there feeling like I had just been through a prison camp complete with torture tactics!
    Thankfully, those days are a thing of the past!

  5. Mt_always said,

    5 October 2007 at 20:28

    Thank you for putting into words what I have tried to explain to others.

    After reading this they finally understand that I dont have a headache that i can just deal with.

  6. qw88nb88 said,

    28 July 2007 at 22:46

    Brilliant! Thanks, Jesse.

  7. Jesse the K said,

    28 July 2007 at 20:28

    Whoever designed the *&^% packaging for the *triptans should be made to have one of your migraines.

    I’ve developed a good workaround. Using heavy-duty (like carpet cutting) scissors. I cut a line down one side “pane” of pills on the foil side, around 2mm to the outside of the pill dimple. This is far enough away that the pill stays in the packet, but weakens the foil enough that one or two twists opens up the foil and I can slide the magic pill down my throat.

    Happily, each triptan has lasted at least three years before quitting working, and they keep coming up with new formulations.

  8. Klaus Podoll said,

    29 December 2006 at 16:02

    I would like to ask for your permission to reproduce this text on our website . Also I have a question: Do you experience synaesthesia only during your migraine attacks, or generally? Thanks, KP

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