Migraine Memories

As we transition into spring, I’m hit with an almost joyful thought: I haven’t had a migraine caused by barometric pressure in so long I can’t remember the last one. For a long time, my body had difficulty adjusting to the change between seasons. I dreaded the rainy, darkly cloudy, wet days that were characteristic of spring and autumn weather. I would wake in the mornings without having to open my eyes to know it was overcast outside because I would have piercing pain on one side of my head, usually accompanied by what felt like someone using a very pointy sharp tool to dig through either of my eyes. On days like that, I couldn’t go to work, before that university, before that high school, or participate in any other planned activity. My body required that I stay in bed as motionless as possible with a hand pressed to the side of my head and my face buried in a pillow to prevent any light from getting into my throbbing eye(s).

I would pray for sleep because taking any pain medication at that stage would be pointless. I couldn’t eat until the migraine passed because the smell or even the thought of food made my stomach heave with nausea. I couldn’t have anyone touch me either. The slightest touch from another person would make the already hypersensitive nerve endings all over my body make me want to peel my skin from my body. Looking at light was probably the cruelest thing I could do to myself. Allowing the dimmest level of light to make contact with my pupils felt like a blade of steel was slicing through, not just my eyes, my entire head. All these symptoms made communicating with anyone to describe what I was feeling extremely difficult. Whether it was a blessing or a curse, I’m still not sure, but all the women in the paternal line of my family suffered from migraines, so there was an unspoken acknowledgement when each of us was hit with an episode of this debilitating illness, which made the need for complete silence easier to meet.

I was also fortunate, during the early part of my work career, to have a manager who suffered from migraines too. There were days when he looked at me as we passed each other in the office hallways that he could immediately recognize that I was in pain. He would tell me to finish whatever I was doing, if I could, then go home to get rest. If I didn’t make it to work for the next day, or two, he was empathetic enough not to have calls made to my home because he knew what a ringing telephone could do to a person with a migraine. Without that support, I don’t believe I could have thrived and achieved the successes I did so early in my career in a corporate setting. Unfortunately, in later years I experienced less accommodating workplaces; and from conversations over the years with other migraineurs and from reading so many people’s stories about coping with migraines while working, I know how stressful being in an environment where people think a migraine is just a strong headache can be.

I’d like to believe that taking multiple ‘mindfulness-based meditation for stress and pain reduction’ courses is what got rid of my migraines. However, I still had some for years after taking those classes, although not with the same level of intensity, and I was able to cope with the symptoms better too, which felt like a miracle. Nowadays, I keep my fingers crossed that migraines won’t become a regular part of my life again. Living with the chronic pain condition I have would be impossible if I also had to cope with the crippling effects of migraines, especially when I can remember having some that lasted for days on end. Luckily, on this gloomy overcast day, I can look at the bright glare from the screen of my laptop and write about my experiences, instead of hiding in bed under the covers.


Blinded by the Light ~ Manfred Mann’s Earth Band



Pain Clinic #8: Time For Acupuncture

I’ve been waiting for space to open in the pain clinic’s treatment rooms to start receiving acupuncture since the end of October and I was starting to think they had forgotten about me. The wait for an appointment was worrying my friends and family too, and some suggested that I should seek out an independent acupuncturist or naturopath to receive the treatments. Thankfully, I don’t have to go that route because I received a call yesterday from my pain specialist’s assistant with dates for a series of appointments that start in two weeks. I have four 60-minute treatment sessions booked with my pain specialist who is also a trained acupuncturist. Having her treat me with acupuncture, makes me feel more confident that the treatments will be successful because she knows my history with pain, knows exactly where in my body the pain originated and where it spread to, she has immediate access to all my medical records, and she can adjust my medications if necessary.

The breadth of my pain specialist’s knowledge and openness to alternative treatments for chronic pain, make me feel less anxious about trying something new. Years ago, I went to a naturopathic clinic as advised by a close friend to try something new for terrible migraines. The something new then was acupuncture. The naturopath who treated me would place needles under my skin in three or four areas of my body. After the first pinch of each needle faded, it was almost impossible to feel where they stood. With the needle placement completed, the naturopath would then dim the lights and leave me alone to rest for about 30 minutes. When she returned to remove the needles, I would feel as if I had rested for hours. Unfortunately, acupuncture didn’t rid me of migraines but that rested feeling would stay with me for a few days after a treatment; and the treatments did reduce the frequency and severity of my migraine episodes, which was a big improvement in my life.

The memory of the pain relief I gained because of those acupuncture needles is still with me. And I also remember that those fine, silver needles didn’t only target my migraines; they calmed my entire body, somehow quieted my mind, and even helped me sleep better. I am hoping for similar results from these upcoming acupuncture sessions because my entire nervous system needs calming. The way my doctors explain it to me, my nervous system is now like a hyperactive child who has eaten a bowl of sugar. It has run at that level for almost three years in response to the pain from a benign growth that no longer sits in my pelvis. This overdrive needs to stop, and acupuncture – I say this with fingers crossed – should help to slow it down.


David Bowie – Absolute Beginners