It begins with a sparkling light in the centre of my vision and slowly expands into a zig-zag ring in pastel rainbow shades like those of the play side of a CD. This doesn’t always register immediately. Sometimes I think the TV is out of focus. My mother once saw a man standing at the bus stop wearing what she thought was a suit of psychedelic tartan. Others might think the wallpaper’s moving, or the floor is coming up. And this is the thing. It kind of makes you lose your mind a bit. It begins before it begins, of course, but it’s not until after that you realise you’ve experienced the familiar symptoms. You know the word for everything, but can’t say it. You can see the object in your mind but its name won’t come. If you try to pick up something from among several items you can’t tell where one ends and another begins, or whether its part of your own hand, a hand which doesn’t quite feel as if it belongs to you. Same with your feet, your lips, your tongue. Everything tastes and smells different, including your own sweat. People look as you strangely because you’ve said something stupid, or do they? Maybe it’s just the accompanying paranoia.
Does this sound confusing? It’s meant to. This is what it’s like to have a migraine. Oh wait; I didn’t mention the headache. Yes, that’s pretty bad, but sometimes it’s the least of the problems. The vomiting is worse, but luckily the tablets I take prevent that. My symptoms begin some days beforehand, but I never realise until the familiar aura kicks in. I can only list them now because I’m on day two of a migraine.
About a week ago I began to feel euphoric, and my insomnia increased. That part’s good. I’m full of ideas and can get things done. Or at least I think I can. In truth it’s a bit like a certain kind of drug high. You feel amazingly efficient, but in reality you’ve just taken four days to compose an email, which you’ll either never send, or will send at 4 a.m. and wish you hadn’t. Then maybe you’ll want to learn French or knit something.
Next comes the stiff neck, or, as I tend to imagine in my broken-brained state, someone’s stolen my pillow and replaced it with a bag of frozen chips. A few days after that, the TV goes out of focus, or you get a visit from the man in the psychedelic tartan, and finally realisation dawns that for the next few hours or days you’re going to be in pain, unable to string two words together and looking a little like the CGI’d stroke victim in those TV ads. Actually, that bit’s serious. Sufferers of Migraine With Aura (to give it its high-falutin’ proper name) are two to three times more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack.
So, now on day two with a headache that’s nowhere near as excruciating as some I’ve had, the euphoria has well and truly passed and I’m on the downer. This comprises emotional numbness mixed with a depression so black that the only thing stopping you from jumping under a train is the fear that you’d survive. Of course, migraines being the contrary creatures they are, the emotional numbness scoots off to the side occasionally and you have a bit of a cry, and the euphoria pokes its head around the door just long enough for you to see that the knitting pattern is written in French, thus plunging you back into depression.
Although I’m making light, this can be a frightening condition. I had my first migraine aged nine, and thought I was going blind or had a brain tumour. Also, as many people bandy the word about when they have a bit of a headache, you have the added bonus of people thinking you’re doing the same.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure only symptom management, but at least it is now becoming accepted that this is actually a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition and more research is being undertaken. So even if a cure remains elusive, perhaps one day there will be something that lessens the life-threatening aspect of what is already a horrible condition. Until then, I’ll be the one in the corner, talking gibberish while crying into my French scarf.