Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Migraine Club

I’m not much for joining clubs. I never have been.

There is nothing wrong with clubs. I like them and have been in many: my figure skating club as a youth, a sorority in college, my alumni club now (heck, I’m co-president). I’m even on my University’s alumni association board, which is kind of like a club.

So it’s not like I don’t want to do the work. And I find great value in the social aspect of being in a club. Even if I think they can be exclusionary.

Though I do wish I could be excluded from one club — one I did not choose to join. I call it the Migraine Club.

In the past year or so, I was diagnosed with migraine headaches. As I think back, I’ve had these for some time.

Friends and co-workers now tell me they remember me complaining of headaches. One co-worker several years ago scared me into seeing a doctor after I announced that I’d had a headache for about two weeks. At that time, I was not diagnosed with migraines. That would take a few years.

That I finally was diagnosed makes sense. My sister gets them. My mother says her mother got them. Both of them have had it worse than I. My sister sometimes gets so nauseated she throws up. My grandmother used to have to lie down in a dark, quiet room.

Me? I typically get a burning sensation focused right over my left eye. I liken it to looking at a bright, scorching sun, the way it almost burns a hole in you if you don’t look away. That’s how it feels to me. A semi-dull but focused pain that makes me want to close my eyes and not deal with anything too taxing.

Often it goes down into my upper jaw, above my teeth on the same side of my head. I get stuffy and sometimes sneeze, which made me think for years it was a sinus problem causing the headache. Now, my doctor tells me, the migraine causes the stuffiness.

Sometimes the migraine pain takes a trip around my head. A surprise attack, like a pinch, on the right side, or a dull pressure like a band around the front of my head.

The worst of it — before I was diagnosed — was when it would settle in the back of my neck, below the base of my skull. I didn’t know what was going on, only that I felt as if every disk, tendon and ligament was grinding together like gravel with each move.

It was after chatting with my dental hygienist a year ago about her horrors with migraines (almost unbearable, nothing like my experience thankfully) that I realized we spoke the same language.

“I felt like I had rocks in my neck,” she said. I knew immediately what she was talking about. At least I think. Pain is so hard, if not impossible, to communicate to someone.

Which is why I hoped for a while my pain was not migraine. I’ve heard nothing but horror stories of people incapable of functioning with them. As with my sister and grandmother, they can take you down. Mess with your life. Make you miserable. So far I’ve not had it that bad.

But I accept the diagnosis. The clincher? When my doctor gave me some new migraine drug samples and told me: “If they work, then it’s most likely migraine.”

Boy, do they work. Damn it.

I do not accept membership into this club lightly. I’d be happy to be kicked out. I’d love to turn in my membership card and pay a hefty fee to break the contract. But I think I’m going to have to live with it. At least for now.

And so I’m making the best of it.

And you know the best part? The people. Like any club, the people are what it’s all about. I’ve still got to deal with the migraines, about two a month. But I’ve discovered a support network, however loosely defined and occasional the meetings — via an email, a Facebook comment, a conversation or tip at a party. I discover new members all the time. We help each other. We know each other.

Some of the advice I’ve gotten through my new club: Hydrate! Take extra magnesium. Watch your diet (cheese, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol are all typical triggers). Prepare for them around your monthly cycle.

I’ve discovered the drugs that work best for me: Zomig and Maxalt, even though they make my throat feel scorched and my skin feel sunburned. There is also the fatigue that turns your limbs into lead weights.

But those symptoms are better than dealing with the pain. As anyone in my club will tell you.

It’s an equal opportunity club, too. We come in all shapes and sizes, mostly female but some men, too. You’re lucky if you’re not in it, but I bet you have your own club you never chose to join.

I don’t plan to be president, and I’ll be happy if I can leave, but while I’m in it I’ll happily support my fellow members — and I do — and I know they’ll be there to support me.

What more can you ask of a club you never wanted to join?


GardenVixen said...

I'm prone to visual migranes. They start out like the spots you see after a camera flash, but they don't go away quickly. Sometimes they grow larger and more intense. Then the pain hits, along with a weird out-of-body sensation.

My mom gets them too. She told me to take 2 Tylenol and drink a glass of coke (w/caffeine) at the first sign. That does seem to help a little.

Bright lights sometimes trigger them, especially strobe lights.

Frightening stuff! It's definitely a club I wish I could get kicked out of!

Only the Half of It said...

I think you told me about that. I am not sure what my triggers are (though they do come pretty consistently each month so there is a hormonal component). But I used to drink wine and think, Damn! I have a hangover, but I only drank a glass... now I realized it was probably a migraine triggered by wine.
I also learned after posting this that one of my mom's sisters (my aunt) also has/had migraines. So there is definitely a family thing there.
Maybe we should go on strike from the Migraine Club!

Sharon said...

I have known people who deal with migraines and what a difficult time they've had finding relief. Glad to hear the meds help, though it would be nice to be migraine free. Is it the sulfates in wine that cause the trouble? Someone introduced me to organic wine - good stuff.

Only the Half of It said...

Sharon, I'm not sure the sulfites are always an issue because I often drink with no problem. It's possible they could make things worse if I'm inclined to have a headache, though.
That said, I'm happy to try organics and just bought a good one from Whole Foods the other day!

Jen said...

Don't hate me but I have migraines without the headache. I get the sinus trouble, the rocks in the neck, though they are not really painful just annoying, light bothers me and I feel dizzy and out of sorts. Always around the same time of the month. Caffeine helps a lot. So does wine however. Thanks for stopping by I think I already love this blog.

Only the Half of It said...

Ah, you have pain, but not in your head... the rocks in the neck must be painful. My god, I didn't know people knew about "rocks in the neck"... I never would have thought to actually articulate it that way to people because it sounds bizarre, but we all have it. Funny.
Coffee DEFINITELY helps... wine, I stay away from if I feel any headache at all!
So glad you stopped by!

Cindy L said...

Migraines sound awful. I've never had to deal with them, knock on wood, but understand how hard it is to live with chronic pain. Until my hips were replaced, I struggled with pain management 24/7. Glad your new group is working for you, and I hope your headaches stop soon.

Jen said...

Wine doesn't really help the symptoms but it can certainly help prevent the stress that causes the migraines. The tooth has been a major reason for wine. Of course when you leave the hospital it is my belief that they should give you a big bottle or box of wine since it helps better than any parenting book.

Only the Half of It said...

Cindy, I am exceedingly thankful they are not as bad for me as I head.
I was just asked the other day about "the aura" -- of which I have no idea. While it sounds exotic and fascinating, I'm hoping I never encounter it!

Jen, I'll keep that in mind. :-)