The anatomy of a migraine attack

September 16, 2012, Sunday/ 12:35:00

If a club of migraine victims were to be founded, it is safe to imagine that it would have broad appeal, as a migraine is like a different language that only sufferers can understand.

Probably one of the most frustrating things for people who suffer from migraines -- the majority of whom are women, according to scientists -- is the underestimation of it as a condition. When people say, “Oh, I had a headache yesterday too,” when you talk about a migraine attack that truly ruins hours or even days, you cannot help but want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and say, “A migraine is not a simple headache, idiot,” until they understand the difference. For those who are fortunate enough not to have encountered migraines yet, imagine the loudest drill on earth constantly drilling into your head. That might give you an idea.

Ironically, although a migraine attack is very likely to make you loathe everything, including your own life, it has an unexpected post-attack impact: a rejuvenated joy in life. Probably due to the strength of the pain during an attack, when it is over, one tends to realize how invaluable feeling good and healthy is and to start enjoying every healthy breath one takes. Of course, strong migraine pills that are supposed to be taken only in case of emergency, which is the moment you realize that a storm is about to hit you, might have something to do with such euphoria.

The relationship of migraine patients with medication, although it would be more accurate to call them victims, is a complicated one, too. Every experienced migraine sufferer would know that when an attack is coming nothing can reverse it. The best solution is to get ready for it, like riding a storm, to go into a quiet and dark room after taking the pill that works best for you. However, there might be unwise people like me who have still not learned their lesson after numerous attacks and who delay taking the most effective pill in the hope that a regular painkiller or two will make it go away. The short answer is, it won’t. Whatever the medical explanation is, when a migraine attack starts -- and a victim best knows how to differentiate it from a regular headache -- it does not end before it completes its own course at its own pace, unless you intervene with the right type of medicine, or sometimes a strong shot of a combination of painkillers in the hospital.

One interesting dimension is the power of a migraine over one’s thinking. Even a simple headache or cut finger would make one feel bad; no one expects a sick person to be joyful. However, migraines seem to have a unique ability to destroy all optimism and bring only negative thoughts into one’s mind. Worst of all, they tend to have no shame and to occur at the most inappropriate times, while you are fighting against an attack that feels as if it will never end.

When the pill kicks in, you assume that this is the type of relief that substance addiction must provide, feeling grateful to the pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes, if you are fortunate enough to get over an attack by falling asleep, you wake up to a completely different world, a serene and peaceful one.

This piece clearly does not reflect the views of a medical doctor, but solely the personal experience of a migraine patient who has read pretty much all the information the Internet provides and tried different treatments over the years. Then again, as the saying of Nasreddin Hoja goes, the one to best understand someone who has fallen off a roof is a person who has had the same experience.

As a migraine victim myself, I sometimes want to believe that people are made to suffer to appreciate life when they are most tired of it. Because it is an illness that perfectionists suffer most, as the doctors say. Whatever the reason or whoever the victims are, migraine seems to have the power to unite all who experience it in a common understanding.

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