I can usually tell when I am going to get a migraine. My thoughts feel strangely fragile. It is usually a portent of what’s to come. The first definitive sign is the aura. These visual disturbances usually manifest as pixilated distortions in one area of vision. They are the neurological equivalent of an error message, popping up in front of my face.
This is my cue to down a few ibuprofen to avoid the headache and nausea.
Usually this is the end of it. 20 minutes of visual disturbances, a few hours of photo-sensitivity and mild discombobulation and I am safely out of the woods. Sometimes though things can get more… interesting.
The visual disturbances sometimes grow into a nonspecific bending of perception. Perspectives on size and distance can melt away and the whole world becomes an indiscernible collage of colour and pattern. It reminds me a bit of a Picasso painting.
The changes are not just visual though. Sometimes mood and cognition change quite significantly too. Often I find myself feeling slightly disorientated yet at the same time unusually enthralled with my surroundings. This is not in itself a problem, save for the fact that it usually seems to happen when I am at work.
To my left, one colleague is wearing a black dress with gold and white flowers on it. It seems like half the universe has suddenly taken on this pattern. While I sit at my desk, another colleague stands to my right talking to me. He is tall with a salmon pink shirt, similar to his skin tone. It seems to me as though he is just an amorphous pink blob, towering over me. I cannot discern if he is 6 foot or 600 feet tall. In my disorientated yet curious state I have a powerful urge to reach up into the sky and poke his pink smiling face. I have to consciously remind myself where I am and why this would definitely be a bad idea.
The experiences are not always so neutral though. Sometimes, along with extreme photo-sensitivity and nausea, a range of other negative psychological patterns seem to manifest in overdrive.
One time it got so bad I decided to excuse myself from work and head home on foot. It feels like I have been walking for hours when in fact it has only been minutes. My perception of time is slowed to a frustrating crawl. I walk past a bronze statuette. I have always liked metalwork, but now the face seems to glower at me like it is aware of my predicament. I catch sight of the mottled coppery texture of the statuettes hair and am overcome with an inexplicable disgust. I walk on, but every step, every moment, seems painfully drawn out. Time itself joins the conspiracy against me. I am convinced the statuette knows this and is pleased.
Ahead of me a couple is walking down the same path. All of a sudden they veer off and head up the road. For some reason this feels like a punch in the stomach. I am filled with rage toward them. How could they simply veer off a straight path at such an imprecise angle!?! Worst of all, they seemed completely oblivious to their blatant crime against symmetry. I want to verbally chastise them but would likely vomit if I tried. My head is now throbbing, the light feels like daggers in my eyes and each step I take seems to last forever.
After what feels like a whole day of walking (although is likely only around 20 minutes) I make it home. I go upstairs, make my room as dark as possible and switch off. When I awake the negative symptoms have completely vanished and sanity has returned. In fact, I feel amazing.
This was another interesting thing I learned about migraines. They are not always bad. Sometimes they are extremely pleasant experiences. Normally though, they are bad. If they are good then the good will usually follow the bad, like a reverse hangover. Sleep is the reboot that can trigger the flippening from bad to good, but sometimes it can happen without sleep, like a wave washing over me. Very occasionally I hit the jackpot and just get the good. The ‘good’ experience is characterise by an abundance of energy and confidence as well as a kind of buoyant euphoria.
I float around in a state of focused elation, the ideas bubbling up. Things I can invent, enterprises I will create, grand artistic endeavours that I must get started on right away! I am spoilt for choice. Around me the world itself turns into a work of abstract art. Details are absorbed into pattern and colour. It is like a dream in that I can see the overall picture, yet if I try to concentrate on details then they pixilate out and melt away. An impressionist world, just for me.
Unfortunately, it wears off after an hour so and I am back to my default setting of grumpy pragmatism.
Acephalgic Migraines are funny beasts. I have had a lot less of them since lockdown started, so maybe my trigger pertained to my work environment. On balance it is probably a good thing I am now nearly migraine free. Still, some part of me cannot help but feel a little disappointed.