Me and My Migraines
by Lev Raphael
My first migraine hit when my mother died twenty years ago at the end of many years of dementia and silence. As children of chronically ill parents can tell you, though her death was a relief, it was still devastating. We’d always been close and she encouraged my desire to be an author as far back as second grade.
She also gave me a unique gift: a francophone, my mother helped me so much with my French homework from elementary school onward, that I won my high school’s award for best French student and was even given a certificate signed by the French Ambassador. On every trip to France or Belgium that I would take years later, people would peer at me curiously and wonder where I had learned my French because they couldn’t place my accent. They always complimented me: Mais vous parlez bien, monsieur. You speak well. The Mais indicated surprise. They never expected an American to do so.
Soon after hearing the news of my mother’s death, one night at dinner I couldn’t see clearly out of my left eye: everything looked like shattered glass and I was terrified. It passed in about fifteen minutes and a visit the next day to an enigmatic ophthalmologist with no sense of humor welcomed me into a whole new world of trouble: Migraines, Ocular & Otherwise.
They’ve plagued me ever since. The typical pattern is pain over one eye, dizziness, and nausea, though I’ve never puked. I read everything I could find about them and started keeping a journal to record how often they came and if I could identify a possible cause. It was soon clear that weather changes, like a storm front moving through, were often the culprit: I would either get a migraine as the storm approached or as it left. Various doctors have said there does seem to be a correlation between changes in barometric pressure and migraines, but nobody knows how that works exactly.
Sometimes the misery has been so intense that I’ve had to go to bed for a whole weekend. Medication can ease the migraine, but not eliminate it. I’ve tried many kinds, including having to inject myself in the thigh with Sumatriptan, which bizarrely made me lightheaded before it started to work. Seriously? A minor headache added to the major one?
I’d been going to a gym and working with a trainer for a long time, but developing these migraines shattered any complacency I had about my physical fitness. That’s actually been a good thing, preparing me for the limitations in my agility after orthopedic surgery on one foot and a knee, and reconstructive surgery on both my hands. It even made the concussion I got in a minor car accident somewhat less disturbing, even though for months afterwards, I was confused by numbers and couldn’t do something as simple as calculate the tip at a restaurant.
The unexpected impact of my migraines has been to offer me more insight into the pain and physical woes of my friends, and something new to write about. Isn’t that always the case with us writers? Everything is potential material.
The British pronounce the word as “me-graine” and that’s what it feels like: they’re a part of me now and likely always will be.
However, I’ve found some relief in a totally unexpected way. Since bite guards weren’t working to ease my TMJ, my cheerful, chunky bald dentist suggested I try physical therapy.
It’s been remarkably successful in a combination of massage for my neck, shoulders, and back and a series of low-impact exercises. In the first month, I went from eight migraines that June to four in July and halving the number has been pretty steady ever since. I can live with that.
As a side benefit, it’s gotten me out of the house during the pandemic, in a safe environment where everyone is always masked, every surface is constantly being sterilized, wiped down, and the “techs” and desk staff are all friendly and relaxed. That’s the last thing that I would ever have guessed my migraines would do: break my sense of isolation and ease my claustrophobia in 2021.
About the Author
Lev Raphael is the author of 27 books in genres from memoir to mystery and hundreds of essays, short stories, blogs and book reviews. He’s done invited talks and readings on three continents at many different venues including Oxford University and The Library of Congress, and a Midwestern university has purchased his literary papers for Special Archives at their library. When he announced that to his stepsons and said “I’m part of literary history,” the eldest quipped, “You always were—but now you have an index.” Lev mentors, coaches, and edits writers in all genres at https://writewithoutborders.com.