How Migraines Feel

Usually, the first thing I notice is this fog that starts to roll in; they call it the ‘aura’. Thinking is difficult and muddy, and my visual field looks distorted, almost like the heat waves rising from summer pavement, but more splattered and less linear. A indescribable film that muddles my vision, just slightly. Or, it might start with a twinge near my temple. A pulse. It’s kind of like electricity — painful electricity, but not too painful. Not yet, anyway.

Sometimes I try to ignore it and it goes away. I’m always grateful when it does.

If I can’t ignore it, I try to head it off with deep breaths, drinking lots of water, cold showers, yoga, or painkillers. Sometimes these help. Sometimes the clouds part before the storm even begins.

I’m learning not to clench. Not to contract the muscles in my face or tense my head in pain when the pulses twinge, or the fog builds and begins to pressurize into storm clouds. When I relax my face, my head, my mind, and allow the fog and painful sparks to be as they are, sometimes that helps, but it’s not easy.

The storm will start to get dense and completely invade the top half of my face — behind my eyes, temples, and above my forehead, it feels like the nerves are tangled in tight knots. It concentrates behind one of my temples. My head feels heavy. The clouds start to throb. A slow, irregular heartbeat of deep, dull pain. Rising and falling like a tide. The electrical pulses haven’t stopped either. They strike like lightning bolts through the twisty knotted nerves.

A head is a small place for a thunderstorm.

My eyes water and I try to act normal. Saying “I have a migraine”, if I have something I need to do, is usually pointless — nobody can help, even if they want to — and I can’t always quit life for the day.

I tend to squint a lot, and my eyes water. Light doesn’t hurt — not exactly — but it is unpleasant. It’s like the clouds feed on it. Direct sunlight or a bright flash can trigger a lightning bolt.  Sharp, loud, or high noises also feed the thunderstorm and tighten the knots. Especially when abrupt or unexpected. They call it ‘sensitivity’ to light and sound. I can actually deal with either pretty well — as long as it’s not sudden — but when I find some quite darkness, the relief is palpable. I lay in bed a lot. I try to keep something comfortable and cool against my forehead. Rotating pillows and shifting the blankets works well. The softness on my skin is especially soothing.

The only problem with a dark, quite, soft bedroom is that even in the absence of any painful stimuli, the storm still rages. Only now there are no distractions.


Photo: Migraine by makelessnoise
License: Creative Commons

Sometimes, I’ll remember again to release the tension in my head and in my body, and consciously relax, and it’s a relief. And then the knotty nerves throb or a lightning bolt strikes and I forget about anything but the pain. I want to cry, and often do. Time for a pity party! Why me!?? What did I do to deserve this??!?

If I can fall asleep, I am grateful. If not, I have to get up and distract myself because lying there awake becomes its own torture.

By this time, it’s been maybe four to seven hours since the fog first started rolling in. I haven’t eaten much because my stomach is tight and nauseous and frankly, the prospect disgusts me. Sometimes making myself eat something helps with the pain. I’ll try the cold shower, the yoga, an orgasm, or the painkillers again. Sometimes these work.

Eventually, it happens. The lightning gets a little less intense. The rhythmic tide gets a little more distant. My mind is slightly clearer. I get really stoked.

Sometimes, the storm takes pity and breaks apart rapidly, but usually it’s a slow process. The fog lazily clears out and the nerves untie themselves. The lightning bolts weaken back into static pulses. This can take an hour, or six hours. I never really know.

Once the clouds have fully parted my head feels open and light. I’m incredibly happy but incredibly tired. Even if I just laid around in bed all day, I’m fucking drained. I feel like I just spent the day hiking in the sun.

These storms take a lot out of me.

I always promise myself to never take this painless state for granted again. It’s such a gift.


*Note, I’m still working on the follow-up to Humanity – We Have a Problem! It’s a big article and is taking some time to complete, but it is on the way!

2 thoughts on “How Migraines Feel

  1. dood says

    I +1 everything author wrote above, from experience. I have a sister 18 months my senior who has been tormented all her adult life from chronic migraines and an identical twin brother who has never had one migraine! My dad said he thinks he had about six migraines in college. Explain yourself science!
    I have had roughly 18 migraines from college age 19-20 years old onset until my last one in the middle of 2014 at 31 years old.

    Roughly half of my migraines I’ve involuntarily puked, half of the time I puked I had to pull my car over IMMEDIATELY because I couldn’t make it home in time. Not cool, not fun, much pain. No officer I’ve not been drinking, I have a bad migraine and thank you for the bright light. No, I’m not on drugs. No I don’t want you searching the car because I have to puke more and I’d like to do it in the comfort of my own home… I digress. *****But cops reading this, yes it’s a legit excuse for finding someone abruptly pulled over puking/having had puked. Respect the medical condition. We are in so much pain our body thinks we’re losing a fight and is puking up food to allow the brain and muscles more access to blood, so that the body can do battle to survive. ***** I’ve been saying for years that I would never wish a migraine upon my worst enemy.

    What has helped me, almost nothing. The Excedrin Migraine pills, (generic work just as well and are cheaper) those help. Learn your warning signs, keep a journal if you must. Learn to prepare. As soon as I get an aura, I chug tons of water, take an Excedrin migraine pill or 2, and start to mentally prepare myself to do battle… with myself. I never use the whole bottle before they expire which sucks. It’s worth the expense however. I keep a bottle in my car at work and at home. I want to be able to take it immediately upon getting an aura. When having a migraine you’d pay a tidy sum to have it over with.

    Once during a migraine in college a platonic female friend of mine rubbed (I think in a circular motion) the pad/web part of my left hand in between the thumb and index finger. She said it was a pressure point, it helped. Could have been the caring attention of a friend, I’m not sure. Just before she rubbed my hand, she also had me chug a huge glass of orange juice, which promptly made me projectile puke. I barely made the toilet that time. I think the acidic juice just shot my already migraine weary stomach into overdrive. So, maybe just try the hand rubbing bit of my college friend’s remedy!

    Thanks for the post Aaron. Strength in numbers! It’s good to know there are others who get randomly selected for torture by the Migraine Gods.

  2. Wow, I’ve never read a description of migraines that is so accurate and on point. My best friend used to say to me all the time, “I have a migraine, do you have some Aspirin?” I’d roll my eyes and debate in my head whether it was worth pointing out why exactly he does not have a migraine. I come from a family with at least four generations of migraine suffers, including both my siblings, one male and one female. Between the three of us, we’ve probably seen more doctors, been on more medications and tried more home-remedies than most people even knew existed. But when it comes down to it, only two medications have ever helped me, and even then, not completely, they just help subdue it for a while. One was prescription the other was not. The best one? A one-two punch of 3 Excedrin Migraine with 600-800 mg of Ibuprofen. Also, they only go away in my sleep. Not that sleep necessarily makes them go away, I may wake up with one. But it won’t go away without the sleep. But the one thing I’ve learned about migraines is that nothing ever works for everybody.

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