When I tell someone I get migraines, shockingly the most common response is, “Oh, I am so sorry! I get headaches sometimes, too.” Which, if you’ve ever experienced a true migraine, you know that reply is almost laughable. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re simply trying to comfort me using empathy, and for that I am appreciative. However, there is a very distinct difference between a headache and a migraine. I am also unlucky enough to experience what my neurologists have called a more abnormal type of migraine: hemiplegic migraines.
According to Healthline, hemiplegic migraines only affect .03 percent of Americans, and cause (usually) temporary paralysis and weakness along one side of the body, often mimicking a stroke. The symptoms can last for several days. For someone with this disease, life is experienced differently, with adjustments being made constantly in order to keep their symptoms at bay. Now I cannot speak for everyone, but here is a glimpse into what an average day for me is like as someone who chronically struggles with this disease:
5:30 a.m. My alarm jolts me awake. Due to the migraine that lulled me to sleep the night before, my head feels like it’s vibrating and my whole body feels like it was hit by a car. The two medications I took to try and make the migraine go away last night plus the three medications I take every night to try and prevent them from even occurring aren’t making my tiredness any better. I take my two morning medications and get ready for school.
6:30 a.m. I’m on the road. The weakness down the left side of my body made it take me a little longer to get ready than usual, so of course I’m running late. I scarf down some food, knowing if I don’t, I’ll pay for it later. I also chug a cup of coffee, hoping the caffeine will propel me through the rest of the day. The commotion and lights of the traffic physically hurt me.
8:40 a.m. My first class of the day. Since I commute to school, I only have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they’re back to back. 12 credits this semester. My brain is literally tired from the night before, so I’m struggling to focus on my professor’s lecture. Because I sometimes miss class due to my disease, I try to make an extra effort to participate in discussions, so I shake myself awake.
1:50 p.m. I’m on my way to my last class of the day. With all the lectures, class discussions and tests, my brain feels like mush. Because of the lingering weakness in my left leg, it’s also sore, so I’m starting to limp a bit. This is the turning point of the day. If I’m going to get an attack, I’ll usually know by this point. Unfortunately, today is one of those days.
I begin to feel just…uneasy. A sense of dread creeps into my body. Words spoken to me become confusing, colors and sounds seem more intense. My right arm begins to twitch a bit. However, due to the confusion and “out-of-it” feeling, I don’t become aware of what’s going on until I feel that dreaded dull pain that begins to almost ping above my left eye. Knowing I’m in trouble, I chug a bottle of water and eat something, hoping it’s just my body telling me I’m dehydrated or my blood pressure is low. I learn in about 10 minutes this is not the case. I sit through the rest of my class, then limp to my car in search of my rescue medication.
4:00 p.m. I’m on my way home. I took my first rescue medication a little too late, so my attack is still slowly creeping on. The pain at this point is starting to make me nauseated and increases with every movement, so I keep my head straight on the road. I find myself shaking my left leg and arm and patting my left cheek, trying to gain some feeling and movement back, but it’s no use. The pain and confusion I’m experiencing is getting worse by the minute and the afternoon traffic reduces me to a crawl along the highway, so I begin to slightly panic.
5:15 p.m. I almost drunkenly stumble into my house. My mom instantly knows what is happening and stands up to help me. I practically fall into the bathroom, and throw up my food from the day into the toilet, and press my head onto the cold tile floor. The cold helps. My mother helps me into bed since I can no longer walk by myself and I find out my speech is also gone. My body begins convulsing due to the pain and chaos going on in my brain. Any sliver of light that manages to creep into my room sends a fresh wave of pain throughout my whole body. I writhe in pain and eventually, my conscious and sleep states begin to slowly intertwine and I feel like I’m coming in and out of a nightmare.
1 a.m. I find myself awake. My house is quiet, and my brain feels like it’s made out of mud, but my pain is mostly gone, so I am thankful. I find myself extremely thirsty, so I grab my water cup next to my bed and chug it. Due to the continued weakness and soreness in my body and face however, I spill most of it down my face and pillow. I don’t care. My head falls back onto my pillow with a thump and I’m out like a light, my body already trying to recover so I can gear up for the next day.
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