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When Migraine and Irritability Are Intertwined

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I’ve lived with chronic migraine for longer than I can remember, to be honest. No, it hasn’t always been chronic, but it has always been there.

The realization that I needed to take a step back, focus on my health, and accept my parents’ offer to move back home, was a hard one to come to terms with.

After finding someone to take over my lease, and packing at all weird hours of the night — you know when I would feel good for an hour or so… my parents drove halfway across the country to help load everything up and bring me home.

It took three days to get home. Three long, exhausting, unbearable days.

And let me tell you, I thought I was angry as everyone around me loaded my stuff into the trailer. That didn’t even begin to touch on my short temper when I really needed to stop and eat.

And no, I’m not talking about being “hangry.”

I’m talking about irritability. 

And wow.

You’d think I was 13 going through my moody, mad at the world phase.

But the thing is, I’m 20. It isn’t a phase. It’s a symptom.

I fully recognize that there is no excuse for the behavior, and I fully recognize when I’ve reached the “irritable” stage of my migraine. Sadly, like the pain itself, it can’t just be turned off, and knowing that I can’t just stop being short with someone once it’s started, actually makes it worse.

Sometimes I don’t notice it right off the bat. Like last week, as I dreaded packing my kitchen and the thoughts of trying to even start kept getting all jumbled together, I called my mom. I was expressing that I didn’t know how to pack my kitchen.

She started explaining how to individually wrap the coffee mugs and how the plates needed to be stood on end… and for some reason, something about those plates set me off.

I was done. I didn’t want more ideas. I didn’t want her advice. I was mad I even called in the first place.

Soon it was one-word answers. Finally, the conversation ended and I’d probably managed to pass some of my irritability through the phone to her.


Who gets irritated about plates?

But, it wasn’t really the plates.

It was the way her voice came through the phone. It was the fact that I could probably hear some sort of background noise somewhere. My head was already throbbing, but somewhere in the conversation, the pain started searing my brain. I was caught between trying to answer her simple questions regarding what was holding me up, but found myself struggling to find the words, and if I found the words, I couldn’t say them because my jaw was tightening up. So began the one-word answers.

One-word answers aren’t a solid form of communication.

Everything about what should have been a simple conversation was so difficult.

And nothing she was saying was even resonating because the only thing resonating was the pulsing that was growing louder and louder.

But, that isn’t something you can explain when you’re in that place.

The final leg of my move was one giant strung-out irritability attack.

What should have been a wonderful surprise visit from my sister and niece, only made me angry.

How can I be angry that my sister loves me enough to drive for hours to see me before I move back across the country?

My migraine knows, but I don’t.

Maybe my anger with my pain was just coming through.

The reality that I can’t handle surprises. The reality that if I make a plan to do one simple thing, I can really only do that one thing and can’t add in extra stops. We stopped to turn in my WiFi modem, which turned into pausing for lunch, where I sat outside and didn’t have my sunglasses.

That pause.

For everyone around me, it was a simple pause in their day. But, I was bedridden for the rest of the day. All because I didn’t want to hold everyone up and run to my car to grab my sunglasses, because it was cloudy and we weren’t really going all that far.

Turn around and the next day I had a house full of people helping load up the trailer. It was like my crankiness was contagious.

Or maybe moving when it’s hot and humid outside just makes everyone a little more irritable.

And, I really wasn’t allowed to help much.

And when everything was all said and done, my pillows had been the first thing loaded and packed in the far back of the trailer. My pillows.

We’d been going nonstop all day only to pause for lunch and get on the road to start the first leg of the trip back home.

We quickly discovered how much slower we’d have to go because you can’t go the speed limit pulling a 12-foot-long trailer.

Also, my carpal tunnel doesn’t love holding a steering wheel when it’s windy for an extended period of time. Surprisingly, my head gave in before my wrists.

Fast forward to day 2 of the journey…

I slept a whole lot of none. I took a whole lot of midrin and then some very large ibuprofens. Nothing was breaking this pain in my head. Yet here I was, knowing I’d have to sit and somehow support my head with a neck that was done for… for eight hours.

My mom had bursts of being talkative. I was not in the mood for talkative. I didn’t even want to hear the radio. And my God, when the sun came out halfway through Indiana, I was ready to rip my eyes out it hurt so bad.

Day 2 wasn’t as bad with irritability, but I was really close to just making my parents drop me off at a hospital.

Day 3…

My parents had been on the road since early Saturday. We left my apartment mid-Tuesday. It was now Thursday.

Now throw in a sick and miserable kid. An old guy pulling a trailer through the mountains, who was literally almost killed by a semi the day before, and a mom who doesn’t love the freeway or driving in the mountains, who is also terrified me and my dad are going to just get into it any second and you have a full-blown recipe for disaster.

Now let’s just leave it at this… There was a bit of yelling.

But now we’re home. And much more rested.

The point is that the irritability isn’t just an attitude problem. Which is really hard to comprehend. I mean, most people get irritable when they’re angry or something is bothering them.

For me, it’s because I’m in pain.

It’s that moment I recognize that I have to eat lunch now. I have to go pee now. I should stop talking now, because if I don’t I might just throw up.

It’s almost like another warning sign, but one that starts after the pain has set in. It lets me know that the pain is going to get worse. It’s like a giant stop sign letting me know that whatever I’m doing needs to be cut short.

I know it comes off as demanding. I know my short answers come off as rude. I know those short answers come out with a tone of voice that is less than polite.

The last thing I’m trying to do is make an excuse for it. It is what it is. My short, nasty answers are my body’s last attempt at getting across the amount of pain I am in.

And, I’m sorry.

It may be directed at you, but it really is directed at the pain. I’m sorry there isn’t a way to funnel the frustration somewhere else.

So yes, I’m irritated, but no you didn’t do anything wrong. And yes, I’ve notified my Migraine Buddy that yes, I did in fact experience “irritability” as a symptom today, and yes I noted that my irritability irritated me.

Originally published: September 9, 2018
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