• Philip Nino Tan-Gatue

Migraines: More than Just a Headache

For most people, a migraine is more or less just a fancy term for a severe recurring headache. As a practicing physician, I have seen the word used by many patients to mean as much. As a migraine patient myself, I know that that is not the case.

I won’t delve into the medicine behind migraines, except to say that nothing worked for me except for acupuncture. No, the purpose of this blog entry is for me to try to describe to you, reader, how it feels for me, the migraineur.

Migraines are headaches, yes, but they’re special. In my years of experiencing them, I’ve coined the term “sensory terrorism” to give people an idea of what we face.

Sensory Terrorism

What exactly do I mean by sensory terrorism? Imagine this: all your senses are heightened. Migraines may be caused by strong sensory stimuli. Bright lights, a person with too much perfume, a loud sound – these can all trigger them. However, beyond that, the enhanced sensory sensitivity can last even longer than the initial stimulus.

Anyway, let me start from the beginning.

Many migraineurs have what is called the “prodrome”. This is like the trailer before a movie. It varies from person to person. Many say they see flashing strobes of light. Others feel nothing at all.

In my case, surprisingly, I get into a grumpy mood. True story. I’ve had people predict, “Phil, I think you’re about to get a migraine,” based solely on my mood.

Next up is the headache itself. Beginning with a dullness or heaviness, it graduates into a pulsating, pounding cacophony. I can then feel the blood vessels in my head joining in on the glorified heavy metal concert the migraine is playing in my head.

If a migraine ended there, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, the migraine experience is a whole lot more. I will not get to the “sensory terrorism” part” just yet.

What it feels like

Imagine an ordinary light feeling like icepicks in your eyeballs. Imagine the smell of frying sending electric jolts up the front of your skull all the way to your brain. Conceptualize the slightest sound rocking your soul to it’s core.

Can you do that?

Then you have begun to understand what a migraine truly is.

It felt like icepicks in my eyeballs.

You refuse to eat as you fear what the flavors will do to you. You lock yourself in a room with the windows shut and the door closed and the lights out. The pounding is there, and it won’t go away.

At it’s worst, you want to bang your head against a wall. You feel like you want to crack your head open. It’s not even because you think it will help the pain; you wish to die so that the pain will stop.

Most of the time I can sleep it off. Sometimes that isn’t enough. My worst experience was when I had what is essentially a continuous migraine that lasted a week. Yes, it was that bad.

The Migraine Aftermath

Acupuncture helped me and kept me migraine free for years. However, the stress of COVID-19 is apparently taking its toll on me. I’ve had two major migraine attacks in a month. I look forward to getting acupuncture again for this.

My parting message is this: never, ever underestimate the suffering that a migraineur endures. It’s not “just” a headache. It’s a full blown assault on one’s senses. Sensory terrorism: you’re afraid of whatever can activate your sensory receptors.

What is your migraine experience? Is the similar to mine? How different is it? Please comment!


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