The Rat in My Brain
Pain radiates throughout the left side of my skull this morning, presently it has decided to focus underneath my left eye, as though there is a rat gnawing at the bone of the socket and simultaneously pushing against my upper left molars, his hind legs firmly entrenched in some enflamed, throbbing nerve-ladden spot just behind my left ear. The twitching of my eye only serves to further infuriate me as I try for the first time to write down the experience of a migraine while in its throes. To be honest, this one is mild or else I wouldn’t be writing anything — maybe a six with twinges of seven on a scale of 10.
The muscles in my neck are thick and stiff like new manilla rope, tugging at the base of my skull, spasming with the pulsing in my head. Sometimes the damage to my neck — bone spurs and bulging discs — can prompt a migraine, but oftentimes the headache begins first and pulls my neck into the whole neurochemical process. This isn’t your typical tension headache caused by stress; in fact, most of my pain is completely electro-chemical and induced by some still undiscovered imbalance. This chemical mess is why I’m nauseated most of the time, even when I don’t have a headache, but particularly when I do, and the meds I’m prescribed all have nausea as a side-effect, so there’s that.
Heightened senses are a common component of migraine, making sounds, tastes, smells, sights and touch distorted and overwhelming. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes loud music is soothing if it has the right beat, while a whisper is excrutiating, certain tastes are sickening and others are bland, light of nearly any intensity is painful and being touched, even by the sheets is infuriating. A migraine is so much more than “just a headache” and to hear people say, “Oh, I had one of those once,” or, “This is giving me a migraine,” is usually a clear indicator that they are ignorant of migraine disease. Twenty-five years ago, when first diagnosed, I had four or five migraines a year, and that was the norm until about four years ago when my headaches gradually became chronic — defined as 15 or more headache days per month. There doesn’t appear to be any cause for mine, although chronic migraine is more common in middle age (I’ll be 45 this year). I currently experience between 25 and 30 headache days per month — severe.
As I was lying in bed next to Crystal earlier, with the rat grinding away, I thought what it would be like if I could take my head off and put it on a shelf for awhile. Or, even trade heads, not so the other person would have to suffer, really, but so that I could have my life back, just for a day. It has been so long, years, since I didn’t have some level of head pain on a daily basis that I don’t even know what a regular day feels like. My neurologist and I are focused now on quality of life rather than a cure, so there’s a possibility I’ll never have another “normal” day — a day where my thoughts aren’t clouded, where the sun doesn’t blind me, where sound isn’t painful, smell isn’t nauseating, being touched isn’t irritating and my favorite foods taste right again. I don’t want to be pitied, my life could be so much worse, and I do manage to eek out happiness in the midst of the pain. I have learned to smile and converse in the middle of a headache, to push my way through dinner with friends when I’m nauseated, to ride in the car for hours when every movement makes me want to cry, to bite my tongue when I want to bite someone’s head off instead.
It has taken me four and a half hours to put these few paragraphs of thoughts together. I’m an English major, a writer, this should be rote, but instead it’s a struggle. My pain is still blinding, sharper now than it was when I started. Definitely a seven. There are times when I wish I were dead and others when I’m so glad I’m not. Most of the time, sadly, I’m indifferent.