One of the few things that’s improved about my health as I’ve aged is my ability to deal with migraine headaches. When I was younger, partly as a result of being allergic to pretty much everything in Colorado, I used to get nasty migraines. That carried into university and into Japan, but then, once day I learned to work through it.
One of the problems with getting migraines, in my case, is that I get a warning. As I’ve said before, when I’m in the early stages of a migraine, an aura appears in my vision. Eventually the aura fades and I have about 15 or 20 minutes to get to a cool dark place before the pain and nausea set in. To give you a sense of what the headache itself is like, imagine an ice cream head ache pulsing in your right temple for two hours while someone presses their knuckle into your temple.
What makes the aura phase difficult is that I know I’m going to be sick, but there are no physical signs that I’m sick. I’m therefore in the odd position of trying to explain to people why I’m having to cancel plans. This happened once when I was teaching at Kansas State. The aura hit about 30 minutes before my class was supposed to start. I told a student, who was one of the rare students who actually came to office hours, that I was going to be sick and asked her to hand out a few things to the other students and cancel class. She did so, but reported me to the head of composition. (If I’d gone to class she could have watched my face drip off my skull which probably would have inspired a different kind of report.)
(Note: This page gives a good description, with drawings, of what the aura is like. Mine is similar.)
The migraine I got after I left the Air Force Officers’ Qualifying Test was one of the worst I’ve ever had. I ended up sleeping in the TV room in my fraternity because it was the coolest and darkest room I could find. It was also in the basement which made it the quietest. In those days there was no comfortable position to lie in that didn’t hurt and didn’t make me sick to my stomach.
Since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve learned to work through the migraines. As soon as I get the aura, I drink some coffee and pop a couple extra strength something or other (not a real medicine) and I can usually muscle my way through the headaches. The next day I have a migraine hangover, which means I’m weak and have no energy.
Once, I didn’t get an aura; instead my right arm started shaking uncontrollably. I was worried I was having a stroke, but 20 minutes later the migraine hit. (Something similar happened to Serene Branson when she started speaking gibberish at the Grammy’s in 2011; she has since said she suffers from migraines.)
I also get fewer migraines than I used to. This is most likely the result of slightly better sleeping habits, less stress, and having my allergies treated. The ones I get now are almost exclusively stress-related.
As I get farsighted and start to worry about those kids on my lawn–and I don’t even have a lawn–it’s nice that something’s actually improved.