My experience with migraine attacks – from loss of vision to unexpected triggers

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I’ve never really spoken about my battle with migraines before, mostly because they’re so few and far between.

However, I thought it important to share as it's Migraine Awareness Week from 5-11 September, and so other migraine sufferers can read about my experience, spurred on by the fact that 2020 and 2021 have been, undoubtedly, monumental on the health front.

My experience with migraines

I remember my first migraine well as it was, quite frankly, terrifying. I was at school at the time, perhaps eight or nine years old, gearing up for Christmas and standing in choir practice. I remember looking at my music teacher, who’d taken on the role as conductor, and she quite rapidly began to disappear as I unexpectedly lost part of my vision.

When I have one of my migraines, I lose sight in one eye. This is part of an ocular migraine, which is what I suffer from.

As part of an ocular migraine, which doctors have told me I suffer from, you lose vision in one eye for a short time, usually just less than an hour.

The experience is so hard to explain to people who’ve never had one, but I’d best describe it as that rainbow-like shimmer you see in the petrol puddles occasionally left on the floor.

It's a scary experience but, as I've come to understand that I am a migraine sufferer, I've slowly started to come to terms with them and what the triggers are for me personally.

I can always tell when I’m about to get a migraine as my vision slowly starts to disappear. I usually hold out my arm and if the hand is missing well, then ‘ding ding ding’ migraine it is! One of my worst memories was while playing the guitar and, as I looked down, my hand that was doing the strumming was no longer there.

Can I just have a paracetamol and make it go away? Unfortunately not, as another charming side effect of my migraines is sickness and nine times out of ten I’ll be sick during an attack.

The remedy?

A pitch-black room, sheets over the head and total and utter silence, usually for an entire day. This coupled with lots and lots of water and I’ll usually manage to rid myself of it pretty sharpish but you are left with a sore head for the rest of the day.

Another cheery side effect is numbness. Usually only one side of my body will go numb, and it tends to be my hand which will go very, very tingly, quite like when you lay on your arm all night and wake up with that numbness and run around the room thinking you’ve lost feeling for good!

The numbness slowly begins to fade as your vision starts to return.

And if that wasn't enough, I get spoonerism when I have a migraine, which is where you can't speak like you normally would. Your speech becomes slurred – charming, right?

The ‘migraine hangover’ comes after all of this and, usually, a movie night and several pints of water is the remedy you’re looking for post-migraine attack.

I found a description which, for me, best sums up my experience with migraines from The Migraine Relief Centre.

"The postdrome stage is like a migraine hangover, and can leave you with a brain that feels scrambled and unfocused. Not every migraine sufferer gets this, and even those who do might not experience it with every attack. Sufferers report feeling drained and having no energy or being unable to function properly despite no longer having headache pain. Other people describe it by saying their brain feels bruised, and they feel stupid or irritable.”

Luckily, my migraines happen very infrequently and, as I've got older, I've started to experience them less and less.

The worst migraine attack

The worst migraine attack came on my boyfriend’s birthday. We had planned the entire day out and we couldn't wait to dine out and enjoy the day ahead.

My mum was visiting us at our London flat at the time. We sneakily sorted out my boyfriend’s cake, got his presents prepared and waited for him to come into the lounge where ‘SURPRISE’ we showered him with birthday love.

I lit the candles. First mistake. This is where migraine triggers come into play…

Light can be a huge catalyst for a migraine sufferer. Especially candles and sunlight bounding off car bonnets. That kind of thing.

On my boyfriend’s birthday it took just a flicker of a candle to set me off and while he was opening gifts I had an inkling that the day was going to be a write-off.

It was then in the shower about five minutes later that the migraine got into full swing. I was horrified as I know immediately once I start to get a migraine attack that I'll have to go to bed for the day.

My second mistake that day had been drinking a black coffee, as caffeine is a huge trigger for me, and something I've only recently started to introduce back into my daily life, very slowly!

I spent the day in bed, comforted by my mum, while my boyfriend went out with a friend who was luckily on hand to take my place and do what we had originally planned.

What causes them?

Both of my parents suffered from migraines growing up, so this is a big factor.

The list of things which are said to cause migraines is, unfortunately, quite lengthy and it's different for each person.

As well as caffeine, chocolate is something I sadly tend to avoid, though I’ve never been a huge fan anyway, shock horror!

Too much alcohol, lack of sleep and stress are other huge factors, and I have been guilty of all three at points.

I now down water like it’s going out of fashion, try very hard to get enough sleep a night as possible and I veer away from triggers as much as possible, or have them in real moderation.

This is just my experience, and no two people are the same when it comes to migraines and how you feel when you have them.

The Migraine Trust is an incredibly helpful website for advice for yourself or someone else who suffers from them, and, luckily, there's a lot of healthcare support for those suffering from migraines too.

Make sure you talk to a doctor and seek medical advice if you're worried about migraines.

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