Underneath the skull

Abigail Gower

Staff Writer

During a migraine, neurons send messages along the trigeminal nerves, which is a major pain pathway, to the blood vessels on the surface of the brain. These blood vessels expand or dilate in response. I have been living with these migraines for far too long now. 

I once wrote that living with migraines is like playing a game of chess. You always have to think two steps ahead and relieve yourself of your trigger before the trigger is the catalyst to yet another migraine. That was back when my migraines were regulated, or as regulated as a migraine could be. 

Since I wrote that god-awful simile, I’ve been to the doctor. Going to the doctor makes me emotional. Something about it makes me feel weak, like I’m not strong enough to help myself. So when I realized I needed help, I was a train-wreck. When I have a migraine, I cry. I cry because I’m not ready to face the fact that something is happening underneath my skull and I’m powerless to stop it. 

Living without a diagnosis is a lot scarier. I believe that once I have some title to grasp onto, I’ll be okay. It’s the not knowing that intensifies my fear with each migraine. As of now, I have chronic migraines. And by chronic, I mean once or twice a week. If I start to get more frequent migraines my diagnosis will be re-evaluated. 

An aura for migraines is something that happens that alerts you to symptoms which will start to arise. For some there are visual and auditory triggers like spotting vision or ringing ears. Back when my migraines started, in eighth grade, I would see spots before symptoms worsened. I wouldn’t necessarily call those the “good times,” but they were definitely the “better times.” I could be aware of a migraine and stop it before it got worse.  

But now, having migraines has forced my body to tune in with my mind. Not having an aura anymore has required me to determine whether I’m going to have a migraine. It’s like a game show sometimes. If I was going to get a migraine but took medicine, I just won myself another good day. If I take my medicine but never have a migraine, I have to try to stay awake. If I don’t take my medicine but get a migraine, well, you get the idea. 

Migraines have especially affected my schoolwork. While I try to continue my work to the best of my ability, I make large mistakes that are impossible to recover from. I’d officially like to apologize to the English Department, specifically Mrs. Dvorak, for writing an essay on Abraham Lincoln when the prompt clearly stated the essay should be about Thomas Jefferson. 

This isn’t meant to just be me complaining. This is my attempt to help. This is my stake in the problem—relaying the pieces of my experience to allow others to relate to these experiences and make what they can out of it. 

I know how many other people deal with migraines. While they might not be as frequent, a migraine is a migraine and without proper attention, migraines inevitably spiral. 

Just in case you’ve ever wondered if that pain you had is a migraine or just a headache, here’s my experience: head pain from a migraine will likely remain on one side of the head. If you can draw a line down the middle of your head and say it only hurts to the left or to the right, you’ve probably got a migraine. My migraines are consistently on my left side. Sometimes, I get nauseous, which is another common symptom. I get extreme temperature changes, like sweating one second and shivering the next. The biggest symptom is sensitivity to light and sound. The fluorescent lights and bells at school are my arch-nemesis.  

Migraines for me aren’t just passing, they’re a 12-hour affair. It doesn’t help that the reasons I get migraines are unknown. While I have a treatment that works, nothing is perfect. It’s a guessing game most of the time. 

There are few things that help. Things that pass the time and ease the effects. I found when I have migraines that sleeping, not watching TV (podcasts, at soft volume, are an effective alternative), drinking water and pain relievers helped me through it. 

Of course, these things don’t stop it. They are merely attempts to ease the pain and the emotional, physical crash that comes with each migraine. There isn’t a strategy to winning, there isn’t even a checkmate. I wonder, why do I still have to keep playing?  

 I have a tentative answer: Because, even if I’m forced to play, it’s only made me stronger. Through each migraine a more confident, determined and inspired person erupts, one that has accepted this will be something that she can conquer. 

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