From Saint to Satan

One of the toughest things to deal with with migraines (except of course the intense excrutiating pain aspect of them) is how much your personality can change before, during and after a migraine attack. You probably know what I'm talking about...you might get foggy, disorientated, tired or extremely angry for no apparent reason. You snip at your family, friends and coworkers, feel like life generally stinks and your normally cheery disposition flies right out the window. On the other hand, you might get extremely happy, downright giddy and elated only to come crashing down with a severe headache a short while later.

As my family members and friends can attest (the poor souls), getting into these funks is extremely tiring and disheartening for everyone involved. Why does this happen? Well, no one really knows for sure... If migraines became a problem after an injury, that could possibly have impacted something personality wise. Another culprit can be the medications used to prevent and abort migraines. Some of these drugs can really do a number on your mood. For instance, many medications can cause tiredness, constipation and/or diarrhea, nausea, weight gain, disorientation, hallucinations, sexual disfunction and other pleasant side effects. It's pretty hard to remain your normal cheerful self when you've got all this other junk going on. Sometimes the side effects hardly seem worth the trouble...until another killer migraine comes along, and that suddenly seems much, much worse.

Truth be told, it IS hard to deal with side effects. Sure, it might help your headaches some, but it's just hard to carry on normally when you don't feel at all like yourself. Weight gain can cause image problems, lowered self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. Tiredness can cause problems with work and relationships, which in turn put additional strain on you and increase stress. Nausea and other stomach troubles can make it awfully difficult to eat right and function normally. And, well, I think it's pretty obvious what side effects such as hallucinations and sexual disfunction can do... ;-)

And then there's auras. Functioning normally is pretty tough when your vision goes out of whack (or disappears completely), you become dizzy, confused, disoriented, can't concentrate and keep seeing little flying lights whizzing past your head. Many people have problems with confusion and forgetfulness before, during, or after a migraine episode. This also can cause problems with work, family life and your social life. It's an intresting paradox that things which help with weight gain (such as exercise) can seem downright impossible to do because the same medications which tend to cause the weight gain in the first place make you too tired to do anything. Many people report cravings for sweets on certain preventatives, which are hard enough to handle normally, much less with encouragement from your medication.

The pain itself is a terribly hard thing to deal with. Being in pain is not a pleasant experience for anybody, and takes a toll on your emotional well being. Many people struggle with self-doubt, depression, and feelings of helplessness associated with dealing with intense and/or persistant pain. Chronic pain is not an easy thing to deal with, and it requires a great deal of emotional strength. Lots of people end up feeling completely wiped out, exhausted and "zombie-like" after a migraine attack, which can leave them almost as incapacitated as when they had the headache.

After having chronic daily migraines for over two and a half years, I thought I had come to terms with things fairly well. Sure, there were the times when I got a headache, felt depressed and all I wanted do was sit in a dark room and cry my eyes out and curse being chosen to suffer from this hidious affliction. There were the extreme letdowns when I worked myself up into giving myself an injection of Imitrex or going into the urgent care center for a shot of Demerol (I hate needles), or allow myself a moment of intense hope after taking a new medication for the first time, only to find it never made my headache go away. But generally, I had accepted the daily pain, and learned to work and live with it. After leaving the headache clinic, where the cycle of pain was broken, I saw the world in an entirely different light. Trees looked more green, the sky was larger, the whole world was so beautiful. I felt like a huge boulder had been lifted off my body. I was happeir than I have ever been in my entire life. My friends and family noticed the dramatic improvement in my mood. When I went in for a check-up, my neurologist was startled at how healthy and happy I looked. The color was back in my cheeks, the feistiness back in my attitude, and life was good. When I got my first migraine after this wonderful hiatus, I wondered how on earth I dealt with it before. When I started getting daily ones again, my mood plummeted to an all-time low, and I put myself and the medical community at large into question once again.

Luckily, I was able to stop that daily streak before it ended up being too long, and started seeing things on a more even keel. I still get pretty down after having a migraine attack, but I know I'll feel more like myself again later and talk myself through it.

So, what can you do about these mood alternations? Knowledge is a pretty powerful tool. Realize that you are not abnormal for having these feelings and know that there are many other people out there that feel the same way you do. Also, you should be sure to mention these aspects to your doctor as they could indicate a different illness, and it is important to have everything checked out. Keeping information from your health care provider, as unrelated as it may seem, is never a good idea. Bring up everything. If it's related, it could help in your diagnosis and treatment. If it's not, you've got nothing to lose. Also, know that you will live through this and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Research on migraine medications continues, and there is a wider understanding of them now. As tough as it may be sometimes, exercise can also be an important factor. Even taking short walks can do wonders for your self esteem and general health. Many people find relaxing music, dim lights, and fresh air helpful. And always remember, support is important. Find a migraine support clinic in your area, stop by the alt.support.headaches.migraine newsgroup or the IRC channel #ashm and talk to other people in similar situations as yourself. Understanding you are not alone is one of the most helpful things you can do. Discussing your feelings is important and it's good to be able to talk to someone who understands. We're all in this together.

Take care! Be well!


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