Wednesday, September 28, 2016


We are 10 min. north of Santa Cruz, California, on a magnificent stretch of Hwy 1, heading toward San Francisco on our way home to Washington State.  Looking out to sea, I spot a blue black slice slipping under the off-shore wind waves followed by the unmistakable blow of a second whale.  I feel a moment of supreme satisfaction.  Even though I didn't get my whale watching tour, I got my own wild sighting.

My husband and I had an opportunity to go whale watching.  It would have been a fantastic thrill to be out on the ocean with a knowledgable pro boat guy in a very large inflatable, but I knew that my head and neck would never tolerate the pounding of a small boat in the open ocean accompanied by a voluble monologue from her story-telling captain.

This last week visiting my son and daughter-in-law has been lovely.  They have accommodated us in every way possible way, putting us up, cooking, entertaining us and hanging out yakking around the back-yard fire pit as we watch a possum and then a skunk amble down the fence line a few feet away.  Still, 9 days away from home, and my headaches have begun to amp up.  I awake almost every morning in pain, which I keep at bay with abortive and pain medication and my electro-magnetic device, the SpringTMS.

On Wed., the afternoon before we plan to head home, a friend shows up a couple of hours before dinner.  I am dozing, contented, in the back-yard hammock, the sun warm and relaxing.  A rope tethered to the fence allows me to give myself a swing now and then.  I stay put as the shadows creep over me and then wander indoors to meet the new guy.  Jake hangs around for dinner and conversation until 8 or 9 pm.  My head is buzzing, circuits fried by the end of the evening and, consequently, I am in no way ready to leave in the morning.  I need our last evening to be just us and Andrew and Jenny.  We end up stretching our stay out one more day.
My nervous system is super sensitive.  Among the many sources of upset for me are people, noise and high-energy conversation, even with family and friends I love.  I can tolerate short shots of intense interaction, but if it goes on for too long without breaks and space in-between, my comfort level drops, and I begin to feel overwhelmed.  I experience a sort of mind-body split, caught between competing desires.  Even as I desperately want to participate, my body longs for a break, a quiet spell lying down, away from it all.



Like nearly all people who suffer from severe migraine, I am hypersensitive to a wide variety of stimuli including the following:
  • Changes in routine, medication and weather
  • Traveling
  • Noise
  • Flashing or flickering light, eye exams
  • Dental procedures 
  • Too many people for too long
  • Emotional stress
  • Anxiety
  • Not enough space or time between activities
  • Fatigue
  • Smells including cigarettes, gasoline fumes, wood smoke, nail parlors and more
  • Alcohol
  • Late or missed meals
  • Illness or infection 
  • Heat
  • Intense movies especially on a large screen, Imax or 3D
  • Too much computer or TV time
  • Acupuncture needles in my head
  • Neck massage in the occipital area
Any of the above may tip me over the edge and trigger a migraine or, eventually, a spike in frequency.


Conversely, hypersensitivity in other forms may herald the onset of a headache, not the cause but a warning or prodrome. If I tune in to these feelings as they arise, I can sometimes prevent the actual headache using the SpringTMS.  These include:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Euphoria
  • Fatigue
  • Mental cloudiness
  • Lack of focus or motivation
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Super-sensitivity to a variety of stimuli
  • Muscle spasms in my neck, shoulders, back
  • Earache

Aura and headache

Once or twice a month, I experience a classic visual aura, a half-moon, zig-zag pattern of scintillating light.  While I can't avoid the aura, I can sometimes abort the headache with the SpringTMS.

During the actual headache, pain is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to many of the same basket full of irritants that trigger my headaches.


After my headaches wind down, I am left feeling limp and spaced out.  I am mentally hungover, stale, lethargic and fretful at my inability to apply myself.  My concentration is poor, my mood often low, my nerve endings still buzzing with irritation to noise, lights and action.

Real Time

What this all means is not suffering one day sick in bed but three days enduring a host of disturbing sensitivities and symptoms.  Having an episodic or occasional migraine is painful but not too disruptive to your quality of life.  Having chronic migraine, that is 15 or more days per month, is profoundly difficult and destructive.  One headache with all associated symptoms bleeds into the next leaving scant time to recover my equilibrium and energy.  Coping is a constant seesaw between succumbing to the pain and pushing myself to keep moving.

This headache begins Thurs. with fatigue and lethargy.  My two-year old grandson, Lucas, arrives at 9:00 am.  We play with magnets and play dough, pick late-summer grapes from the arbor and take a short walk before lunch and then, thankfully, a midday nap.  Afternoon requires a 30 minute drive to a physical therapy appointment, but the trip home is tough.  Driving with less than full concentration is a poor idea, but more than I would like, I find myself behind the wheel when I would be better off prone.  What do you do when you are symptomatic roughly half your waking hours and still want and need to function?  Practically, the answer is....... the best you can, which is not optimal.  

Friday, I awake with a headache, not a crashing, 5-star misery but medium-grade head pain and a churning gut.  I pop a naratriptan when I get up, swill two cups of black tea and, foolishly it turns out, eat my usual bowl of steel-cut oats for breakfast in hopes this will all go away and I can carry on.  By 10:00 am my gut is churning.  In a valiant attempt to keep going, I hop on my bike and take a short ride to the neighborhood coffee shop for a chat with my friend, Stephanie.  I am happy to see her, but my attention is split between talk of our sons, writing and politics on the one hand and my roiling stomach on the other.  By the time I return home, I'm feeling better so I make myself a taco for lunch, another mistake.  My belly in revolt again, I head out for a scheduled hair cut.  By the time I get home, I'm done for.  More than ready to give up and give in to my fatigue and nausea, I head for a nap on the futon and, later, a supper of apple juice, banana and toast.

Today I'm in day-three, recovery mode.  This time I'm not doing too badly, concentrating well enough to write, eating a bland diet, enjoying a fine fall day as I look out the window at leaves beginning to turn color on the vine maples, apples ripening on my semi-dwarf tree, clouds beginning to clear to the southwest.  But I'm still in slow mo.  The challenge will be not to overdo it and set my sensitive nervous system up for yet another migraine tomorrow.


  1. My daughter suffers terribly from migraines and I feel for her. For her too it is a three day deal and perhaps three or four times a month. Hopefully there will be breakthroughs in medication and treatment so that she (and you) will be able to function better and more painlessly in the future. Best wishes, Anita (in Israel)

  2. Thanks, Anita. I hope so too, for all our sakes. Give my best wishes to your daughter.