I have been suffering from severe, chronic migraine headaches for about the last 10 years. They are debilitating. Light, sound, walking, talking, thinking – just any activity of daily life become impossible when a migraine hits, literally smacking me in the head. It rears its ugly head, no not once a day, no not twice a day but sometimes 2 to 3 times a week, sometimes sticking around for weeks, literally 2 to 3 weeks at a time. I found a physician who helped me with them and now I am on six pills a night to keep the headaches at bay, four Topomax sprinkle and one Cymbalta and one-half Klonopin. Without them I am a basket case. But sometimes with them, my world spirals back into the intense cruelty and anguish with what is called “Breakthrough Migraines.”
As a child, I also suffered from migraine headaches. The severe headaches began when I was about five years old, continuing until I was 23. They would show up probably 10 to 15 times a year. I would see a cloudiness round me. I felt like I was in some sort of bubble. My brain felt kind of fuzzy — I guess that’s the only way I can describe it. Light would hurt my eyes. I would get a feeling in my body that something was about to happen. As I grew a little older, I was told by a physician that this was the “aura” that would show up before the headache would come crashing. When I was very young it was just called a big headache and I would hallucinate. One day I was screaming at my grandmother close the window across from my bed. My mother started yelling at me that my grandmother was not in the room. My mother ran out of my bedroom crying thinking that I was doing something to purposely upset her. All I saw was my grandmother standing across from my bed underneath the window with her arms folded refusing to close the window where the cold air was pouring in rushing at me making me feel really awful as I laid in bed under eight blankets, freezing. As I got older, about 12, the doctors started to use the word “migraines” to describe my bad headaches. They never gave me any medicines to make the suffering go away. I would take any kind of sinus medication, usually Dristan, climb under the blankets, naked, flipping covers off and on to regulate my temperature, keeping the space as dark and quiet as possible. After hours, the pain would either abruptly stop or slowly fade away.
Then, magically the migraines disappeared when I was 23 after one mild bout. I was working at a television station, due to Direct a pledge break the next morning. My boss, having experience with migraines in some way, showed up to Direct the break pledge break, knowing that I had a migraine the day before and how devastating they could be. He thought I might not show up and, just in case I did not, though I said I would call the night before if I was too ill, he came in to work to make sure the Directing shift was covered. One thing that he said to me that morning as he stood behind me watching me Direct that 7:30 a.m. break was very curious to me at the time. He said that he heard that marijuana helps migraine headaches and it may be worth a try for me. I was so shocked to hear those words come out of my boss’ mouth, but I thought I would try anything. Little did I know that that was going to be my last migraine for quite a number of years. Little did I know that migraines and marijuana would come up again later in my life.
Now switch to 2007. Severe headaches came rolling back. These were extremely severe headaches, similar to the ones I recalled from my childhood and young adult days. But these were very different headaches. The onset was quite different. I didn’t know whether to call them migraines or not. The initial onset came, as I found out through medical testing, as the result of a hormone imbalance that is hereditary. I’m on hormone replacement therapy which helps with that health issue, but it has not helped the headaches. My general practitioner sent me to a migraine specialist to discuss these new headaches. I thought that since they were so foreign from migraine headaches of my youth, they may not be migraines and they may be related to the stress I was under at the time because of the hormone problems and other issues in my life at the time. The migraine specialist prescribed a week’s worth of testing. My head felt like a pin cushion and a balloon about to explode during the testing.
Before I go any further I need to tell you about the results of those tests and the nature of my new, 2007, and current migraines. I suffer from two types of migraines: one known as “dizziness migraine” and the other, “migraine without an aura.” Actually, I have two types of dizziness migraines, one where the room starts to spin and the other one feels like my brain scrambles like eggs inside my cranium. The dizziness migraines seem somewhat under control. I rarely get those anymore. The medication works pretty well with these types of headaches, but when they don’t, the dizziness of one sort or the other comes back, I get immediately nauseous, then the headache starts and it quickly grows in intensity. Nothing stops the spinning of the room or my brain. My head, for some reason, begins to feel like it has a point at the top of it and the spinning brain begins to squeeze out of the point. The migraine without the aura is another type of intensity that comes on with a bang is if somebody shot me in the head with a gun. I can be shot anywhere in the head, not necessarily the temple, like most. I can be bored in the side of the head, down from the top of my head, from the back of my head, the base of my skull, straight up through the top of my head, from my jaw or through my forehead. It hits with a sudden bang. It is excruciating.
So, my migraine doctor put me on six pills as I mentioned before four of one pill and two others. They keep the migraines at bay pretty well, but not always. Nothing holds off a migraine permanently. I have no idea what brings on my migraines that breakthrough the medication not stress, not freshly mowed grass, not changes in the weather, not foods, light, dark, pet dander, cat fur or any of the allergens that I know I already have. They just splat. Hit me. Shoot me like a rifle in my head when they break through. With no aura, I have no warning.
Many people have medications that they take for breakthrough migraines such as Relpax, Imitrex, and Zomig are popular on the prescription side, or Tylenol or Excedrin Migraine on the over the counter side. All are like popping candy to me, candy that tastes like crap and does nothing. I’ve tried them all. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get a really upset stomach from them. That used to get exciting, a massive headache and an upset stomach from the supposed cure for my headache. I’ve tried them all. What seems to keep my headaches at bay is fine, but nothing really helps me with the breakthroughs from the realm of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
So, there must be treatment options because I’m still alive and those breakthrough migraines can last as long as the standard migraines prior to having medication. The breakthrough migraines can last a day, a week, three weeks, a month or two months. There’s no telling when a breakthrough migraine will just decide to stop by. I don’t want to put a bullet through my head to make it stop! That’s not an option. I want to live.
Excedrin migraine is made of aspirin and caffeine. The aspirin will literally rip apart my stomach because I have stomach issues, but caffeine is helpful for my migraines. Too bad I can’t split the two. So, from time to time I choose to use a little bit of caffeine. Caffeine is very hard to regulate for someone who does not use caffeine, ever. Caffeine makes me shake and keeps me awake. Caffeine is not a good drug for me. 1 ounce does nothing, 2 ounces does nothing. Sometimes 3 to 4 ounces is fine. My limit is 6 ounces. But there’s a trade-off. If I use caffeine I may not sleep for up to three days. So, I lie awake and the shakes may come back. It may be difficult for me to do anything because I have not had any sleep, but the migraine may go away so I’ll be half-asleep, unable to function, but my body will not let me sleep.
I remembered what that boss told me back when I was 23 just after I completed Directing that 7:30 a.m. pledge break. When he told me that marijuana might help my migraines I thought, it’s worth a try. I’ve tried it. Two to three tiny little puffs do not make me high, but they make a migraine go away within 20 minutes. I can sleep that night and function the next day. The breakthrough migraine is gone. Sure, a breakthrough migraine is going to return at some point, they always do. Marijuana is not a cure, but I have found it to be an incredible form of pain management. But three puffs and the migraines gone for months, I can sleep and function rather than staying awake for days with caffeine or ingesting all sorts of chemicals that don’t work or make me sick in other ways with those over-the-counter or prescribed medications? Which makes sense? What would you do?