The other day I watched a bright flickering light near my computer at work. I was reminded how a flickering light, or the flash of a photocopier, or even a camera at one time could bring on a migraine headache. I paused for a moment and thought about the last time I had endured a migraine. It must have been 2005.
My first migraine came on quite suddenly when I was age 12. I was walking the short path that ran from the edge of our yard through some trees to the garden on my parents’ farm in the Interlake area of Manitoba. My vision went brown, but I dared not stop walking the footpath. My father had just finished yelling at me to get out to the garden and hoe those weeds. Any hesitation in my gait would certainly be read by my father as a rebellion against his god-given authority. Surely I would have received a beating for such insubordination. So, I stumbled forward as my vision faded.
Once I got to the garden, I found my way to a nearby tree and slumped to the ground, out of my father’s range of vision. I prayed that he would not come looking for me, as I wondered what was wrong with my eyes. My vision went darker, and then I began to see bright lights flashing. I was terrified that I was going blind.
“I’m feeling sick,” I informed my younger brother assigned to work with me.
He ignored what to him must have sounded like a lame excuse to get out of gardening. “Here’s a hoe.” I held out my hand to receive the hoe, but could not see where to reach. My brother noticed the “miss” and realized I wasn’t kidding — I wasn’t a kidder.
“Wow, something really is wrong with you,” he exclaimed. Clearly, I wasn’t presenting a pathetic attempt to get out of an afternoon of hoeing weeds.
My head began to pound with searing throbs of pain which began in one eye, and then shot into the side of my head. I lay down in the dirt, feeling the rhythmic throbbing. Then came the nausea. I threw up my freshly eaten lunch: my mom’s home-made bread and purple bits of beets from her borsch.
That business being done, my brother had returned to my side. “Here,” he said. “Have some water.”
In the few minutes it took him to go to the house for some water, I could see again — between the flashing lights — and I reached for a sip of water to cool my raw burning throat. We dared not tell our father about the incident. We knew he would not take me to the doctor. Even when my brother had ripped the entire length of his shin wide open on a jagged rock while running in the ditch, my mom nursed the wound daily, morning and night without ever breathing a word to our father. The silence kept my brother safe from a beating.
After that, a migraine usually announced itself upon awakening in the morning. I was visited by the flashing lights; the brown-out vision; tingling in my tongue and arm; and the searing pain periodically from that time until 1980, when I was involved in a rear-end collision. I didn’t know until then what the diagnosis might be. After the accident, the frequency of headaches increased to about once a week. As an adult, I did have a family doctor who declared I was getting migraines. He prescribed a strong painkiller. I forgot the name of it, but it was stronger than over-the-counter painkillers. I started off by taking one or two. At first, it provided some relief. But, after a few weeks, two pills no longer worked, so I upped my dosage to three pills. Soon, the pills I was taking didn’t even phase the migraine. Before long, I was taking up to eight pills and got no relief. I would go to bed with an icepack and just try to numb the pain.
My friend Joyce told me about a reflexologist and suggested I might want to try this “natural” form of treatment. “Anything — I’ll try anything!” I moaned, dreading my next attack.
The next time I felt the onset of a migraine I called the reflexologist. Amazingly, before the treatment was over, the migraine had subsided. The reflexologist sent me home to bed to “sleep it off,” and I didn’t argue. I slept for a long time and woke up with the usual “migraine hangover” — but I knew I had found the solution, a way to cope with the pain. After that I continued my weekly reflexology treatments. I still got migraines, but less frequently, and they were less intense, pain-wise.
I was so impressed with the reflexology treatments that I decided to take the course and become a certified reflexologist — a goal I had accomplished by 1982.
Many years later I noticed another change in the patterns of the migraines. I began seeing the warning signs — the onset — of a migraine: the flashing lights, the feeling of talking into a tunnel. What I was trying to say was often dis-joined from the words that actually came out of my mouth. But the pain never came. I went from “flashing lights” to “migraine hangover” within fifteen minutes.
Many changes occurred before that day arrived; however, it became obvious to me that I was healing. I attributed the progress to the care I was learning to provide for myself. Rather than serving everyone else first, I began looking after me. As a child, I had been taught that self-care was an act of selfishness. But, as a result of finding a good therapist who was helping me get my life back on track, I was learning a new way to live. I was off painkillers and learning to eat healthy. Thanks to my therapist, I chose to divorce my husband; I left a punishing, fear-based religion; and I moved to a new province, away from the prying eyes of my past friends and family members who chose to shun me.
The flickering light at my computer passed. I did not have a “migraine hangover” either. Today, I am migraine-free! I am free in other ways, also. My life has changed radically for the better. I am regaining my health naturally, and I am grateful for this path I have chosen, even if it does have some rough spots. I know the worst is over!
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