Tell someone you have toothache, and you’ll get sympathetic winces and lots of understanding. The same goes for just about any painful condition that’s common to most people. Except migraine. Despite being fairly common, those who’ve never had one just don’t get it. Go to bed for a headache? Surely not.
Describing hurt is hard. Pain is personal, and everyone has differing thresholds regarding pain levels. Here are some of the ways migraineurs have described what it feels like when you’re in the grip of an attack:
#1 - Sound Hurts
Migraine makes the slightest sound feel like a spear through the head. Hearing normal-volume talking is agony. The softest music feels like someone sawing your brain in half. High-pitched noises can cause the most hurt.
#2 - Light Hurts
It’s like the brightest flashlight is shining in your pinned-open eyes and you can’t look away. Migraine heightens all the senses, making even subdued light agonizing.
#3 - Moving Hurts
If all the bones in your body were broken, you’d need to keep still. The slightest movement would wrack you with pain. Migraineurs often find moving makes them physically sick, gives them vertigo, stimulates the head pain beyond endurance and completely incapacitates them. Many find it impossible to even lift their head off a pillow.
#4 - Disturbed Vision
Flashing lights, zigzagging sparks and tunnel vision are all BFFs with migraine. One sufferer said it’s like staring at a bright light bulb where you get the bright afterimage superimposed over your vision. Carrying on as normal is impossible when you can’t see properly. Add fear and dread, because you know crushing pain is on the way.
#5 - Pulsating Pain
Migraine pain isn’t steady like most standard headaches. It’s often confined to one side of the head, and pulses in towering waves. One sufferer described it as a ‘wanting to blow your head off with a shotgun’ level of pain. Another said repeatedly banging her head against the wall actually brought pain relief.
#6 - Confused
Migraine doesn’t come just with pain. That would be far too simple. When your brain chemistry is out of kilter, the most mundane tasks become overwhelmingly complicated. You can’t think straight, or function normally.
#7 - Angry
Anger is another common accompaniment. Migraineurs feel angry with the pain, angry if they’re ignored, angry with offers of help or sympathy, angry at their medication; just plain outraged at the world no matter what it does.
#8 - Depressed
Depression, like a suffocating black cloak, descends for many sufferers. They withdraw, wrapping themselves in a web of bleak hopelessness as though they’re at the bottom a muddy pit with no hope of salvation.
#9 - Your Head is Divided in Two
Some sufferers say they can almost feel a wall growing inside their head, with the two halves warring with each other and the wall growing bigger, expanding the pain as it swells. It causes extreme tiredness, as though your head is too heavy to hold up. Your brain stops making connections and you feel stupid and dull. Talking is exhausting.
#10 - Heavy limbs
Sufferers report feelings of unease and disorientation, with legs and arms feeling tingly and too heavy. Often, this is followed by dry mouth and creeping numbness that deadens sensation along with volcanic pressure buildup behind the eyes.
#11 - Spinning and Dizzy
Vertigo is common. The world spins, it’s hard to stand upright, and that nasty sick feeling is a constant wrench in the gut.
#12 - Disorientation
One sufferer describes cartoon stars in her periphery vision, and disorienting, burning sunbeams across her eyes. She feels scared to move because she fears falling or being sick.
#13 - Nauseous
Feeling nauseous is bad enough when accompanied by pain, but physically vomiting strains the body further and you feel like pain is killing you. Dry vomiting creates even more bodily stress and pressure.
#14 - Exploding Pain
Many sufferers feel like their brain is slowly expanding, until it feels as though the pain will explode right through their skull.
#15 - Feeling Anxious
Anxiety is common for migraine sufferers, even when they don’t have pain. It stops them making social arrangements and friendships. Migraine affects all aspects of their lives, not just those times when they’re actually feeling pain.
#16 - Face and Tooth Pain
The pain can seep into other areas of the face. One sufferer said it’s like an icicle was sewn inside her cheek. The pain made her bite holes in her cheeks.
#17 - Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be a part of migraine. Even when they’re coping with the pain, sufferers say it’s like having a mechanical monkey banging symbols, sitting on your shoulder all day.
#18 - Fear
The progressive nature of migraine is terrifying. You know what’s coming and you can’t avoid it. One sufferer says while it’s not the worst pain she’s suffered, it’s definitely the scariest.
#19 - Isolation
Feeling cut off from society, alone and lonely is common. Migraine is an overwhelming condition that has physical and emotional impacts.
#20 - Guilt
Migraineurs often feel guilty: they can’t support friends in social situations, they miss their kids important school events, they take too much time off work, they can’t keep up with household chores. It induces feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, creating low self-esteem and leading to depression.
Migraine attacks differ from person to person, but if more people understood the complexities and agonies involved, maybe sufferers wouldn’t feel so alone and misunderstood.