Migraines: Terrorists of Neurology

I’m walking from the parking lot to the workplace. Sunny afternoon, just before 4 p.m.  — the start of my shift that ends ’round midnight. I feel good.

Abruptly out of nowhere — NOWHERE — it hits.

A shockwave of vertigo. Dizziness. I lose my balance. Suddenly I cannot walk a straight line along the short paved path to the office door. I’m weaving. I look like I’m drunk.

I cannot look drunk at the job. Neither can I let on what is happening. The show must go on. I take the chair at the (radio) board. Thank god it’s a sit-down job!

The room is rocking. Walking in the office — just from my station to the restroom 12 feet away — is a tremendous ordeal. Like walking on a boat at sea while drunk. I wish there were rails along the walls.

Of course the workplace is not rocking, neither is it on a boat.

I’m having a vestibular migraine.

For you fortunates who don’t get migraines, you are blessed, I say, blessed. Vestibular migraines — also known as vertigo-related migraines (VRM) — are a subset of migraines. Not every migraineur gets VRM. Those who do suffer truly, tremendously.

It is a migraine characterized by vertigo and dizziness to varying degrees. My most recent attack, I was able — barely — to weave to the office chair, sit and run a radio board — but only with extraordinary effort that required NOT MOVING MY HEAD at all. ANY movement set the room into a carnival house of moving mirrors.

My preceding vestibular migraine, like this one, hit abruptly about a week earlier. That’s typical. Out of nowhere it comes. You’re feeling grand one second then the next absolutely overcome by dizziness, nausea, inability to walk or stand.

Vestibular migraines do not always involve the throbbing crushing totalitarian crunching pain of a migraine. Very commonly there is *no pain whatsoever.* No aura. No precursors. Just BOOM! Severe vertigo and you’re on the floor puking or wanting to for the nausea.

This site has great info on the subject.

My migraines began about seven years ago — no doubt due to extreme stress, weather, and extreme debilitating circumstances and conditions. There is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that the Pacific Northwest chapter created extraordinarily pervasive and lasting damage from which I’ve not recovered. (I doubt I ever will.)

However, it was only last year that the vestibular migraines began. First time, I had NO idea what was happening.

I rose from bed to begin my day. Headed across the tiny studio to the bathroom. Rather, tried. And the whole apartment was rocking like a ship on a violent sea. I lost my balance barely after crossing the bedroom’s threshold. Clutched the kitchen counter. The nausea was extraordinary. I thought I was having a stroke. Or dying.

If I even made it to the bathroom (I don’t recall), it was because I crawled. Then I lay on the carpet, unable to move. I wondered: Is this my end? Is this how I die? Will someone find me lying here alone in a week?

Fast forward to researching online (at which I’m an expert). Was then I discovered that my symptoms exactly match vestibular migraines.

At least now I had an explanation and an understanding of what had happened.

Any migraineur will tell you that triggers are elusive and mysterious as hell. Migraines are among the most baffling of neurological disorders and the “cures” non-existent.

In my case, I’ve identified — to the best of my ability — my most likely triggers: poor sleep and stress.

That first vestibular migraine where I collapsed to the floor, my stress and sleep were E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S and lonstanding due to living beneath a gawd-awful asshole neighbor and his “babe” girlfriend and their noise noise noise noise noise that never ended noise.

I moved and while the stress didn’t leave my life, it abated by virtue of that move. But new stressors have entered my life. I went about 10 months without another vertigo-migraine — no doubt in part to escaping those assholes.

But in the past two weeks, I’ve had two vertigo migraines. Back to back. Something/somethings is/are clearly wrong in my life.

I managed through my 8-hour shift at the workplace this last one. This attack was milder than the preceding two. That’s like saying: “Compared to being seared by six branding irons last week, I was branded by only three today. What a relief!”

As the spinning and nausea slowly subsided during those hours, the headache entered. A deep aching vise around my skull. Not the worst bone-cruncher I’ve endured but a migraine nonetheless.

It took two days and a LOT of sleep after that abrupt attack for my system to clear out the migraine and reset.

The power of the migraine to stop the world — the migraineur’s world — is astounding. Lying in a DARK room, pitch black, no lights, no sounds, no stimuli, no NOTHING is often imperative.

But it doesn’t stop the room from rocking, the nausea, vomiting, flashes or extreme sensitivities to odors or sounds. (Though commonalities abound, one’s migraine experiences are as unique as his/her fingerprints.)

Though I don’t dwell on the worst-case scenarios of vestibular migraines (i.e., while I’m driving), I cannot overlook or ignore them either. I do not want to think about much less write about it.

My list of health issues is long. I’ve some very big challenges as I age.

However, if I could subtract one, only one from that list, I’d choose: migraines. Absolutely.

Not only are they debilitating in ways that ONLY migraineurs can understand, regarding vestibular migraines specifically, they are frightening. Because they can strike any where. Any time. Completely out of the blue. Without warning. Without precursors.  Without aura or metallic taste in the mouth or low energy. Hell, they can happen WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING … and you awake in the midst of one!

Vestibular migraines are the terrorists. The terrorists on the freeways (drive-by shootings), in airports and on buses, in cafes and in airplanes, on roads in the middle of nowhere and on city streets in Tel Aviv. They are the mad violent Palestinians of the neurological system.

I’d wish them on not even my worst enemy.


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