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Migraines




"Is the noise from the fan bothering you?" Said the polite young tea house register girl.


"Yeah, sorry, it's kind of like being tapped on the head by a small piece of metal... is it alright if I sit here a few minutes? I'm really dizzy."


On a normal day, the tap-tap of the fan would be easy to ignore. On this day, the tap-tap felt like an assault on my head. I was stuck in downtown Ashland, unfit to drive home for my migraine medication and too proud to call for a ride.


I had been enjoying the Lithia Park swing set and talking on the phone with a friend when a sudden attack of dizziness caught me suddenly on the up-swing. I thought I might pass out as I staggered to a bench, explaining to my buddy in Hawaii that I guess I can't handle the swings like I used to. Then came the face tingles, followed by gagging nausea, followed a pinpoint discomfort in my temple and a sinking realization. I was incapable of operating a motor vehicle as long as I felt like I was on a boat. I decided tea might help.


The short walk to the tea house was a difficult journey. Each passing car wooshed a wave of dense silky fluff, and the bird's shrieks were stiff washboard blades. On a normal day, I wouldn't think much about the textures of the sounds. On a migraine day, when all my senses scream the imminent arrival of stabbing temple pain, when the light hurts and and my face hums with electricity and the cold finds its way through my clothes to my bones, the textures seem to predominate over the sounds that invoke them, adding their own dimension to the sensory overload.


I've heard synesthetes report accentuated cross-sensory experiences during migraine. One even noted that a novel connection between her senses shows up with migraines. Others remark that their synesthesia is temporarily diminished. I guess, when your brain is scrambled, anything can happen.


I stumbled into the tea shop with the self-conscious swagger of a cowboy returning to the saloon still drunk at ten in the morning, leaned on the counter with both hands, and asked if they had anything for nausea, like maybe licorice and peppermint. When I explained my situation, tea house girl was very sympathetic. She even let me sit despite COVID-19 lock-down. That's how I found myself pondering my situation in a cushioned chair next to the clicking fan from hell.


I should have known what was coming. I should have known that same morning during my breakfast drawing session at our table strewn with colored pencils, when I inexplicably felt as though I was floating in my chair, and I turned to stare blissfully at my girlfriend thumbing through text messages in the living room. I should have known when I told her, "You just look so beautiful right now," that something funny was happening with my brain's dopamine levels, and that my head would likely explode within 48 hours.


I have a lifelong habit of stubbornly forging ahead while my body begs me to please just lie down. I hated the idea of leaving my car downtown. But I also knew the symptoms would probably just get worse. My better judgement began to assert itself, reason clashed with pride for a few tense minutes, and I compromised by calling my girlfriend to tell her that I was temporarily disabled by the migraine demons, but that I was "walking it off" and would call back in half an hour if it wasn't better. A couple laps around downtown might help me master my senses enough to reliably handle a steering wheel.


Maybe this is a false alarm. Maybe I'm just over-reacting to a swing-induced dizzy spell.


I felt alright for about half a block before I doubled over and gagged some more with my hand over my mouth, trying to look casual, hoping passersby wouldn't think I was wasted in the middle of the day. Made the rest of the circuit walking like an old person in slow motion. Stopped to chat with a wine industry guy. Forgot the words for "tea house". Apologized for my inability to speak normally.


I've corresponded with a synesthete who also experiences speech disturbances during migraines. She has a tendency to mix up sensory language in novel ways when this happens, such as saying that she can "taste the music all the way upstairs". And yet, she doesn't have sound--> taste synesthesia. In this case, the language belies the reality.


When I'm feeling especially masochistic, I'm going to go listen through a few sounds during a migraine and record their textures. I'll revisit them later and see if they feel the same. From my prior experience, migraines don't seem to qualitatively change what I feel. They just make me 1000x more sensitive to everything, such that the only safe place is inside my closet with the door shut.


I'm curious how migraines affect other people's senses. Feel free to comment below.

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