Known Johnson

April 18, 2006

This is where the sun stabbed me

Filed under: General,Migraine — Tom @ 11:52 pm

Wouldn’t you know it, but I woke up this morning and sat down for some cereal when I noticed, far off in the distance, one bright speck of light. “Are you kidding me?” I asked out loud. I kept looking, moving my head side to side, moving my eyes, watching where the speck of light went, but sure enough, it stayed in exactly the same spot in my vision. Another visual migraine – three days after a full-blown migraine, and a couple weeks after another visual migraine.

The clock reported a little before 6, so I figured I’d probably be safe to drive – the visual migraine rarely lasts too long, generally 20 minutes or so – so I waited it out, ate my cereal, and examined the shapes. This was a different one – not the “scintillation” I reported before but a single, constant spot of extreme brightness when I blinked, and at other times just a general area of missing data, as if something had obscured a camera lens. It was located right in the center of my vision, and reminded me of the afterimage you get after staring at a bare lightbulb. It changed shape slightly – from a tiny ice cream cone to a big-eared bunny head (appropriate given the proximity to Easter) to an oblong shape. It’s impossible to report a size – it was small, but I can’t say it was an eight of an inch or something because that depends entirely on where you hold the ruler. Imagine the headlights of an oncoming car a hundred, maybe two hundred feet away. Small – and yet so distracting.

I awaited the scintillation but it never came. The spot was a spot and that was all. It didn’t grow. It slowly shifted shapes until eventually it just wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t even notice it disappear, actually. But afterward I realized that my sunny mood of the past two days was gone, replaced by what wouldn’t be considered unhappy, but a little more gritty and tired. And a mild headache came along for the ride.

My appetite was also back with a vengence, which was a very strange realization. One day of avoiding the concept of food (the day of the big migraine) followed by two days of almost total, but content, indifference to food, and suddenly . . . feed me. It really made me wonder, what is normal? Were those two days what I could “normally” be – happy, content, not constantly ravaged by thoughts of eating and hunger pains – and this hunger, this insatiable hunger, is a result of weird, impossible-to-verify connections to the general body-wide condition of migraine? Is there even any way to know?

And it made me realize even more – that I may owe more of who I am to migraine symptoms than I could have ever realized. As I was on the way to a work-related class this morning, I listened to the new release, Silver, by Jesu, and it occured to me that the groaning, dirge-like music feels like the commotion often in my head, which seems to get amplified to extremes during a migraine (seriously, go listen to the clips to see what I mean.) I am drawn to these sounds – Jesu and the original band Godflesh, soundscapes by King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, the casual cacophony that Wilco guitarist and singer Jeff Tweedy evokes. It’s not just an enjoyment of the music they make – I feel something stronger when I hear certain passages in their music that makes me think they, too, know the weird reality that surrounds a migraine (Tweedy definitely does, the others, I have no idea. But they “get” it, I think.) And it even goes so far as to influence the art that I do enjoy – the splatter paintings of Pollack, the color fields of Rothko, things that don’t scream “this is a house.” I find solace in them, maybe, because it’s what I see and how I feel. And, most importantly to me, all this was reflected in the digital art I’d been doing for years and, for some reason, abandoned a couple years back. (The best of them are here.) Looking at them now, it’s obvious: these are visions compelled by the migraine experience. They weren’t created while under the influence of a migraine, but they reflect what I see and feel. It is, actually, quite shocking for me to look at again in this new light. I simply never had any idea what drove me to create art like that, to spend hours obsessing over them, until something about each one clicked in my head and I said, “Yes, this is real now.”

For those concerned by all these migraines, rest a little easier knowing that I have an appointment with a doctor on Friday morning to discuss them.

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3 Comments »

  1. Finally, someone else who gets the light-bulb-afterimage whats-its.

    Do yours have a particular color to them?

    When I get them, and I get them more often than I get migraines, they are usually fairly small (compared to the zig-zag colored flashies so excellently depicted in your flash animation), and mostly white with a blue-ish or purple-ish tinge. If I am looking at something with a busy pattern, I can’t really make out the spot, but I can tell something is off. If, however, I look at a well-lit blank wall or the sky, I can see the spot much more clearly, and the spot seems to change color…or maybe intensity (it’s kinda hard to describe) as I blink.

    Did you mention these to your doctor? If so, what did he say about them. I am planning to go see my doctor about it, but since yours is the only account of the issue that I’ve been able to find, I’m curious about your experiences.

    Comment by Uncle Midriff — November 2, 2007 @ 10:55 pm | Reply

  2. That’s really hard to say, actually. This post was a long ways back, before I was on Topamax, and things have changed drastically since that was introduced to my life. I want to say the color of these non-images was a kind of solarized light color, like staring at the sun and how it shifts colors back and forth a bit – , but also kind of the opposite color of whatever was behind them, so often they were light against dark, or dark against light. What I have had recently has been instances where something similar happens, but an indefinable area becomes impossible to look at right in the center of my vision. It’s just kind of a drop-out area. I know there’s something there, but I can’t actually say what it is, and I can’t really look at it, either. I just have to unfocus my eyes and attention and hope for the best if I don’t have my Maxalt to stop the oncoming migraine (which has been the case lately.)

    As for what my doctor said, I can’t say specifically – I know that when I mentioned most things, he just nodded and said that these were all pretty common migraine symptoms, even things that seemed unusual. I seem to get some unusual migraine manifestations – not always the typical crushing headache, so realizing that a migraine is going on is not always as easy as it might seem to everyone else. Really talk to your doctor about any weird things going on – strange things that don’t make any sense might make sense to him. I get something called “Alice in Wonderland syndrome.” Look it up – it’s pretty weird, but even weirder to experience. Just happened today, in fact!

    Comment by Tom — November 2, 2007 @ 11:17 pm | Reply

  3. Yeah, I’ve heard of that (Alice In Wonderland syndrome) before, though I can’t say I’ve experienced it.

    Your further description of the spots is incredibly dead-on with what I experience….solarized light color, opposite color of what it’s over, all of it.

    My migraines aren’t all that debilitating though, so I’m wondering if medication is something I even want to mess with. I’m glad it seems to have worked well for you (based on the posts of yours I’ve read so far).

    Regarding odd migraine manifestations, the weirdest one I have had is something I can only describe as confusion with a cascade of disconnected memories. I had just gotten off the phone with my then girlfriend (now wife), and it was like every little memory I’d ever made had been chopped up, shuffled, and then shoved into the “think about this NOW” area of my brain. One memory flowed right into the next unrelated memory in ways that suggested they were related, but try as I might, I couldn’t figure out why I was remembering all those things. I must have sat there for a good 30 minutes trying to make sense of it all. When I finally snapped out of it, I tried to call my girlfriend to tell her about it, but I couldn’t remember her phone number. I finally did remember it, but it took about 5 or 6 tries. Then about 20-30 minutes later the tell-tale migraine pain hit, and it all (kinda, sorta, maybe) made sense.

    I really must thank you for your migraine flash animation. I’d seen it before on another site (can’t remember if you were given credit or not, and now I can’t find that site). Tonight I started to get a migraine, and I was trying to explain it to my wife. Bless her heart, she’s wonderfully caring and concerned, but I could tell she was having trouble envisioning what it’s like. When I showed her your animation, it finally clicked. So, thanks for that…My wife understand me better now because of you. 🙂

    Comment by Uncle Midriff — November 2, 2007 @ 11:39 pm | Reply


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