It's three in the morning.
My husband is massaging my neck for the sixth time in less than an hour.
I'm wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, loosening or just taking off my clothing, until I'm just about beach ready.
Around me are cups of peppermint tea, something caffeinated, hot packs, cold towels, a bucket with two shopping bags inside, a half eaten plate of food, chocolate, IcyHot, Vapo Rub and the brightly lit screen of my HP Laptop or ZTE Maven, either one has a “Mother Nature” or WebMD article up on self-treatment for migraine.
I'm off and on nauseous. Depending on the type of migraine, I'm either dangling my head over the heating vent, trying to nuke the pain, or I'm shivering under an ice towel, about to go back to the heating vent.
It comes in waves. I can be bright and cheerful one minute, and making my peace with Elvis the next. I might be dizzy. Or I might be trying to overcome the pressure that comes with the pain.
Against better judgment, I might be running for the bathroom to either vomit or dry heave. If it's the latter, then I stand in front of the mirror. I wiggle my fingers over my head, stick my tongue out and repeat “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane.” Why am I doing this?
To make sure I didn't just have a stroke, which can start off as a piercing migraine.
Assured my senses are all in check, I go back to suffering on the couch. I'll start to doze off, only for the pain to jolt me awake a half hour later.
I can't cry, because that will actually start a secondary, cluster pain in the base of my neck. One that medicine ignores. But I can whimper really, really loudly. Not that I would want to, but the pain is so hot, sharp and intense, I don't know what else to do.
Usually, I can take Excedrin or it's generic, 6-hour equivalent. It's a mix of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine. Separately, the three have little effect, except for acetaminophen, which on it's own, speeds my heart rate up to near heart-attack levels, but combined, they can reduce the pain greatly. At least 80% of the time. It's the only medication my doctor will allow.
Except.. not anymore.
The moment I discovered it was messing with my monthly cycle, my doctor decided it was time to ween me off. Besides, my husband and I want a family. So no fetus-killing drugs for me.
And no Imitrex, the flavor of the month drug every third friend I have seems to be on for everything from a minor headache to a migraine episode like my usual ones. My doctor has noted that I am a lightweight. Imitrex, Vicodin, Zofran and the hard to spell wrestler-killer Percocet, are all on the “NO” list for me, as is anything with Ibuprofen, which gives me hives. So no Motrin and no Aleve. The luxury of having an immune system made of silly string.
Hours go by. I sleep from five in the morning until three the next afternoon. And as I type this, I'm still in severe pain. Only now the pain has gone from my right side to my left. I go into town to buy a sports drink, hoping the electrolytes will do for me what purified water and a full breakfast did not.
I wear colorful sunglasses, a suggestion from not only my current doctor, who has written so many notes for this, but by doctors and specialists I've seen since I had my first migraine at five years old. My eyes are strong enough I don't usually need prescription strength, but I still need to wear something.
Why am I wearing sunglasses? Because right at the start of a migraine episode, everything gets ultra bright to me. So bright, nothing looks black anymore. It's all gray. Sunglasses mean I can function. I can read. I won't be useless.
I choose to wear colorful glasses, sometimes with funny shapes. I do this so I can take control of my disability. It's my way of saying “Hey, I have this issue, but it doesn't have me.” I can dress up my disability the same way a person with a broken leg can draw on their cast as if to say “You don't own me.” I don't have to be the stereotype of the “sad” handicapped person we see in dozens of TV ads, wearing muted tones and plain glasses. I can say I'm handi-capable and if I can't make this disease go away, I can at least coordinate it with my t-shirt.
And I've explained this story and my reason for the glasses hundreds of times since I was a kid. It's to the point where the above paragraph is so well rehearsed, my husband has caught me repeating it in my sleep. My doctor even repeats the story under her breath now as she writes me another note.
And yet, no matter how many times I tell the tale of the sunglasses and the migraine, no matter where I go, I am still treated like a social pariah.
People call me “crazy” and lie, claiming I'm making this all up. People laugh at me. Some have even tried to take my glasses from me, because my disability is “offensive” to them. They feel like my illness is mocking them.
“So what if you have a headache?” I get headaches ALL the time, I can't see what makes YOU so special.” Is a statement I have heard time and again. I'm treated like I'm stupid. I've been called worse, and people really, honestly believe this is all imaginary.
I wish it was.
But this is the life I lead and have lived for a long time. I've had CAT scans come back with the good news that I'm cancer-free and stroke-free. But the bad news that I have unlucky genetics. My mother and father suffer from migraines, and swear by Excedrin and Aleve respectively.
So I sit on the couch now, drinking a cup of coffee after having a cold Gatorade. The caffeine has hit my stomach, meaning I need to eat or the hunger will cause the ice pick migraine to stab harder. A cold shower has proven ineffective, and medicine hasn't helped.
Usually, the culprit is easy to control. Too much hard cheese, eating the wrong foods, not sleeping or eating enough are usually triggers I can control. But today, it's the weather. It's sunny and perfect now, but we have a storm coming later in the week, which is causing the barometric pressure to spike up, triggering my now two-day episode. All I can do is ride it out. I can't sleep, so I try to work through it, like it's not even there. I know I'll be screaming later, but for now, I want to feel useful.
On Facebook, someone has shared the song “Return to Pooh Corner” which has the lyric “chase all the clouds from the sky” as an action phrase.
I wish I could.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!