I just had an epiphany. I’m a migraine sufferer, and I’ve always thought my first migraine happened sometime during high school. I remember I was working on a computer at my dad’s office in the summertime and suddenly lots of little black dots appeared around the edges of my vision. I sat back and watched in fascination as the black dots came closer and closer together, crowding out my eyesight until I could barely see. By that point, I started to freak out that I was going blind. I told my dad, who called my doctor. The doctor booked us in that afternoon, and one of the first questions he asked me when I sat down in his office was, “Do any of your family members get migraines?” (Well, yes, my mom.) After examining me, my doctor told me there was nothing wrong with my eyes and he was almost certain that I was having a migraine, which runs in families. Then he told me that I might experience a painful headache very soon. He was right.
So, what’s my epiphany? I was sifting through old posts on the New York Times’s Migraine blog, and I started reading a post by the neuroscientist Oliver Sacks (I’ve posted before about his writings on the incredible connections between music and the brain), recalling his first migraine:
“I have had migraines for most of my life; the first attack I remember occurred when I was 3 or 4 years old. I was playing in the garden when a brilliant, shimmering light appeared to my left — dazzlingly bright, almost as bright as the sun. It expanded, becoming an enormous shimmering semicircle stretching from the ground to the sky, with sharp zigzagging borders and brilliant blue and orange colors. Then, behind the brightness, came a blindness, an emptiness in my field of vision, and soon I could see almost nothing on my left side. I was terrified — what was happening? My sight returned to normal in a few minutes, but these were the longest minutes I had ever experienced.”
As I read, I flashed back to a moment when I must have been 4 or 5. I was vacationing with my family in Fort Lauderdale, and we were outside in a parking lot. I remember that it was sunny. Then, for a few seconds, everything around me became brighter than the sun, and then I couldn’t see. Minutes later, my vision returned. I never told anyone about it, fearful that I was losing my vision because I’d stubbornly refused to wear sunglasses.
I didn’t know that Oliver Sacks wrote a book on migraines, but now I’m definitely going to have to pick it up. And I’ve always related to Joan Didion’s essay “In bed,” from her book The White Album. It starts “Three, four, sometimes five times a month, I spend the day in bed with a migraine headache, insensible to the world around me.”