What a Migraine Feels Like

"A constant drum of pain beating against at least one part of my head without any relief...it’s very hard to find anything that can relieve the pain, but at this point for a full day of no pain, I’m pretty sure I would give about anything.” -Megan Willis via Facebook

“...the slightest thing feels like a boulder hitting you in the head. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” -Shani Tracey via Facebook

“...like you’re stuck in your own head, and you can’t escape the pain; except it’s the type of pain that only you can feel and others can’t see, so you’re never quite sure if people believe you or not, even when the pain is excruciating.” -Hayley Garron, Her Campus Writer

When I tell people that I recently had a migraine, they have one or two responses. They either feel bad for me because they too suffer from migraines, and we begin to compare horror stories. Those who don't get them, however, sometimes don't understand that a migraine isn't like a normal headache.

“...like someone is repeatedly punching you in the head.” -Tamiracle Williams via Facebook

According to Migraine.com, roughly 37 million people in the United States suffer from migraines. Yet I still feel like so many people don't understand how miserable it is to have migraines, so I’m going to attempt to explain what it feels like. To help, I asked others what their experience was like to them.

“The neurological symptoms are just as debilitating as the pain.” -Nicole Harmon via Facebook

Migraines are genetic, so that's why you may or may not get them. They can last from only a few hours to days, and they can be triggered by almost anything: stress, hormonal changes, food, smells, visual stimuli, etc. There are four main phases to a migraine: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome; this is what makes it so much different than a regular headache.

“...like an intense amount of pressure is being put on your head” -Emily Giron via Facebook

You may not even realize you're getting a migraine when the symptoms first start. You may feel depressed or have changes in your mood. You may be extremely tired for no reason; your neck can start to feel stiff and sore. These are only a few symptoms for the first stage. Now, if you're a woman, imagine that the migraine syncs up with your cycle, causing these symptoms to camouflage themselves as PMS, leaving you completely unaware of what is about to come next.

“...as if your head were in a small vice, and you're asking for mercy until you get a small glimpse of relief” -Mindy Renee via Facebook

The second stage is the aura. Some people experience this stage; others don't. Personally, I used to but don't experience it anymore. Now imagine that you're going about your day, sitting in class, driving to work, or sitting at home watching TV. All of a sudden, your vision starts to black out or become blurry in certain spots until it encompasses almost all of your vision, causing you to not be able to see the classroom board. Or you start seeing bright crescents of light surrounding the cars that you're sharing the road with. Or the television becomes distorted in a zigzag pattern that isn't actually there in real life. This sensation can last anywhere from twenty to sixty minutes. However, while visual changes are most common, it can be sensory or verbal sensations as well. This is all warning you about what’s to come next.

“...like a drill going through the dead center of my temples” -Mykelle Rivera via Facebook

The third stage is the most painful: the infamous headache. Without treatment, the headache itself can last anywhere between four and seventy-two hours. Mine last for a full twenty-four hours, and right at the twenty-four mark they disappear. Migraines normally focus themselves in one specific area of your head. Imagine someone is repeatedly driving an icepick through the inner corner of your eye. Imagine someone is hitting the left side of your head with a hammer for a full twenty-four hours. Imagine feeling as if your head is throbbing intensely, somewhat similar to your heartbeat. Anything can and will make it worse. It doesn't matter if you lie on your right or left side; the pain will not subside. The sun shining through your window is brighter than it’s ever been before. All of a sudden, the dog in the next door apartment has the loudest, most obnoxious bark ever, and you can’t ignore it. The smell of your cinnamon pumpkin air freshener is suddenly the worst smell in the world. The nausea is overwhelming, but you refuse to throw up because you know with the pain in your head, it will be excruciating. The fever and chills make you feel like you’re in a volcano, and the next second you’re in the middle of a snow storm. You’re hungry but have no appetite for food or water. The room is spinning, and you can't focus. You can't get out of bed even if you tried.

“They feel like death to me. Dramatic? I think not.” -De Soave via Facebook

Eventually, the pain ends. This begins the fourth phase: postdrome. Imagine that you have a hangover, but not from drinking. I’ve described this feeling to people as if I had gotten run over by a bus, and then it backed up and ran over me again, but I still had to go to school the next day. You feel fuzzy, disoriented. You can't focus on reading your emails or texts. You are slow at comprehending what people are saying to you. You're weak from barely eating anything. You feel physically and emotionally exhausted, like you just fought a war and lost. But you already called out of work for a “headache.” You missed that class because of a “headache.” That homework assignment is still due tonight because your professor may not understand that you can't really read the computer screen because of a “headache.” So you force yourself to get back out there when you should be resting. You may feel like this for several days.

“...debilitating and consuming; the amount of energy they take from you mentally and physically is exhausting.” -Katie Murphy via Facebook

Now imagine having this whole ordeal happening repeatedly, without warning. Imagine having to put your life on hold because a lot of the time you really don't have a choice. Imagine this happening twice a year. Imagine this happening twice a month. Three times in one week is my personal record.

“...completely debilitating, nothing like a normal headache.” -Courtney Berry via Facebook

It's difficult to put into words exactly what having a migraine feels like. Everyone's migraine experience is different, but there's one thing everyone can agree on: it's not just a headache.


Take care,

Alyssa Harmon