Thursday, September 15th, 2011

My Migraines Are Making Me Root For Michele Bachmann

When I found out that Michele Bachmann got migraines she ceased to be this distant caricature of a crazy-eyed ideologue. The Buddhists say that understanding someone else’s suffering leads to compassion, and as stupid as this sounds I found Bachmann instantly more human simply because I get migraines too. It changed my bias. I stopped seeing her religious crap as some insidious flaw. Now I see it as a well-meaning flaw. I’ve been secretly rooting for her to win the Republican nomination ever since I learned about her affliction, ever since people started saying it somehow disqualifies her from office. Who you like in politics can be a weird and visceral thing.

The migraines I get are called “aura” migraines. I think Bachmann gets the ones where you become really sensitive to light and sound and have to go sit in a dark room for a few hours. Mine are incapacitating in a different way. They begin with a dead spot in my eyesight, like I just caught the sun’s reflection in a car windshield. Instead of fading away like an afterimage would, the spot grows, and grows, until it obscures the entire right half of my field of vision. This makes me effectively blind.

My first migraine happened during a job interview. It was the middle of On-Campus Recruiting, that period of law school when you’re quite overwhelmed with stress because you didn’t realize everything would be this difficult, and then in the thick of your panic law firms come to judge your entire career as a lawyer based only on your first year, first semester grades. It’s a time fraught with anxiety to begin with. It doesn’t help when half the interviewer’s face disappears. “So what aspect of contracts did you find the most interesting?” Answer: “I’m sorry, I think I’m having a stroke!”

After that the migraines started to show up once every few months on average, though there was a stretch last year when they showed up in strings, three over a two-day period, every week. My doctor asked if I’d made any changes to my diet and I told him I’d been cutting down on coffee after my morning intake had somehow ratcheted up to five cups. “Yeah,” he said. “I need you to not do that.” The sudden decrease in caffeine was a trigger, apparently. My prescription was like Jason Statham’s in Crank; keep my adrenaline all jacked up or face consequences to my health.

Caffeine is actually a key ingredient in many migraine treatment options. A single tablet of Excedrin Migraine has 65mg of caffeine, almost twice as much as a can of Coke. Most treatments are abortive, not preventative, meaning you can’t really protect yourself until you’re in the midst of an attack. When that happens, you have to act quickly, or the treatment has no effect. Usually the window closes a couple minutes after the point I realize it’s a migraine aura and not the afterimage of reflected sunlight. If I miss the window, I get to watch the whole thing unfold.

The actual aura itself, the blind spot, looks like a fishing wire held up to a light bulb, with a whole bunch of zig-zaggy pulsating lines coming out one side. If someone made an animated GIF of dazzle camouflage, that would be a pretty close approximation of this phenomenon. Except, the lines look less like paint, and more like the translucent ridges of a lenticular postcard. The spot eventually expands past my field of vision, allowing me to see again, but it leaves in its wake a nasty headache, followed by one or two days of crippling depression.

It’s this last bit that’s the most unnerving. Doctors call it a “postdrome” or a “migraine hangover.” It’s certainly splitting like a normal hangover, just slightly more dull, like your left hemisphere has been cleaved by a toy hatchet. And where regrets are specific during an alcohol hangover (“whose idea was the Goldschläger?”), during my migraine hangovers they’re much more all-encompassing. Waves of generalized anxiety shoot out from the toy hatchet blade. As an adult, you’re not supposed to let the anxiety win, so the idea of staying in bed to let it pass just smacks of failure. So I force myself to be social, which leads to a lot of people asking why I’m sulking. I wonder if Bachmann makes the same choice. She strikes me as pretty moody, as well.

The only people I talk to about migraines are other people who get them. We’re an ad-hoc secret support group. Most of these people are high-functioning members of society. There seems to be a correlation between voluntarily taking on a lot of stress and getting migraines, at least from what I’ve seen. And this personality type is also well-suited to not letting a migraine get in the way of anything they want to achieve. I’m not going to defend Michele Bachmann’s politics. But in at least one small way I do feel like I’m on her team.

Eric Spiegelman is a proprietor of Old Jews Telling Jokes.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

20 Comments / Post A Comment

oh god i get these too. they are miserable and i am convinced everyone can see that my eyes are wonky but i just power through because what else am i supposed to do when i'm at work?!

Aatom (#74)

Is one of the other side effects of migraines a desire to enter into a sham marriage with a closeted ex-gay counselor?

Astigmatism (#1,950)

I used to get migraines when I was a teenager: one a week, pretty much like clockwork, on Wednesday afternoons. I only get them very rarely now. They're visually-signaled as well: they begin with a ring of fuzziness in my peripheral vision, then go pretty quickly to the breath-sucking pain.

Still doesn't make me think this lady is anything but dangerous, though – or stop finding this funny:,21024/

scrooge (#2,697)

Of course, it's the right side of the field of vision that detects Michelle Bachman's flaws. If your eye-migraine were on the other side you would become a Marxist.

Sorry about the migraines, though. I get that scintillation in the eye sometimes, completely wrecks my ping pong game.

mishaps (#5,779)

I don't get migraines, but a close family member gets them really badly. I have tremendous sympathy for migraine sufferers, and I thought that the whole "Michele Bachmann gets migraines and therefore should not be president" line of attack was total BS.

The "Michele Bachmann is a crazy lady from hell and therefore should not be president" line of attack, however, I am TOTALLY on board with.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

@mishaps my fiance gets them so bad that she can be laying under the toilet and unable to muster the strength to lift her head to the bowl for the purpose of vomiting. Before I decide whether migraines disqualify someone from serving as President, I'd like more information on whether they get the ones they can muscle through or can't lift their head up during. One can be a nay-saying, bomb-throwing, shift-the-debate type member of the U.S. House with the latter. Dunno about Pres, though.

Honest Engine (#1,661)

I think I can just barely make out a migraine aura in that photo of her, above. See, on the red bunting behind her like heat shimmer off asphalt on a … or is that the crazy lady aura?

Honest Engine (#1,661)

I think I can just barely make out a migraine aura in that photo of her, above. See, on the red bunting behind her like heat shimmer off asphalt on a … or is that the crazy lady aura?

Farrahs&Bananas (#82,386)

I have very very similar migraines but my neurologist has told me that these types of aura migraines aren't helped AT ALL by caffeine and I've been told to keep my coffee to 15 cups a month?? That what these types of migraines do to your blood vessels and what caffeine does is super counter-productive. I also lose feeling in my limbs and slur my words, oh god. Terrifying and fascinating at once. Anyway, I'm allowed to drink all the alcohol I want! GREAT NEWS!

Not sure my periodically traumatized brain can summon up sympathy/empathy for Michele Bachmann though…

MaggieL (#3,424)

This is a perfect description of the type of migraines I get. Thank you for that — I'm not alone! We're not alone! Yay!

That being said I have no sympathy for Michelle Bachmann. Every human being suffers from something or other. Doesn't mean you have to turn in to Jude Law in Contagion.

Blahblaaah (#11,696)

I live in fear of my migraines. I have only had the blinding aura ones at work (yay for timing). Those were fun especially when I realized I couldn't talk b/c I didn't remember what words I needed to say. Normally I get the bad pounding headaches where I think I can feel every blood vessel in my head contracting. God I hate migraines.

sharilyn (#4,599)

Wow! Your description of aura migraines is the most accurate I've ever read, and I get them too, accompanied usually by nausea and mild panic. Thankfully, they are pretty rare for me.

bluebears (#5,902)

I get them too, both kinds. My aura migraines also first made their appearance under law school related circumstances. Bar exam studying.

I occasionally get aura migraines as well, thankfully maybe only once or twice a year. Nowadays, they seem to be linked to dehydration, because I get them after playing hockey.

The remedy seems to be a couple of beers, then straight to bed. I don't get the depression part though, yikes!

hapax (#6,251)

I hope you don't think I'm unmoved by this post or uncompassionate toward your suffering if I tell you how delighted I am to a) finally learn what those creepy Virgin Mary postcards from my childhood are called and b) look at pictures of hilariously weird-looking ships. I've learned so much today!

Samk (#84,416)

Eric, you're absolutely right about abortive vs preventative treatments. One of the major problems with medicating for your migraines as needed is that it can lead to nasty rebound headaches, and eventually make your condition even worse. Prophylactic treatments are often the most effective. Since the vast majority of migraine patients are light sensitive, as I assume you are in connection with the aura migraines you get, one way to treat migraine is to block the specific wavelengths of light shown to be particularly irritating to migraineurs. You can read more here:

Cobalt (#7,571)

I too have suffered from migraines since I was a teenager, but it doesn't make me a Right Wing Dominionist, religious wingnut, homophobic, anti-Semite like Bachmann.

carpetblogger (#306)

The EXACT same thing has been happening to me since I was 16. Migraines suck, but I am not accordingly more sympathetic to MB. Sorry.

runsinbackground (#10,344)

OK, so she's a human being. This human being still would cheerfully scoop that human being's eyes out with a soup spoon.

baker15joy (#83,468)

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