[ed Dec 2014] The original site is gone, so I have pointed the links to the Wayback Machine copies.
Anyone who has known me for more than a year or so probably knows that I get migraines. I used to get 1-2 a month and the nastiest ones could weird me out about 24 hours, but now I get a lot less of them since I’ve been on CPAP. I’m still good for 2 or 3 a year, mostly when I’m tired and stressed out and exposed to a trigger.
I tend to get a warning when a really bad migraine is on the way – I’ll start getting weird visual “auras”. Once, I had it so bad I went to the hospital because I thought I was having some kind of stroke, but after an hour or so in emergency I was left with a brutal headache and the doctor explained what was going on.
During that particular process, I was rather stumped trying to describe the visual symptoms. Maybe a poet could handle that task, I don’t know… but my vocabulary really wasn’t up to it. In fact, I gave up trying to describe it and asked the doctor for a pen and paper so I could draw it.
The author of “Known Johnson” has put together a short flash animation of what it looks like, and it’s pretty accurate. When I see that sort of thing happening now, I tend to high-tail it for a dark room, grabbing a couple aspirin on the way because I know I’ll be in the hurt-locker soon if I don’t. Odds are, I will be anyway, but the aspirin and dark room can help lessen the pain and the sick feeling. My auras run like that too – they start kind of in the centre, but migrate to the lower right quadrant of both eyes, then kind of circle around to a strange scintillating tunnel. In my drawing incident above, the drawing I produced for the doctor looked a whole lot like the final frame of that flash animation.
For me, from the first sparkly to the headache/nausea/dagger-through-the-eye is about 20-60 minutes. Usually migraines are triggered for me, and I have two triggers that I am well aware of: flashing (bright) blue lights, and sun on the face. The former will set off a migraine in only a few minutes, the latter can take an hour or two… but not always – the approach to my house from the usual direction is facing west and in the evening (when I’m tired after work) I have to drive 500m with the sun square in my face if I arrive home at the wrong time. To avoid this I must come home early or late or have a pretty unpleasant evening.
So if you ever wondered what a migraine sufferer means by “aura” have a look at that flash. If you ever wondered what it FEELS like, try to imagine being seasick while you have that aura and someone sticks a hot spike in your eye.