Blogging has almost become a way of life. While I don’t spend all that much time creating posts of my own, I do spend considerably more time reading and commenting on other blogs. Over the past month or so I have spent much less blogging time than has become the norm. The most significant factor for this is a semi-persistent low level migraine.
But if you prefer I not go into details. stop reading any further and simply enjoy a few of the flowers on display in our front garden at the end of September and beginning of October. This year the spring equinox weather has been more varied and extreme compared to the typically variable and fickle weather and strong winds usually experienced at this time of the year, ranging from the extremes of winter to typical summer weather with the space of a few days and then back again! Our garden has suffered as a consequence, but still there is much to enjoy:
Migraines are funny things. One can look up textbook definitions of the various types of migraines, but in reality few migraineurs fit tidily into such definitions. In this regard, I’m no different. My migraines have been described at various times as migraine with aura, hemiplegic migraine, chronic migraine, acute migraine, vestibular migraine, complex migraine, migraine with brainstem aura, acephalgic migraine, and atypical migraine. But from personal perspective, it’s what I experience rather than what others observe that really matters, and in this regard, they are are all much the same, varying only in the intensity of various aspects of the disease.
The one thing I am grateful for is that as I have aged, the extremely painful throbbing headache that is often associated with migraine has become infrequent as have bouts of nausea. I appreciate that many people assume a migraine is just a painful throbbing headache with some nausea thrown in for good measure, and for some people that is what a migraine is, but for a significant minority of migraineurs these are the least significant aspects of their many symptoms. It is for me.
So what have I been experiencing over recent weeks that have kept me out of the blogosphere?
While not a particularly “scientific” term, brain fog does describe what I experience with most migraines. It affects cognition. It’s hard to describe precisely as it affects the very skills one needs to be able to accurately recall one’s experience. Perhaps it can be described as feeling distracted continuously, being unusually forgetful, and finding it difficult to complete even simple tasks. I may find it difficult to recall what a word means or being unable to locate the correct word to use. Sometimes I might be able to understand individual words but not be able to comprehend a sentence made up of those words, and at times I may not be able to string a sentence together that is understandable to others.
Brain fog often results in short term memory loss. I can start reading or writing a paragraph, but by the time I reach the end of it, I have forgotten how it started, and have to read it again. In a worse case scenario, I simply give up as I’m unable to get the gist of a single paragraph, let alone several in sequence.
Not being entirely in the here and now means that some tasks such as driving are particularly dangerous. Being unable to concentrate may mean I do not detect potentially dangerous circumstances until too late., and even then, may not be able to choose the most appropriate (or indeed any) action to take. At least these days I am aware that I have brain fog – something that didn’t always register only two decades ago. Mindfulness training has helped in this regard. So I do know when I shouldn’t drive, much to the Wife’s frustration as she prefers being a front seat passenger even though she can drive.
Every migraine I experience affects some aspects of my vision. One of the most frustrating aspects is the inability to see clearly. It’s rather difficult to describe, and while sometimes what I see can be blurry, as in being out of focus, sometimes it’s not a focusing issue, but the inability to process what I see. One way for you to grasp what I mean is to fix your gaze on one word in this paragraph and while doing so try to read the words above, below, to the left and right of it. Difficult, right? And words even further away get progressively more difficult to read, and outside a very small window become impossible to read even though you know they are there. Well, for me during a migraine the best I can see is that word one or two away away from the one you have fixed your gaze onto.
Other common visual disturbances I experience can be seen in this next video clip where, through a virtual reality headset, others experience realistic simulations of what a migraine with aura looks like to the sufferer:
Other visual disturbances include blind spots. By this I don’t mean small areas that are blank, but a functioning area of the brain “fills in the details” for another area that isn’t functioning as it should. For example I may check the time by looking at a wall clock, but the clock appears to have vanished. All I see is the wall and there doesn’t appear to be any blanks spot at all. However if I move my eyes away from there I expect the clock to be, it suddenly appears, as if by magic. What has actually happened is that I do in fact have a temporary blind spot, but another part of the brain recognises the pattern on the wall and reconstructs it to fill in the blind spot. We all have a small blind spot where the optic nerve leaves the eye, and we all have the neurology where a part of the brain fills in the missing details by “filling in the gap”, but usually we’re unaware of it occurring at all.
These are many and varied. They go from the simple such as finding it difficult to write legibly or tie shoelaces (hence most of my shoes having velcro fasteners) through difficulty with speech and balance (giving the appearance of being drunk) to hemiplegia where the right side of my body, especially the face and arm, but to a lesser extent my leg, lose strength and fail to respond unless I make a conscious and determined mental effort to control them, and then only clumsily.
Over the past month none of the aforementioned symptoms have been at their worst. In fact each symptom has by itself has been barely noticeable to others, but when so many conspire to be present at once, even in “mild” forms, the net result is a person who is unproductive, however that term is understood, and unmotivated, and when pushed to do something, performs it badly. Such is life.