Laying curled up in bed tonight, I suffered through yet another severe migraine. This time, I asked myself exactly what my body was trying to tell me, and, more importantly, why??? I think I found the answer…
It is sometime during what is commonly called the Stone Age. Small groups of people, hunter-gatherers, spread out across the face of the Earth.
You are travelling with such a group, gathering ripe raspberries from a thicket. You begin to notice strange flashing lights around the edges of your vision. (The migraine warning aura).
This has happened to you many times before, and you know what it means; a weather front is coming, quite likely with strong storms. You know you have only a short time to get to safety – you do not want to be on an exposed hill. You need to find shelter from the coming storm, protection from pounding rain, howling winds, and crashing lightning.
The pain starts soon after, a deep throbbing behind your eyes. (Pain is the body’s messenger, it’s way of telling us to stop what we are doing.)
As your group hunts for a place to ride out the storm, your body continues to send you warning signals: light begins to seem too bright, and you instinctively respond by wanting to find a dark, sheltered, location. When the first lightning strikes you will recoil from the increased pain it causes.
Sounds, too, become suddenly louder to you. The crunch of a branch underfoot causes a sudden increase in your pulse – that pounding in your ears. (Adenaline is being released, triggering your flight-or-fight response.)
You become nauseated, and lack interest in eating. You may even throw-up. You wouldn’t want to have a full belly if you suddenly had to run for your life.
Once safely in shelter, you instinctually huddle in a ball. Your shoulders creep upward, providing protection for your neck. (Protect your vital organs is your top survival instinct.)
The fear & anxiety caused by any slightest bit of sound or light (photo- & phono-phobias) cause you to be hyper-vigilent. You hear the tiniest of sounds, and actually feel your body respond to them with twitches & readiness to flee before your mind can process the nature of the sound or light. Were it the click of a pedator’s claw you hear, or the flash of lightning, you would be ready to move or fight. Falling rain can be noisy – the ability to detect the slightest sound approaching you might save your life.
Even your sense of smell is heightened, important when rain, fog or wind could dampen the scent of something dangerous coming towards you, and useful in discerning whether a cave you investigate for shelter is the lair of a cave lion or bear.
Stoked with adrenaline, sleep is hard to come by. You remain ready for any eventuality all night.
Our hypothetical story was likely repeated hundreds of thousands of times during early humans two million years of nomadic existence. People who had migraines would have had a higher incidence of survival, equipped with an early warning of weather changes & able to seek shelter, and with heightened senses to alert them of any approaching danger.
If so, it is enshrined deep in our psyche, buried in the instinctual mind. This would explain why millions of people get migraines, and all the weird sensory changes that accompany them – something that, so far, scientists have no answer for.
After reflecting on this, the possible evolutionary origins of migraines, one of the biggest banes of my life, I decided on a course of action.
My understanding is that the human body sends us pain signals as a way to get our attention, and tell us to stop what we’re doing. If we ignore those pain signals, the body screams with pain even louder. To reduce the pain, we first have to consciously ackowledge it.
Laying in bed in a dark room while everyone else tiptoes around us does not solve anything, as anyone who gets migraines knows. The simple click of my own dogs’ claws on the floor outside my closed door set off more cringes of sound-induced fear (yes, fear – migraineurs get photo-phobia & phono-phobia). And they really are cringes – I feel sound before I actually hear it, or, at least, before my mind identifies it.
So I started talking to myself, things like, “Yes, I know there’s a storm coming, but I am very safe from harm here,” and, “There is nothing to be afraid of,” and, simply, “I am very safe.”
I pulled my shoulders down from my ears, and, repeating to myself, “I am very safe,” removed myself from bed. I went out to sit on our porch, watching the lightning play on the horizon. I noticed my arms were folded tightly across my belly, and relaxed them, let them fall to my sides, and repeated, “I welcome the rain. There is nothing to be afraid of. I am very safe & protected here.”
The pain & anxiety the migraine was causing was greatly reduced almost immediately. It wasn’t gone, but it was certainly better, especially since I’d been laying in bed afraid to move a muscle lest I puke.
I also took a good sized dose of Klonopin (clonazapam), an anti-anxiety medication, while going, “Oh! So that’s why ambien often helps my migraines!” – take ambien & stay awake & you get very relaxed & happy, which is why teens use it as a party drug.
Everyone experiences migraines slightly differently, and there are the weather-related migraines (which 90% of mine are), the hormonal migraines (hmm, telling our primal selves we need to get to a safe spot where predators won’t be able to smell the blood?), and food related migraines (telling us in emphatic ways not to eat that again).
Whatever the trigger, you can bet I’m going to be practicing self-talk, and trying to decode the hidden messages in the pain and other symptoms. Since migraine meds almost always fail me, there’s certainly nothing to lose… except the migraine.