MIGRAINES!: An oft ignored cause.

I am two days into a migraine headache. Which is very unusual for me. I have suffered from migraines since I was at least four years old. (I have a clear memory of screaming my head off in the grocery store one night as my mom rushed around with me in a shopping cart trying to find something that would help.) But they usually don’t last for more than a few hours for me. And at this point in my life, they are fairly rare. So in honor of my fancy, hardy, two-day migraine, I’m going to make an observation that I’m not sure most people know.

The whole field of medicine knows VERY LITTLE about what causes migraines. They come up with neurological theories only to discount them a year later. Migraine sufferers themselves seem to be the best able to actually figure out what causes their migraines. And I have become aware that the cause of my own migraines is (maybe not ALWAYS, but at least usually) dissociation.

I’ve talked about dissociation on this blog before. I don’t know how much I’ve talked about my personal experience with it, though. Basically, there are certain experiences/emotions that my conscious mind decided were not safe for me to be totally aware of. I had no idea that I did this at all until I had a mental breakdown a few years ago, and it became increasingly apparent over two years of therapy.

Anyway, looking back, when I was in high school there was a period of about a year and a half when I had migraines nearly every day. Doctors did brain scans and just about everything else and could find no cause. Then I went on Outward Bound and I came back and they were just gone. And for years I had various explanations for this–like that I had “chilled out” was drinking more water, etc. etc. Then in therapy for the first time I finally connected that my cousin Joel went away to Juvenile Detention while I was on that trip. Now, because I dissociate, I can’t remember much about what went down between me and him while he was living with us, but I do remember that he was VERY violent and much stronger than me (which really pissed me off.) The fact is, my period of migraine suffering almost exactly coincided with his tenure in my home. Coincidence? I think not.

I am way more self-aware now, but every once in a while I am still struck that I am dissociating. And it’s funny, I can even intellectually know that I am, and I can even KNOW what I am dissociating. But I am still dissociating because I am not FEELING it. So what’s up right now? Well, the anniversary of my Mom’s death is coming up in the next two weeks. I know that I never properly mourned her death. She died, and I pretty much became a homeless orphan and I went into survival mode. That was 8 years ago. And I really didn’t start connecting with that grief at all until I was forced to be present at a young man’s funeral two years ago. I wasn’t close to him, but his memorial somehow opened a floodgate for a brief time.

Now, I have had dreams about my Mom and her death regularly for the last few weeks. It is on my mind, but still when I suddenly found myself at work sobbing yesterday, I was COMPLETELY taken by surprise. I tamped it down, and the migraine flared up. I woke up this morning, another dream about my mom. Felt groggy and disheveled, nearly skipped church, but went. During the service, the minister mentioned that his Uncle had just died. I felt sad for him, but nothing else. Then we’re singing hymns ten minutes later and all of a sudden, I discover that I am sobbing uncontrollably. I get myself back under control by the end of the hymn, and suddenly the migraine is back full-force. I haven’t cried since I got home, and the migraine has been here to stay since then.

It’s this funny thing. I know that it’s about my mom. I KNOW this. But I can’t feel it. I am even listening to corny pop music from my childhood (Wilson Phillips, if you’re curious) in order to try to elicit some emotional response. But nothin. Dang.

Anyway, ran a quick search online and found links to Migraines with Dissociation, DID, PTSD, and abuse so I am apparently not the first person to notice this connection. Not that it helps. Even knowing exactly what I’m dissociating is apparently not enough to help me stop doing it and therefore get rid of the bloody headache. But maybe this information is useful to someone else in some way? Here’s hoping.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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5 Responses to MIGRAINES!: An oft ignored cause.

  1. Susan says:

    I haven’t had a migraine, but several of my students did and my foster daughter Chasity does. I know they can be really, really nasty. And I definitely believe they are related to emotional states. Just to clarify…are you saying you can’t have an emotional response when its more “appropriate”?You cried at work and at church…is it possible you might actually want the comfort others could offer, if they only knew? I’ve sometimes cried at church, I think for that very reason, but not really not successful. As you’ve noted before, so many people cannot identify with our pain. Most people I think, KNOW that abuse of all kinds occur…that just can’t/won’t deal with it personally. Are you currently in therapy? I have to go back now and again. I guess its been a year or so since I’ve been. I hope you’ve been able to release some of the anger, resentment ect – and FORGIVE. Things got easier for me after Dad died, and he couldn’t hurt me anymore. Didn’t want to waste anymore energy on anger, because it was hurting ME, not him. And you don’t do forgive and let go just once, I think it takes much practice.

    Seen the ads about Botox for migraines? 🙂 love you

    • pamwatts says:

      Oh, I definitely think that I wanted a real human to comfort me and that’s why I cried at work and church. No, I’m not saying that I can’t have an emotional response when it’s convenient for me. It’s that I’m only actually feeling emotions for brief snippets of time. I probably should have just kept crying at church. That would have been a fine place to receive some comfort. But for whatever reason, I didn’t. I shut it out, and by the time I got home, I just couldn’t feel the grief anymore. It was gone.

      • Susan says:

        I knew you probably had it figured out. No, not convenient, appropriate…we don’t cry in public because it makes others uncomfortable. In the US anyway, men are still not crying in public and women rarely do. We are all taught crying is weak. Especially if they are unexpected tears, for reasons others cannot know. Its one thing to cry at a funeral, or at a sad movie. It another to just break down at church for no apparent reason.
        I don’t expect much from church goers anymore…I’ve broken down at both the Mayberry and MoD Baptist. Only a couple of people said anything of comfort, and only one ever bothered to call. And I talk about my depression publicly so I think many people KNOW. Again they don’t WANT to know or deal with it. I hope folks at your church are better.
        From what you have told me, you have hidden and shoved down your feelings for many years now. (You were always a bubbly kid right thru you teen years when I was around). I would bet you are not comfortable with FEELING these feelings, much less showing them. On the other hand, don’t you want the comfort others could offer you? Wish you were brave enough to show pain and accept comfort? Makes my head hurt just writing this!
        Do you have close friends…as close as you can stand? Do you talk to Crystal much? (you don’t have to be a brave big sis anymore) I would guess she hurts as much as you in some ways. Open up. There will be some that may leave, but they are not important. You will make new friends always. And go to counseling!!! You had more to deal with than me, and I am still going. Don’t be “brave” or tough it out or think you can’t afford it. Sometimes I feel that a counselor is Buy-a-Friend…but it is better than being nutty! But I think most counselors are like me, they just really enjoy meeting, understanding and encouraging all kinds of people.
        Edna to the outer world was a smart ,vibrant lady that we all enjoyed. I am sadden to hear of the other side, but once I knew it did not surprise me. I think I revealed before that it crossed my mind many times that her 3 kids were screwed up…was she the best one to raise the grandkids?
        Please dear Pam, keep writing, talking and letting those feelings out. Healing comes from feeling. Please, please call if you want. I’m unemployed now anyway. These “talks” help me too. hm 276-952-3415 cell 276-952-8381. I have unlimited long distance on home phone, so let me call you if you want. Love you!! (and don’t think that is just words. I may not know the deepest darkest Pam, but that is not necessary. I would love you anyhow!)

  2. pamwatts says:

    Susan, I have some really dear connections in my life right now. And I think it’s because I have been able to connect with them in some really heartfelt ways that I think I am waking up and opening out at all right now. I think I’m moving in a good direction.

    It troubles me that by opening up about my life in this way, you, and possibly others from our family, are discovering a perspective on us that I wouldn’t have chosen for you to know, and that Mommy would certainly be horrified about. In the dream two weeks ago, I couldn’t handle what was going on at home so I walked out, but I was “carrying my dirty laundry with me.” And I guess now I’m airing it, as she would have said. I don’t know how to talk about my life without also talking about hers by extension. But she died almost 8 years ago, and I don’t really want to drag her memory through the mud.

    I guess this calls into question whether it is ever really fair or moral to give an account of one’s life, since you can never give an honest one without also giving, by extension, an account of the lives of others, since we are all connected. And she’s not here to speak for herself. I’m sure we would both come off rather differently in her account.

    • Susan says:

      ❤ I am glad to hear you do have close friends, and yes I think you are moving in a good direction.Please don't think I'm trying to find fault. My Mom & Dad never complimented me, and criticized me to the point where I automatically tuned out everything they said…and I reacted negatively to other people who were on my side. Anything that was said to me I could turn into a negative and get huffy (after I quit believing I was a total loser in every way when someone said something I thought was negative).
      I don't think of it as dragging her name thru the mud. She was just as human as you and me, and we all fuck up. To me, you are relieving yourself with the TRUTH. My Dad and Mom were kind of secretive and Granny Rudd still is…I believe this is because if I talked to anyone about f*ed family THEY would have to realize they are the problem!! My Dad told me counseling was a waste of time so I didn't go til I was over 30, and of course discovered that they were the ones who had an unrealistic views of life (and me)!! It is a vicious cycle of parents being warped, which causes the children to be warped, and everyone is reacting to each other in negative ways. Even after I discovered it was not just me with the problems, they of course denied they had any problems!! My mother was the only one who's been to counseling, and we have been working on our relationship. She has been trying some to be more positive, and of course I have had to admit that I don't always help. I also try to remember that for sure, the generations above me had the thing about "dirty laundry"…the baby boomers started breaking that in the 60s when civil rights, womens ignoble status, child abuse, etc. was brought to the light.
      I think many many many people live in deep denial of their families dysfunction. I've discussed it with a few counselors and they agreed. You have been removed by a generation and miles from the Mc family dysfunction, but I guarantee there is plenty!! We are definitely a family that pretends all is well! My Dad's family was worse. You might find the Yeatts, and your biological moms side of the family is crazy too. I don't know. I do know that crazy people attract other crazy people!!
      Edna, and my Dad, both moved miles from the family home to leave dysfunction behind…but they never did the work we have done to find out what is MENTALLY HEALTHY!! My Dad figured by doing the opposite of what his parents did that would solve all problems. His parents smothered him, so he ignored me. (I can't speak for my sister). That doesn't work either! I look for balance in my relationships now.
      Do not fear I will say anything to Aaron or Glenda. Since they had grandkids I never see them any more!!!! I realized after I moved here that neither Uncle Kannie or Aaron has any sense of humor about themselves, although they are funny to the rest of the world. Aaron has a short fuse, but I think he gets over it and moves on. If the truth ever got to him about Edna, yes he would be shocked and mad at first, then sad, and then like me wish he had been there. Don't sell them short. Despite the fact they have money, they are much kinder than other moneyed people I know! …and they all drink alot, which I learned at about your age is not really a good thing for most of us. At least not for me.


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