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.