No, You’re not Crazy, You just Have Migraines

June 18th, 2009

On last month’s Managing Life with Migraines Teleconference with Dr. Roger Cady one of the things we discussed was living with the hyper-sensitive nervous system we have as Migraineurs.  Dr. Cady helped us recognize that in caring for ourselves and our emotional helath, we need to nurture the sensitive nervous systems we have.  This was a theme that resonated with many of us on the call, and I’ve had a few participants telling me they never knew that…

As a Migraineur, you might have a highly developed startle-reflex, and jump at every loud noise…

As a Migraineur, you might not be able to process multiple auditory inputs, but feel overwhelmed, panicky, and like you can’t hear when there are many noises at the same time, or even several people talking to you at the same time…

As a Migraineur, your sense of “not liking” crowds is more than just a dislike, it’s an inability to process too much sensory information at the same time – in other words, it’s not psychological, it’s neurological…

As a Migraineur, sensory overload is a very real thing, with very real consequences for you. If you’re like me, you have been accused by co-workers, friends or family members at some point of being hyper-sensitive, neurotic, or just plain no fun because of your tendency to break down in the face of too much noise, light, or overall stimulation. Or you have accused yourself, and pushed yourself to continue in the face of too much, because you want to keep up with everyone else.

When you feel overloaded, that is part of your early warning system.  Heed the warnings.  Seek some quiet.  Take some deep breaths.  Use relaxation routines.  I have some very easy relaxation exercises you can use in the midst of everything to calm your system back down. Continuing the overload leads to our systems’ form of short-circuit – a Migraine.

Are there things you’ve noticed about yourself, like startling at loud noises or panicking in crowds, that you can see are part of your Migrainous nervous system? Please share them!

- Megan

Crowded street image courtesy of Wm Jas.

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Posted in Managing | Comments (27)

  • Jasmine

    This explains what I go through, when I become overwhelmed, perfectly. Great post!

    When my dog barks very loud out of the blue sometimes I think I’m going to jump out of my skin.

    When I hear a mosquito, fly or bee buzz near my ear my neck tightens up, and I move away quickly.

  • admin

    It really helped me to learn about the startle-reflex. When there’s a repeated loud noise, like a jack-hammer, other people startle the first time they hear it and then quickly get used to it. I will startle over and over, every time, and I always felt like such a wimp for it!

    - Megan

  • Felice

    Thanks for this post! I can hear perfectly fine in normal situations but the crowd thing is awful. I also can’t stand anything on my ears, like ear muffs or people putting their hands over my ears, etc.

  • TheDailyHerb

    Great information on how our nervous system becomes overwhelmed by too much stimulation. I wish psychologists would read this and understand that our reactions are neurological NOT psychological.

    Did you know that PTSD and childhood abuse have been linked to migraine? Sure explains the “startle reflex” doesn’t it?

  • admin

    Thanks for your comments!

    Dr. Cady mentioned that those of us who are prone to Migraine are also more prone to developing Migraine after trauma – that is, if you have the underlying preconditions, trauma is more likely to affect you in this particular way.

    Having sensitive systems, we are also more prone to various mental/emotional health issues, including PTSD (which you could see would be one way a sensitive system would react to trauma). I have suffered from PTSD myself.

    I have also seen links with childhood abuse, but I think we have to be careful how we look at that – having Migraine doesn’t “mean” you were abused as a child, but perhaps among child abuse victims, those with sensitive systems are likely to be triggered into Migraine.

    - Megan

  • admin

    By the way, my daughter thinks I should add a disclaimer. She says, “you could get in trouble Mom, some of the people reading that post may actually be crazy.” But don’t worry, she’s not crazy, she just has Sarcasm!

  • Aviva

    Wow. This post really put a lot in perspective for me. I started having migraines around age 12 (30 years ago!!) and while they’re mostly under control these days, all those points you make totally describe me. Wow!

  • Sandi

    When I heard Dr. Cady describe this during the teleconference, I almost started to cry. When you go around feeling like you’re crazy because of the way you respond to certain things, especially when you seem to be the “only one” who acts this way, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. I felt so relieved to hear that there was a real reason why I got startled so badly after something so trivial as my husband’s cell phone ringing right next to me (not just the first time, either). Or like when the kids try to scare me (they are just joking around) and I get angry because of the way it makes me feel. And then there’s the fact that the “feelings” don’t just go away immediately. It’s almost like I have to “come down” from them, and that can sometimes take a while. I sometimes get the feeling that people think I over-react to get attention, or something. Believe me… the last thing I want is extra attention. In fact, I would much prefer to NOT be noticed, most of the time. It’s funny, because I wasn’t always this way. I think the thing that seems to be the hardest for me to handle now a days, though, is that people tend to get on my nerves so easily. I find that my patience runs very thin, and often times it appears to be for no relevant reason. That doesn’t seem to be in the same category as being overly sensitive to light, sound, odor, etc. But I don’t have any other explanation for it. And what’s worse is… I don’t know what to do about it. It is definitely something that can bring about anxiety and stress, which is just one of my many migraine triggers.

  • Peggy

    This is so true for me. It has been somewhat comforting to know that is a neurological problem and not just “over-sensitive” or not coping well because I really do try hard. Also other people in my family are like this and this disorder is known to be genetic.

  • christina

    this is me all the way, i can’t believe what i just read. how was someone able to know me without ever meeting me. things about me.
    1. i don’t like people standing too close to me.
    2. don’t like being in a group of more than 15 people or so.
    3.every thing that is a sudden noise will make me jump and cause my insides to shake for about 5 min.
    4. yes, my friends, family and coworkers have all made comments about the way I am. They say, first, why are you like this. Why do you get so upset over small things. or, you should learn to relax, lifes too short statement.
    5. i don’t like anything louder than my talking voice and anything brighter than a childs lamp.

    well, at least from reading all of this i can now let go of some of my feeling like, I am crazy. NOT.

  • admin

    I have tried to substitute the word sensitive for crazy, for myself. I never even liked the idea of being sensitive, because I always wanted to be tough (those of you who know me are probably laughing). But there are many things that are sensitive yet strong, sensitive yet resilient. We need to nurture our sensitive selves but we can still be strong and resilient.

    We can’t change our neurological makeup but we can calm our systems down so that these things we are sensitive too bother us less. I have developed an ability to internally calm down and react less, which helps me tolerate some of these things I am sensitive to. That’s another thing we talked about on the the call with Dr. Cady. I teach people this in my relaxation classes – if you’d like to try learning to calm your system I encourage you to join me!

    - Megan

  • MigrainePuppet

    Thank you for putting this into the words I could never find that describe me so well. Noise definitely makes me feel overloaded and crazy at times. This post really explains me.

    I could never understand the need to get out of the crowd or why I would do things I normally wouldn’t do and kept trying to examine a deeper reason for my actions. I like the words; it’s not psychological, it’s neurological.

    Great post!

  • deborah

    explains me to a T! Some days worse than others of course.

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  • Carrie

    Wow. I’ve suffered from these migraines for YEARS – and I know little about the how/why. This post describes me to a T! Thank you for sharing the info, it is very helpful to not feel so alone, or as my husband says, “crazy.”

  • Lucy

    Great to hear that i am not the only one!
    My sensitivty is usually linked to people talking at me, either to loudly or to fast or trying to tell me a lot of information! I usually have to have a lay down after talking to my sister on the phone, I also have a friend who talks a lot at me and this is drives me crazy!!!
    Loving this site!

  • admin

    Thanks everyone! Yes, it helps a lot to know we’re not alone!

  • runwiki

    Yes, this is an accurate description… example: I just finished the The Boston Marathon (loud noises and crowds), that morning I had head pain and the aura, then I crossed the finish line 4:08 before disaster struck, when I returned to our hotel, and finally relaxed that’s when my migraine became gripping. I’m grateful to be here, migraines and all.

  • Leslie

    I’ve had this happen to me multiple times at work. I just get this sense of being overwhelmed by sounds and can no longer process. I know that I have come across as rude, but I’ve had people who have been having a boisterous conversation around me while I’m trying to do paperwork, and I’ve had to ask them to please be quiet, that I can not concentrate to complete my work because I am going to have a migraine attack and my brain is in overload. They looked at me like I’m insane, but they were kind enough to settle down. I’ve had moments when this has happened and this has almost brought me to tears. Thanks for sharing.

  • 3dogmom

    I love the pale yellow background!

  • 3dogmom

    Oh and loud noises definitely make me “crazy” ….I wish I could wear ear plugs permanently!

  • Stacy Leighty Stokes

    Definately sound-sensitive. When I have a migraine voices seem so loud!

  • Jennifer Doldo

    Last night when I was working I had to intput several lottery numbers many people around me were so loud I had such a hard time doing this it was very bright and very loud I stress at the time I DID NOT have a migraine, however. I could not focus and it was making me crazy I have always had a hard time concentrating in large groups and loud noises just make me nuts. This article helped me so much. I always thought there was something wrong with me but now I see that its neurological not mental!!

  • Lisa Paulsel Hart

    I have had migraines since I was a child (I’m now 44) and it has just been in the past year or so that I have read about hypersensitivity being a co-morbid condition.I am VERY sensitive to high pitched sounds whether or not I have a headache. Electrical whines from lights and plugs, brake squeals and shopping cart wheels. Those beeping watch alarms that older dudes can’t seem to hear (or turn off) drive me nuts and I absolutely can not stand a barking dog. If someones nose whistles when they breathe, I can’t stand to be near them. I cringe when people scuff their feet when they walk. I’m fairly ok with general loud noises and crowds now as an adult but I do remember as a kid I would get in trouble on purpose so I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the school pep rallies. I also have a touch sensitivity ~ I don’t like for someone to touch me lightly, it is just plainly annoying and unpleasant to me, borderline painful. Firm contact is a different story ~ does that make sense?

    • Leslie

      The touch-pain thing is a different thing altogether called allodynia. I have the same thing but only in certain areas.

  • Jesica Alba

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  • Albert jack

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