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Migraine Mood Changes: Depression-Like Symptoms

migraine-mood-changesI was standing in the bedroom alone with my eyes closed, taking deep breaths. I didn’t know Hart had entered the room until he asked, “What’s up?” “I’m nervous about you leaving,” I said, and the tears I’d been keeping at bay burst forth.

Even though I don’t have an anxiety disorder, I have subclinical levels of anxiety in two situations: sleeping when I’m home alone all night and when Hart travels long distances. The Fourth of July brought both of those. During a migraine attack. It led to one of a handful of full-blown panic attacks I’ve ever experienced. It was horrible, but made a lot of sense in retrospect. For the few weeks prior to that night, migraine attacks were going straight for my mood.

I first noticed it during a migraine attack on Father’s Day. I had to stop looking at Facebook posts because they made me miss my dad too much. This isn’t abnormal in the realm of grief, but I also cried when I realized that the attack would keep Hart and me from enjoying our day’s plans. Even that’s an understandable reaction to the situation. Becoming racked with guilt when the precarious stack I’d built in the freezer caused Hart to drop a container is not normal. Instability in the freezer is a common occurrence in our household and it’s usually my fault. The container didn’t break and Hart wasn’t upset, but I felt like an utter failure. These are all indications of depression, but my mood returned to normal with that particularly intense migraine attack cleared.

Migraine attacks bring major mood changes for me maybe a dozen times a year. The experience is unpleasant and unpredictable, but never enduring. Until this summer. During many, but not all, of my migraine attacks over a three-week period, I cried at song lyrics that wouldn’t normally make me cry and was quick to anger in low-stakes situations, like not being able to find the pen I wanted to use. These are telltale symptoms of clinical depression for me. So much so that my doctor wanted me to start another antidepressant.

I held off on the meds for a week because it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t follow the pattern for depression. Then again, it didn’t follow the pattern for migraine mood changes, either. Still, I watched and waited. By the time that week was up, mood disturbances were no longer regularly part of my migraine attacks.

Migraine symptoms are so weird. (I swear I say that at least once a month.) They’re both predictable and unpredictable. I expect to have associated mood changes occasionally, but this is the first time I can recall three weeks during which many attacks were accompanied by depression-like symptoms. I’m wondering if the uptick was caused by a short-term change in my brain similar to what my doctor described when I suddenly became sensitive to Wellbutrin’s side effects:

The brain you have after a migraine attacks is not the same brain as you had before it. Any medication that acts on the central nervous system, like antidepressants, could interact with this new brain in a different way than before, causing an increase in side effects. My dose hadn’t changed, my brain had.

The changes to your brain after an attack are not permanent, so please don’t let this scare you. It’s more like a storm with high winds came through and there’s still dirt and debris in the street. The street sweeper will get to it eventually, but it may take some time.

This explanation makes intuitive sense. The Father’s Day migraine attack that kicked all this off was particularly intense and odd. My thinking was way off. Despite being drug-free, I was thinking as if I’d smoked marijuana. That’s never happened in quite this same way before. Perhaps the celery that triggered the attack was genetically modified to have a psychedelic effect.

Whatever the explanation, the problem seems to have subsided for now. My mood has been stable for about a month. I’m grateful for the increased empathy that came from my tiny glimpse of insight into what panic attacks can be like. And I will be grateful if I never have to experience one again.

 

(In case you’re curious, the grief I’ve been wrestling with this summer has been entirely independent of migraine attacks and migraine mood changes.)

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Steroid Withdrawl? DHE/Methysergide Side Effects?

angry_kerrieCourtney at 1-800-Contacts dealt with an irrationally angry customer yesterday. This customer was furious that after the wrong contacts were delivered on Monday, she was promised a replacement pair would be delivered by 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, then found out that the person who made that promise couldn’t actually guarantee a delivery time. The customer demanded an explanation for what happened and complained about the terrible customer service. The customer was me.

But that’s not me at all. I’m understanding and easygoing with customer service. Mistakes happen. I realize the person I’m talking to is not responsible for the problem and does not deserve to be dumped on. I err more toward being a doormat than being the attack dog. Unless it’s Courtney from 1-800-Contacts.

I didn’t stage this interaction as an example of how I’m not myself this week, but it’s a perfect illustration. I ask Hart for his opinion, then get annoyed when he offers it. I’m irked that the farmers’ market was open when the website said it wouldn’t be. I’m mad I’m unable to be at the American Headache Society conference this week. My messy house feels so oppressive and agitating that I’m ready to haul everything out to the curb. I blew up at poor Courtney. Although the depth of my unexpected sorrow on Sunday was shocking, it’s far more familiar than this anger.

Hypotheses:

  1. I’m going through steroid withdrawal after my last dose Friday night. Steroids are notorious for causing mood changes, so this seems the most likely. Anecdotally, people who have IV steroids for MS report similar issues. They also report fatigue, which I have this week, too.
  2. The DHE-45 and/or methysergide has caused some bizarre lingering side effects. DHE doesn’t have recorded mood effects. Methysergide does, but they’re vague and rare. I did find a case study of someone who had “psychiatric side effects” with methysergide, though they were different than mine and he was on it for weeks, not a day. From the literature, this seems an unlikely explanation. But my response to methysergide on Sunday keeps me from dismissing it.
  3. The exceptionally mild migraine attacks I’ve been getting when I eat are altering my mood in addition to making my feet cold and causing slight fatigue. I tested this by taking naratriptan (Amerge) and Midrin after I ate, but had no change in any of my symptoms. (Which makes me think maybe it’s not migraine at all, but something else. I got tested for anemia today.)

I’m going with a combination of steroid withdrawal and a wild reaction to methysergide. My symptoms are improving each day and I continue to take it easy. This means not being very involved in Migraine and Headache Awareness Month or sharing as many 30 Things on social media as I’d like. It’s strange to have being sick interfere with a job that relies on being sick, though I should be used to it by now.

By the way, I apologized to Courtney. I’m not happy that my contacts were not delivered until 10 hours after they were promised, but it wasn’t her fault.

P.S. Taking a picture of my angry face resulted in far more pictures of me smirking and laughing than growling. This is a good sign.

7/18/15: I asked my doctor about this last week. He thinks the steroid was to blame. He said he’s never seen a reaction like this to DHE or methysergide, but has to steroids.

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Crisis, Fear, Heartbreak… and Peace of Mind?

lightning“Hellish” does not sufficiently describe the last couple days. 16 hours after the last infusion ended, I suddenly, shockingly developed a migraine aura. This is disconcerting because I have migraine without aura. The closest I’d come to an aura before Saturday is that I occasionally get faint flashes in my peripheral vision after a migraine attack is already well in progress. These are so minor and indistinct that my diagnosis is still migraine without aura. This time, bright, flashing lights filling my vision marked the start of increasingly severe auras that come on each time I eat. They aren’t just visual. I feel dizzy and like I’m going to faint, I become bereft and irritable, I see gray splotches and flashing lights and have tunnel vision. (Interestingly, of the four times this has happened, the aura has not been followed by other migraine symptoms.)

I know enough about migraine to know this is not an unusual aura (so I wasn’t worried I was having a stroke), but the sudden, dramatic change was scary. More terrifying were the thoughts that this would become my new normal, that the life I knew six months ago will never again be mine, that yet another treatment I tried would worsen my symptoms permanently, that I will never again feel like my migraines are manageable.

With the second aura, Sunday morning, I started methysergide, a migraine preventive my doctor prescribed for me to start after the infusions. Like DHE, methysergide is an ergot. Also like DHE, methysergide cannot be taken with triptans or Midrin. A 24-hour buffer between an ergot and triptans or Midrin is required. I had that because of the DHE infusions, so it seemed like a good time to start.

Things just got worse. I was still testing to see what my food reactions were, so I was eating more than the usual twice a day. Sunday, I had three auras, each with worse mood symptoms than the previous one. Those words are ridiculously insufficient to describe what I felt. The last aura left me sobbing, heartbroken and terrified. I was in some of the most intense grief I have ever endured. I felt like someone dear to me had died. I felt like my life was ending. This was the migraine talking and I knew it, but that didn’t stop the fear. Hart found me crumpled in a heap on the bedroom floor, wailing and keening. He held me until I calmed down enough to fall into an exhausted sleep.

It is Monday afternoon. After some reading, I have cobbled together a biological explanation for the new-to-me aura and mood changes. This has soothed my mind somewhat, but is based primarily on conjecture. I have a call into my doctor. I have an appointment with him in July. I swallowed the last methysergide I will ever take at 10 p.m. last night. I ate for the first time today an hour ago and the aura symptoms seem to be taking longer to develop than yesterday. If a migraine/aura hijacks my mood again, I will listen to podcasts and follow a guided meditation on fear. Tomorrow, I will return to two meals a day followed by Amerge and Midrin. I have a plan.

I am still scared, but am no longer frantic. Loss of the life I’ve come to know no longer feels imminent. I have steps in place to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks that I believe will also reduce their severity. It may or may not work. Instead of worrying, I’m trying to stay with what is, not what might be. While panicking last night, I tried to remind myself that I only know this moment and cannot know the future. This has been a useful practice the last few months, but wasn’t comforting last night. Today it is. To say I am calm is a lie, but I’m experiencing some peace of mind. I am focused, determined, resolute, committed, resilient, present.

I can do this.

Whatever “this” turns out to be.

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Migraine Mood Changes: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

It’s been a long time since a migraine destroyed my mood like it did Tuesday. It was a scary reminder of the dark thoughts that accompany migraine mood changes.

I was fiddling with a picture for a post and minor frustrations had me nearly in tears. Hart fixed the problem while I sat beside him, closed my eyes and took deep breaths. My mind jumped from Photoshop to “Why can’t I get this diet figured out. What am I supposed to do when a food is OK on one day and then not the next time in the rotation? How am I supposed to eat anything? What if I don’t get it sorted out and the migraines come back full force? I don’t want to do that again.”

As my mind spiraled in fear, I reminded myself to not believe everything I think. Those thoughts I was having? They aren’t Truth, nor do they represent what I believe most of the time. I told myself, “This is migraine. This is migraine. This is migraine. This is not me.” Within minutes of remembering the critical distinction between me and migraine, all the anxiety and frustration melted away.

Then I was amazed at how far I’ve come. When a migraine hijacked my mood even a couple years ago, I’d respond by dwelling on every dark thought that crossed my mind. Now I know to shut down those ruminations because they hurt far more than they help. Realizing I’ve learned to pay diligent attention and respond to all the minute migraine-induced changes (mood and otherwise) fills me with gratitude and pride.

Through much research and work, I’ve made tremendous strides in my physical health. I have worked just as hard at changing the way I react to and cope with migraine. As proud as I am of the first achievement, the latter may be even more meaningful. While my physical improvements may not last (in fact, I’m having all sorts of food issues and averaging two migraines a day right now), I can always rely on the strategies I’ve learned to ease the burden of living with chronic migraine. As the saying goes, I can’t control migraine, but I can control the way I react to it.

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Shocking News: Kids with Migraine Have “Behavior Problems”

Children and teenagers with severe headaches are more likely than others to have “emotional, behavioral and social problems,” according to a study published in the May issue of Pediatrics. From these findings, researchers are now asking about the correlation: Do the headaches lead to behavior problems or do the behavior problems lead to headaches?

Surely they can see that headache pain changes someone’s behavior. It’s both common sense and physiological fact.

Head pain = being grumpy, short tempered, angry, foggy headed, etc.

In addition, among the myriad symptoms of migraine — and I think of other headaches too — is altered behavior. According to the American Council for Headache Education‘s book Migraine: The Complete Guide some of these are mood changes, irritability, high energy and lethargy. Other symptoms that could change behavior include mental confusion, disorientation, transient global amnesia (similar to amnesia that follows a concussion), difficulty finding words, and problems understanding spoken or written language.

I know my behavior and attitudes change. I am often high strung right before a migraine and can be off kilter for a few days while I’m dealing with headache hangover. I also know that many of you have the same experiences.

Yes, yes, researchers don’t believe something to be “true” until studies shows that it is, but come on.