A Malfunction in the Brain’s Software

software_malfunction“I often say that the software system of the brain now is impaired. And all of the functions that software runs — like your thinking and your behavior, your emotions and your sleep — can potentially be impaired as well.” Although neuropsychologist Gerard Gioia was talking about the brain’s recovery following a concussion, it’s an excellent metaphor for migraine.

I’ve often said that my brain function is at 30% (or some other percentage) during a migraine attack. I’m not confusing mind and brain here (though my mind malfunctions, too). Every bodily function that the brain directs works less effectively than usual during a migraine. You become clumsier, maybe dropping things or walking into walls. Thinking is impaired, so it can be difficult to find words, make sense of written language, or understand what someone else is saying. You may experience vision changes, like blind spots, seeing flashing lights, or blurred or double vision. Your mood swings can be so substantial that you’ll wonder where all this emotion is coming from. Sleep may be impossible or unavoidable. You might even perceive objects—including your own your limbs—to be larger or smaller than usual (Alice in Wonderland syndrome).

These (and many other) symptoms are familiar to people with migraine, but it’s hard to explain it to people who don’t have migraine. Perhaps the software metaphor will make this weird illness called migraine easier to describe.

I’m curious to hear from those of you who have cluster headache, NDPH, tension-type headache, or another headache disorder—do you also feel like your brain is malfunctioning?

4 thoughts on “A Malfunction in the Brain’s Software”

  1. I definitely feel like my brain is impaired. As a college student, it is so difficult to try and explain my occasional less than stellar performance on an assessment due to “migraine brain”. People don’t realize how many senses are affected and how frustrating it can be trying to operate at full speed when you just cannot. I will definitely try using the software metaphor in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have been having chronic daily migraine for the past sixteen years, though the migraines began as early as I could speak, according to my parents. Just recently, a few of my new physicians were able to trace the initial cause of my migraine back to a type of encephalitis that I had at age two. They also emphasized that the trauma caused by the infection activated a part of the immune system of my brain which controls the fight our flight response, leaving me with excruciating headache, some aura, dilated pupils, freezing hands and feet as well as tachycardia and insomnia. My brain has basically been malfunctioning, on overdrive for the past thirty years, overreacting to any stimulus. We are in the process of slowly trying to retrain those overactive pathways.

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