It’s Hard to Believe These Are Migraine Symptoms (But They Are)

Working on an article about all the migraine symptoms that most people have no idea are related to migraine reminded me of the list of symptoms I made for my internist in 2008. The list of all the weird things happening in my body that seemed to have no explanation was more than a page long. My doctor had no idea what they could point to. Now I know that, except for cold sores, they were all migraine symptoms.

I’m a little uncomfortable sharing such a private list, but I think it’s important to show some of the possible varied and strange migraine symptoms, as well as how severe migraine can be. Most of them are direct migraine symptoms, but some were a result of migraine symptoms (like tingling arms, which was part of a cascade of physical reactions due to constant neck pain that ultimately resulted in pinched nerves). Certain symptoms were so normal that I didn’t even think to include them on the list, like tooth sensitivity, earaches, eye irritation, or neck pain. Others were such common migraine symptoms that I didn’t mention them. Still others I was embarrassed to reveal, like hallucinating sounds.

It’s odd to think that we can be in our bodies and still not be able to figure out what’s going on or dismiss the signals that something’s not working right. But we do it all the time. I have lived with chronic migraine for the vast majority of my life and have been writing about it for nearly 10 years. Still, it’s only been in the last year that I’ve been able to connect the last of these weird symptoms to migraine.

This list doesn’t represent all of my symptoms or even the worst I experienced, but they came shortly after the turning point when my illness went from bad to terrible, in June 2007. My symptoms continued to worsen for another 2.5 years. I lived it and still have trouble believing how incredibly sick I was. It’s no wonder people without migraine have no idea how severe this illness can be.

Symptom Summary for Kerrie Smyres, 4/7/08



  • Current biggest concern
  • Increases over first hour each day
  • Food usually decreases for 1-2 hours

Feeling faint, lightheaded, blacking out (also chronic)

  • Worsened by standing up, exercise
  • Blackouts (either last less than 30 seconds or until I wake up)


  • Usually mild; moderate
  • Diagnosed with Meneire’s without hearing loss, 2000

Sensitivity to exertion/exercise

  • Walking a half mile = feeling faint, lightheaded, exhausted
  • Gentle yoga triggers pounding headache


  • Bones feel heavy and tired
  • Nap 3 hours/day at least 5 days/week (from 2 hours a year ago)


  • Become unreasonable, irritable, exhausted
  • Get lightheaded, woozy
  • Often no obvious trigger; sometimes triggered by hunger, bright lights, crowds


  • 15 lb. weight loss since June 2007
  • Night sweats, chills, shivering
  • Hands, arms tingle 3-5x/night
  • Can’t get workspace bright enough when lighting was once fine (in kitchen, at desk)
  • Whooshing in ears, like blood pulsing; worse during migraine
  • Vision bounces/pulses always; worse during migraine
  • Sudden decreased hearing & ringing in left ear; my voice echoes
  • Canker sores, cold sores
  • Heat intolerance
  • Hand tremor
  • Constipation
  • Nasal congestion
  • Constant thirst, drink 100-150 oz water/day
Coping, Symptoms

Thanks (Interrupted by Migraine)

Thank you all for your kind comments and support. My neglect of the blog has nagged at me, mostly because I felt like I let people down. Even more, I didn’t want to think about migraine or headache. It felt like every moment of my life was devoted to the migraines and I couldn’t dig as deep as I once did.

Oh, gotta go now. My mind is so fried by this current migraine that I can’t build sentences anymore. Not to mention that I’ve become so clumsy my fingers don’t hit the right keys. I’ve been mentally working on a series of posts about what a migraine is really like — and that the headache is really only one component of many oddities that a migraine episode includes. One of the many symptoms of a nervous system temporarily on the fritz. (I hope to add some links to relevant previous posts when I get my body back. Feel free to comment with your experiences.)

P.S. Hart and I have bought a darling yellow house in Central Phoenix! We close on January 13 and move in when our belongings arrive from Cambridge at the end of the month.

Books & Products, Coping, Meds & Supplements, Mental Health, Treatment

Discovering I’m Depressed in Four Short Paragraphs

Multiple times a day I wonder if how I feel at a given moment is depression- or migraine-related. I keep concluding that I’m not, but I’m asking myself more than ever and have to wonder if that’s a sign that I am clinically depressed.

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was about 15. I took Prozac for a couple months then didn’t take anything until I was in college. I’ve been on antidepressants more often than not in the last 10 years. They usually keep things under control, but I’ve had multiple backslides. These are major falls off the mountain not small slips.

I’ve been taking Wellbutrin and Cymbalta for three years and added Lamictal six months after starting the first two. I check in with my psychiatrist (whom I love) every three to six months and we play around with meds as necessary. In Octoberwe increased my Lamictal dose from 200 mg to 300 mg. It didn’t seem to be working so we went back to 200 mg on March 8. As I write this, I’m thinking that maybe it was working. . . .

What’s Going on Now
I’ve been hiding out all winter, but didn’t start feeling sorry for myself until recently. Except for the weekend thing (which really don’t feel like depression), I haven’t cried much. I have felt overwhelmed, tired and just generally blah for the last couple weeks. Not to mention that my e-mail inbox is nearly overflowing and even the shortest blog posts are taking me hours to write. I was blaming it on migraine, but the signs are adding up.

That Was Easy: I Am Depressed!
As I write, I’ve become almost positive I’m depressed. Having online depression screening tests rating my symptoms as moderate to severe is a pretty good clue too.

What’s Next?
It takes me a long time to find a cocktail of meds that’s effective. Once I do, drugs have always been quite helpful for me until I hit a backslide. I’ve considered therapy off and on. Trying to find a good therapist is such a pain. In fact, I’ve never found one I liked. Also, three standing appointments each week is my limit.

When I mentioned my mindfulness-based wellness class and meditation, my psychiatrist pulled a related book out of his bag: The Mindful Way Through Depression. One of the authors, Jon Kabat-Zinn, also wrote the book we’re using for class, Full Catastrophe Living. I read a fair amount of both before reading started triggering nausea and dizziness last week.

I really like what the depression book has to say. Particularly about the role of negative thoughts or self-talk in perpetuating depression. I seriously didn’t realize that other people don’t do that all the time. It has been normal for me for years, perhaps forever.

After Hart suggested that I beat myself up every time I let myself down, I’ve become much more aware of my thoughts. I’ve already progressed in noticing — and halting — the negative things I tell myself. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but it feels good to know I’ve already started what I’m trying to do.

Ironically, inability to concentrate is one of my major symptoms. It also makes learning to meditate highly frustrating. The meditation class I’m taking has taught me to not get upset with myself for “not doing it right.” I’m not as wound up about it as I normally would be and am even sticking with a daily practice.

For now I’m hanging in there. I’m trying to not be so hard on myself. I’m even giving myself permission to watch movies when I need to escape. I also stopped writing this mid-post so I could call my psychiatrist. I hope he’ll adjust my meds over the phone, but will make an appointment if I need to.

When I sat at my computer this morning, I had no idea all this would come gushing out. In fact I started out to write a short forum post about differentiating between depression and migraine symptoms. Amazing how helpful “talking” it through is.

What’s your experience with depression? Please share it in the comments below.