I’ve written about my struggle with chronic migraine a few times before, but I thought I’d give you all an update about how I’ve been feeling lately and how chronic migraine has affected my ability to speak. Since the beginning of the year and during lockdown, my chronic migraine has stayed with me. It didn’t worsen but it also didn’t improve.
In 2020, I’ve had at least 1-2 migraines per week. In the weeks leading up to and during my period, I typically get 4-6 migraines per week.
Because I’ve suffered from chronic migraine steadily throughout the last decade or so, I suspect that my condition has slowly started to affect and eat away at my cognitive abilities (i.e. memory, learning, concentrating and absorbing information).
Reading and Writing
I’ve always been a voracious reader and I take books with me wherever I go (even if it’s a family wedding reception). About 10-15 years ago, I began noticing that while reading, I’d often stumble over words and mix words up. When that happened, I’d have to go back to the beginning of the sentence and re-read it carefully, putting in extra effort to read each word carefully. Prior to experiencing chronic migraine, I had never had this issue before. I’d always been a very fearless and able reader who could read silently to myself or even out loud for others with the utmost of confidence.
Around the same time that this started happening, I also noticed that while writing I’d often draw complete blanks and forget words or sentences I had formed in my head just a few seconds earlier. For instance, when it came time for me to record these words and sentences that were coalescing in my mind on the page, all of a sudden I’d forget what it was that I had wanted to say. I would have to stop and wait for myself to remember the word or phrase I needed to complete the sentence. This became so unbelievably frustrating that it drove me to shutter a successful freelance writing business entirely a few years ago.
Even now, when I write blog posts, my drafts are often riddled with question marks wherever I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say or which word to use to finish a sentence. I’ll place a “?” there for myself and fill in the blanks when I remember which word I had meant to write there in the first place.
Okay, so let’s talk about speech.
Though I was quite shy growing up, I’ve always been a really confident and bold speaker. As a child, youth and young adult I voiced my opinions regularly (and loudly) and I very rarely stuttered or stumbled over words. In school, I was always picked and singled out for public speaking roles whether that meant doing readings in church, performing in plays or reading aloud to the class and large groups of teachers and students. My teachers knew I was a confident speaker who didn’t get nervous and could perform well under pressure.
Even as an adult, in my early- to mid-20s I was often chosen to speak aloud to large groups of people at work, public events and at family weddings. If an event called for a speech, I’d be asked to do it.
I’m in my late-30s now and the very thought of speaking to large groups of people fills me with dread because I know I’ll mess up.
Chairing meetings at work sucks the very life out of me and crushes my self esteem. I appear uncertain and timid in front of my colleagues (where once I appeared confident and self-assured) and I can no longer complete a spoken sentence without stuttering and forgetting what it was I had wanted to say. To my coworkers, it probably seems as if I’m ill-prepared for the meeting and/or discussion but, in reality, I’ve most likely spent days ahead preparing.
It’s difficult for me to describe, but when I speak, I have trouble matching my brain to my mouth. That or my brain entirely shuts down and stops working. It’s almost as if I’m experiencing a power cut for a few moments and in order for me to continue speaking, I have to pause and wait for my brain to switch on again. Until power is restored to my brain, I cannot remember what it was I was going to say.
You can imagine how ignorant and pathetic that would make someone feel, can’t you? Chronic migraine has done an absolute number on me and my cognitive abilities, and I suspect it’ll only worsen over time. When I speak to people now I almost feel as if I should warn them of my speech impediment (the stuttering, the stumbling, the confusion and the abrupt pauses), otherwise they’ll think I’m crazy.
I’ve even had people ask me before if I’m suffering from a migraine or if I’m feeling okay because they get just as uncomfortable as I do during these episodes. Coworkers will stop me mid-sentence and say “are you feeling alright?” and though I know they mean well, their concern sucks even more of my self-confidence away.
This is not me asking for sympathy. Rather, this is me recording my honest and true experiences.
I hope to use blog posts like this for any future doctors appointments I may have to help me manage and relieve my chronic migraine condition. If I sit down with a doctor, I’ll have a clear record of what I’ve gone through and how chronic migraine has changed my life and impacted me.
How I’m Coping Now
Generally, I’m able to hide my insecurities well unless, of course, I’m feeling particularly ill or sensitive that day. If I’m experiencing a migraine episode, I know what to expect and I’ll warn whoever I’m talking to that I may stutter a bit and pause frequently during our conversation.
If I’ve been asked to speak publicly in-person, by telephone or online, I’ll try my hardest not to let my insecurities get the best of me during the chat. I’ll put on a mask, as it were, and act as if everything is a-okay. Sometimes I’m better at that than at others – it really just depends on how I’m feeling that day.
If you know someone who suffers from chronic migraine or if you suffer from them yourself, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it’s affected your or your loved one’s cognitive abilities.
If you’re still here – THANK YOU. This turned out to be an extremely long post and I thank you for taking the time out of your day to read the entire thing. That really means a lot to me.