Aphasia, apparently

So, my last post was a pretty good example of one of my weirder migraine symptoms, so I might as well go and explain them now.

Migraines, effectively, cause a tonne of unusual electrical and vascular activity in the brain, and along with that come weird symptoms, not just pain (pain is pretty much a given) but also a medley of other stuff that’s described as “Aura”. The classic symptoms are visual disturbance, nausea, confusion (of the drunk-acting kind), dizziness and eventually vomiting.

I’m lucky, in not getting the vomiting or nausea (A sodding miracle, since I get carsick on chairs with castors) but instead I get really weird; First, there’s the visual disturbance, which sometimes tips over into either unilateral blindness (One deactivated eye, usually on the opposite side to the pain, but not always) or complete blindness with the interesting caveat that the problem is obviously not in the optic nerve, it’s in the signal processing, because I can still do things like catch thrown objects or bat people away from waving at my face. Which I want to experiment with properly, at some point.

The other really weird side effect is aphasia – I forget how to talk. I can understand other people, and sometimes nod or shake my head, but even that’s quite difficult. It’s a completely bizarre feeling, like having an incredibly severe speech impediment – I have an intermittent stutter, but aphasia feels like a normal block drawn out to being the whole sentence instead of just a partial syllable or a word. When I was about thirteen, and having an aphasic attack in the presence of one of my teachers, he had a brilliant idea; “Can you say things in a foreign language?”

I started with Latin – I could repeat chunks of doggerel, proving that there was nothing wrong with my vocal coordination. Next step was German, with which I could explain myself fairly well.

Speech, in English, comes back slowly – Composing whole sentences in my head, then firing them out all at once, then gradually returning to having natural speech. Very strange.

Since then, during some of my migraines, the problem of having to find me a translator has become something that my friends are quite prepared for, and likewise for my having to find a language that works with the nearest translator (I’ve ended up speaking French, filling in the words I didn’t know in French with Japanese ones, and having two people conferring to work out what I was saying, then passing the results on to the intended listener) but at least it’s a coping strategy. It obviously works better in a silent migraine than a full one, since with full-on migraine pain I am generally curled up and whimpering, which is the same in most languages.

So, yes. Yesterday’s post was a good example of the phasing-in of aphasia; Losing some English words and sentence structures, and not really noticing it, so just filling up the gaps with German, as I’ve been teaching myself to do since I was a teenager.

Also, migraines are horrible, and this one is still continuing. My record longest was twenty three days, give or take a few hours, and this one had better be shorter than that, since I have plans.


5 thoughts on “Aphasia, apparently

  1. Yikes.

    My worst worst migraines lasted 3 days. I saw a consultant neurologist, and got Rizatriptan which was great, but was later taken away due to psych meds interactions. Drat.

    Now the attacks only last 1 day, there is no aura, and co-codamol does a good enough job. I had to cry in front of the GP to get the neurologist referral all those years ago (it was out of area). The consultant did try preventive meds, but none worked!

    So Rizatriptan made a good acute treatment.

    I hope you are getting all the support you need. One of the off-label preventive meds is also used for bipolar as a mood stabiliser, oddly enough – sodium valproate from memory (such as it is).

    Lots of love, Cathy xxxx

  2. My husband always wondered if I was being rude, I always struggle to get my words out during a migraine. I’m not mute by any stretch but it takes an awful lot of concentration and effort to form a really coherent sentence without any missed words/tangents/monosyllabic grunts.

    • Definitely, definitely not rude – I wish that it was a more commonly talked-about migraine symptom, since it’d make life so much easier if there was a cultural knowledge that a migraine is definitely not “just a headache!” it’s a tonne of weird neurological things all happening at once, and to expect strangeness when someone is having one.

  3. That is an interesting description of the symptoms. I often loose a word or several, and have to go back and construct the sentence in a different way to use another word, choosing whether to look stupid or spend 5 minutes explaining the neurological effects of migraine. But this is a whole different level and must show how the neural paths are behaving, if you alternative languages can still function. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thank you for replying as well, I’m always happy to hear from more migraineurs about their experiences and symptoms.

      I know that, in the past, migraineurs have been used in experiments about various neural problems – I vaguely remember something about temporary colourblindness, and lack of object recognition when one eye was covered, but it was all so long ago that I read it that I can’t even remember the journal, never mind the author. The brain is a marvellous thing (and I hope yours stops hurting soon).

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