Around Christmas late last year I started into a cluster cycle of headaches. It’s been a long while since I wrote about these so I’ll retell my tale of the pain in the brain. Cluster Headache is in the migraine family. A typical day in the life of a Clusterati has me feeling a little strange about 3 hours after waking up and then spending 15 to 30 minutes with a serious headache isolated exclusively on the left side of my head. Unlike a regular headache the pain is sharp and constant. My left eye waters, I get extra sensitive to… pretty much everything & once in a while it’s enough to give me the classic migraine nausea. Once in a while they’ll just cease but they usually peter out after several minutes. Often, I’ll be due for another episode 3-4 hours later and then done for the day. This is the largest thing that separates them from standard migraine. They seem to be directly tied to the circadian rhythms AKA, your sleep cycles. This particular cycle was a little out of the ordinary in that I was frequently getting them in the evening and twice in the middle of the night.
It’s been a week now since I had a full-blown attack so I’m definitely coming out of this cluster pattern. This is the other defining factor and where Cluster Headaches get their name. They come in groups over a few months and then completely vanish for as much as a year or two. My current cycle will have lasted almost exactly two months, which is on the short side, but I’m certainly not complaining.
Due to the quick onset & (hopefully) rapid departure of the pains, taking medication isn’t really a solution. A few times in the past 2 months I had dull (for clusters) headache that just lasted all day. In those cases 12-hour pain caps took the edge off but for most of the days there’s just nothing you can take that will do more than slowly make you immune to the pain dampener. The only thing I’ve found that can truly beat down a cluster headache in full swing is a terrific rush of endorphins & adrenaline. If I’m at home I’ll hit the basement where we store the free weights. If I’m out and about I’ll do a few wind sprints. If I’m at the office – and this is where the headaches most frequently occur – there’s not much I can do. While working in New York I used to take a walk to the stairway and knock off a few dozen flights. 10 down and 16 back up followed by a walk on the roof usually did the trick. The panic inducing vertigo of looking down 16 stories onto the streets of Manhattan sometimes provided the finishing touch.
The correlation between circadian rhythms and exercise beating the pain is something of a mystery to me but I can see that getting the blood flowing & opening up the capillaries in my head is the solution. Now I just need my current employer to put in an additional 15 stories of building.