Blinded: A Migraine Lesson

Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
(John 9:40-41)

In my last migraine post, I shared a bit about how one of the weirder migraine-associated symptoms (aphasia) has affected me and how God has used that particular bit of unpleasantness to pare down my pride.

And no, the irony that most of the time aphasia is associated with damage to a part of the brain is not lost on me. Like I said, it has been an effective humbler…

But these temporary bouts of aphasia are not the only oddities that migraine has brought into my life, nor are they the only symptoms that carry an embedded spiritual lesson. Let’s check out another one:

Ocular Migraine

While some degree of aphasia precedes almost 90% of my migraine attacks, ocular migraines are much less frequent. However, if my first bouts of difficulty speaking were disconcerting and embarrassing, my first ocular migraine was downright scary, not the least because I was driving with my three small children.

When they were all toddlers, it seemed we were forever driving to the pediatrician. Most of these trips were unremarkable, but there is one that stands out clearly in my mind mainly because “clearly” did not at all describe my visual ability.

I was on the interstate en route to the pediatric clinic when a jagged, roughly circular line of black and white appeared in the left of my visual field. It’s rather difficult to describe, but imagine a scintillating border of alternating, diagonal black and white stripes. Inside that flashing border is… nothing. Nothing at all.

At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that there was some kind of funky hole in my vision – and that hole made it impossible to see if there was anyone in my left rear view mirror or in the lane beside me. Forget my vehicular blind spot – I had almost an entire blind side. 

By the grace of God, I made it to the pediatrician where I  had difficulty signing in because the left side of the page kept disappearing into this mysterious visual void. After unsuccessfully trying to tilt my head in a manner that brought the entire page into view, I finally told the receptionist what was going on.

To my horror, the nurses clustered around me, bringing me juice, getting me a chair, and in other ways causing what all young moms dread: a scene. Finally, one of the nurses or doctors asked if I had migraines, and when I replied in the affirmative, she reassured me that this was “normal” for migraine sufferers (a term that has only ever been applied to me with the addition of “normal for…“).

Since then, I have had a handful of these somewhat bizarre events, though now I know to just wait it out for 30 or 45 minutes. However, dealing with these unannounced blind spots got me thinking about a different kind of blind spot.

As I journey down the narrow path of sanctification, I have often asked the Lord not to allow me to be unaware of sin but to expose it. Lately, He has shown me blind spots in my relationships; places where I have areas where I have harbored resentment, allowing this ugliness to taint both my words and actions. Doing good works, maybe, but with sullenness rather than the cheerful gratitude which befits a daughter of the King. In other spots, rather than rejoicing in the success or blessings of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have nursed a small and secret envy.

Rather than keeping my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith as I ought to be doing, these blind spots of jealousy or bitterness have grown in an increasingly hungry arc across my view of certain friends or family members, blinding me to several of their very excellent attributes. Such blindness leaves ragged holes in what should be relationships alive with genuine warmth and closeness.

But my Father is good, and I am thankful that He does not leave me to grope about in the darkness of my own animosity. Instead, He chastises me,  revealing the full extent of the sin-taint by exposing it in the brilliant light of His own holiness and perfect love. When my sin is brought thus into focus, I feel a keen grief that leads to repentance.

Then by His redemptive power and loving mercy, He restores the sight of this old sinner, bringing His healing into the rifts of my relationships as well. Once I can see clearly,  love for my brethren and appreciation for their gifts is also revived.

So what are your blind spots? May He who gives sight to the blind cause us to recognize and repent of our sin so that we may be brought into a right relationship with Him and others.

Speechless – A Migraine Lesson

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
(Proverbs 11:2)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Most people have some familiarity with migraines as well as the standard symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and/or odors.

What you may not know is that a migraine is much more than a bad headache and often involves some fairly bizarre neurological symptoms before, during, after, or even occurring entirely apart from the actual onset of pain.

Just for kicks, let’s explore one of them – and how it helped deflate my ego:

Aphasia

In my personal experience, aphasia is a fairly good humbler of pride. As a child, I was frequently told I was smart and by the time I was an adolescent I began to believe it. I particularly liked to think my knowledge base was somewhat broader than it actually was, and because I was also insecure, was threatened when others knew more than me.

In my young adulthood, I also held a fair amount of intellectual smugness, somewhat oddly wedded to a crippling fear that I was not so very bright after all. Often, the resulting product was an arrogantly offensive attitude and included many distinctly unintelligent actions.

When aphasia strikes, however, it is rather difficult to feel oneself to be intellectually superior.

The first (and most extreme) instance of aphasia in my life happened very memorably when my children were very small. I cannot remember whether it was before my episode with meningitis or afterward, but I can very clearly recall the humiliation I felt.

I was hosting a play date for my littles and was talking with some other moms. Suddenly, I realized that the sounds coming from my face bore no resemblance whatsoever to the clear and coherent words I had composed in my mind. In despair, I remember trying to correct my speech only to have more garbled gibberish erupt from my now-red countenance before I finally hit upon the brilliant idea of shutting up.

It took a few heartbeats of silence before the other moms closed their mouths and looked away, probably wondering if I were drunk. It was the longest play date of my life.

I never spoke of this incident until I saw reporter, Serene Branson’s very public episode with aphasia and recognized the look in her eyes. However, it wasn’t until I read an article written to dispel rumors that she’d had a stroke that I learned the term “aphasia” and that it was linked to migraines.

Although my aphasia is rarely that severe (and from the look in the reporter’s eyes, I highly suspect panic set in, making things worse for her at that moment just as they did in my living room years before), it can still be embarrassing to speak in slurred speech, mix up words, or lose them altogether.

It’s also decidedly difficult to feel pompous when you have just asked your daughter to pass the couch at the dinner table. Not to mention those dignity-deflating moments when the name of a relative or close friend fails to roll off the tongue during an introduction…

But of course, my younger self desperately needed humbling, and I daresay I still do. Certainly, aphasia is only one of many tools my Father has used in taking me down a notch or two.

And while discipline is not always pleasant to the erroneous child, there are some delightful byproducts. While I may temporarily lose my ability to speak intelligibly, I have gained the ability to laugh at myself. Because if I am honest, plenty of my random word-swaps or numb-tongue exhibitions are more than mildly entertaining!

No longer do I feel the sting of humiliation when my words become tangled or fail to be in any recognizable tongue. Now, each instance of aphasia (and of the milder sort, there are many) serves as a reminder to keep my pride in check… and also to watch my words.

Have you had any embarrassing migraine moments you’d like to share?  Feel free to comment below. I’ll be unplugging for a few days, but I’ll respond as soon as I get back!!