Understanding Bachmann’s Migraines


Last night, in a post about allegations that Michele Bachmann suffers from migraine headaches that are “frequent” and “incapacitating,” I said that this was a serious charge that required a serious response from the Bachmann campaign. A regular reader of mine also suffers from migraines, and he emails to say that it’s not quite that simple:

I get them, and it’s not such an easy thing to explain. Without medication, they knock me out as bad as they describe with Bachmann (although usually it’s a day, not days). With medication, it’s pretty manageable. The medication you take for an oncoming migraine (I take Relpax) is a miracle drug, and without it I probably couldn’t manage in a job half as stressful as what I do. The preventative drugs I’m given are more of a crapshoot, that’s just the unfortunate reality.

So like Bachmann, I’m on a shitload of drugs, and it’s not an easy thing to explain; it’s a lot of drugs and it’s an everchanging regimen. I’m trying to taper off two of the drugs because a third seems to work better, and even when a preventative drug is no good, going off cold turkey induces more headaches. On top of it all, these drugs have primary uses for even more stigmatized medical conditions — two years ago my doctors talked me into taking one that’s mainly for epilepsy, and not only did it not work, it put me in the hospital with an ulcer. Now one of the drugs I’m taking (but gradually trying to phase out) is mainly used for depression, something I didn’t even know until I’d been on it for over a year.

So, needless to say, it’s very easy to understand why she finds this hard to explain. For starters, the most effective thing is to be taking a lot of painkillers indefinitely, and that doesn’t look good. Then you’re on a boatload of preventative drugs that are also for things like epilepsy, depression, etc. No one really understands why the people who get these things at a severe level get them, or why it’s different from a passing ache or pain. Plus, when you do get one that’s not controlled, it’s like someone flipped an off-switch on your body. In a situation where you don’t have the luxury of lying down, you can power through on adrenaline, but you’re still not the same person.

Look, I think you know that nothing is going to change my opinion that Michele Bachmann is a dangerous fruitcake. But this condition is very complicated and it doesn’t sound like she’s in any different pair of shoes than the many people — including many high performing professionals — who suffer from it. So, I guess this hits a nerve for me because this really is not evidence of her nature as a dangerous fruitcake, although it’s easy for me to see how she will be unable to avoid that appearance. I think that ultimately this will do a lot of people who suffer from the same condition a disservice.

For the record, I don’t think Bachmann’s migraines have anything to do with her crazy ideas about how to run the country. But I do think that a condition that’s potentially incapacitating during times of stress is very much an issue for a prospective president. We only learned after the fact about JFK’s massive cocktail of medical problems, and it was probably just dumb luck that they never caused any serious problems. But it’s not 1960 anymore. This might not be easy to explain, but it still needs to be explained. In a followup email, my correspondent agrees:

Of course it’s relevant. Even if it had less of an impact than it does, running for President is an open-kimono exercise, so any desire to have some privacy around this is out the window. My fear though is that our very immature discourse combined with the still evolving courses of treatment could distort the depiction of this condition in two different directions: it’s literally “in her head,” because she’s nutty; or it’s so serious that it’s disqualifying. My view as a sufferer is that it’s all too real, but it’s manageable like any other chronic health condition, like diabetes.

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