Case of the Scintillating Acid Flashback

Saturday morning, while puttering around the internet, I thought I was suddenly either going blind or experiencing my first real acid flashback.  What was in store for me? Either tragedy and woe or mind-bending hallucinations and fun, but who could say?

I felt like I had stared at a bright light for too long and was being afflicted by those spots you sometimes see afterward, like, say, when a camera flash causes momentary bright spots in your vision.  The only problem was that I hadn’t been looking at any bright lights.  Nonetheless, there was a bright spot directly in front of everything I looked at, and no matter how I blinked or rubbed my eyes it wouldn’t go away.  It stopped me from being able to read, watch TV, or even properly look at anything at all, so I resigned myself to lying down on the couch with a blanket over my face for a while to see what happened.

As I lay there with my eyes closed, I could get a better look at the spot that was afflicting me as it sat there against the black backdrop of the insides of my eyelids.  Upon closer inspection, it turned out not to be just a spot, after all.  It was boomerang shaped and made up of a thousand tiny diamond facets, each one twinkling in a different color.  The two facets at the central point of the boomerang were fluttering like tiny diamond wings and changing color.  What the fuck was going on?

At this point, part of my mind was sort of academically interested but emotionally disengaged, all “Oh, how fascinating; I wonder what this portends,” but the other, much bigger, part was screaming “No, seriously, WHAT the FUCK?”

I was a little worried about the state of my rods and cones, to say the least, and thoughts of strange brain malfunctions began to creep in as well.  Was it a tumor? Nerve damage? Was I finally answering the Cylon song that only I (or only my eyes) could hear?

I waited and waited, keeping my eyes tightly closed for at least an hour, watching the sparkling boomerang, and trying to find some corner of my mind in which the experience of an unplanned-for hallucination would be at least somewhat amusing.  Finally, I noticed the sparking, kaleidoscopic boomerang shape slowly drifting toward the right side of my vision, and, after another ten or so minutes, it finally disappeared beyond the bounds of what I could see.  I spent a while nervously working up the courage to open my eyes again, and when I did, I could see just fine.  (I decided, nonetheless, that I’d better rest my eyes some more, so I then took a nap for the remainder of the afternoon.)

Now, Reader, if you are familiar with these symptoms, you may have already solved the Case of the Scintillating Acid Flashback, but I still had not.  That night at the movies (Burn After Reading, which I almost skipped due to the eye issues, but which I am glad I did see and which we all loved), I told my strange story to all of my friends, and one of them eventually had a possible answer for me — her ophthalmologist had recently described these symptoms to her and had called it an “ocular migraine”: a migraine without any headache pain.  Well, huh.

I came home and looked it up and was shocked to find this article on scintillating scotoma, with a picture of almost exactly what I had seen earlier that day (mine was prettier, though).  I think I might have actually screamed out loud a little when I saw the illustration.  That was it!  That was exactly what I had experienced, and the knowledge that this was associated with a migraine helped to explain the mild headache and nausea I’d felt for the rest of the day (but had basically disregarded at the time, as I feel that way a lot).  Migraines!

Well, as you can imagine, I spent a while reading up on migraines themselves, too — not just the “ocular” kind — and it eventually occurred to me that what I had thought of as just “my usual headaches” were probably migraines, but without the aura: pain on one side of my head that is intense and pulsating and gets worse with movement or activity and lasts for several hours or up to 2-3 days.  Yes indeed, that describes my headaches!  At times I had thought the headaches were brought on by too much indulgence in alcohol or cigarettes, but how could I explain having them when I hadn’t indulged at all?  “Why do I feel hungover if I haven’t been drinking,” I would ask myself.  Suddenly, shit was beginning to become clear.  I have probably been having migraines for YEARS now.  Like TEN years. WHAT THE FUCK.

(The weirdest thing, though, is why I have been, up to now, having the headaches without the aura (the visual/perceptual symptoms preceding it), and why I’ve now had the aura with only mild headache pain to follow? This remains unclear!)

As you’ll predict, I also learned a bit about possible migraine triggers, and in addition to such triggers as being a Lady and experiencing the Special Ladies’ Time for Ladies, triggers may include: alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, chocolate, and cheese.  So, basically my entire way of life is a long series of migraine triggers.  That news did not please me, but, realistically, I think that I can just try to moderate the things on that list that I already know are triggers (cigarettes, red wine, maaaaaaybe coffee?) and go from there. (Yes, I do plan to ask my doctor for advice, too, just haven’t yet.)

At any rate, it doesn’t seem like I am going blind or having an acid flashback, to which I say “YAY” and “BOO,” respectively.  I mean, when are all those years of hallucinogenic drug experimentation finally going to start paying some fucking dividends, I ASK YOU?

Nonetheless, I am quite pleased to have this (possible/probable) explanation for what I experienced on Saturday.  What a lucky coincidence that my friend had just learned about these ocular migraines from her doctor, or I might not have figured it out at all.  The knowledge of what was (possibly/probably) going on in my brain made it a lot less stressful for me when this happened again yesterday afternoon.  In fact, I saw the twinkling spot of light start to grown and scintillate in front of my eyes and I felt the weird tingly dissociation of my limbs, and just decided to lie down and close my eyes again — this time I fell asleep and had quite the pleasant nap.  Again, only a mild headache followed the visual effects. Maybe one day they will become fun?  Recreational? Scintillating, in more than the literal sense?

Case Status: Pending, also Sparkly


  1. I had migraines for years without knowing them, until the time I lost half my field of vision. I managed them pretty well for a long time, but when I went off “the pill,” they went from being a weekly event to about a quarterly event. I’ve never been able to tie it to any food or other activity. I’ve had visual auras as well, usually preceding a silent migraine, but mine weren’t sparkly. I feel kind of ripped off on that one.

    I do feel like making occasional declarations regarding the state of my rods and cones, though. (Rods + Cones = Hermaphrodite?)


  2. Well, I am glad I’m not the only person who didn’t realize what a migraine was! Also, you so totally are getting ripped off on the sparkly auras. Maybe you can contact the Powers That Be and get an upgrade there! (Also, laughing out loud about your rods and cones…)


  3. Migraines are fun, aren’t they? The most interesting ones I remember are the “glowing pink apples” migraine, the “but I’m not wearing a headband” migraine. The day my mom realized that I was having migraines when I used to tell her “my hair hurts”, that was a weird day.


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