My neurologist switched me to daily Topamax for migraine prevention a couple of months ago. Topamax is an anti-seizure medication. At first it didn’t work. I had a non-stop headache for weeks. But then the headache went away. I haven’t had a migraine for a few weeks now, which is nice. But I still have the Topamax side effects.
The big one is cognitive impairment. One of Topamax’s nicknames is Dopamax, because it makes you dopey.
I have very little working memory. I can’t keep anything in mind long enough to make good use of it. I also have trouble with reading comprehension. Things I would normally figure out quickly – like instructions aimed at average people – leave me frustrated, because I forget the first part before I get to the end. I have to keep starting over. Everything seems too complicated, even things that I know aren’t complicated.
Then there’s the place in my brain where I store useful information, like passwords, phone numbers, names, and everyday words. This information is only intermittently available now.
I struggle with seeing how things relate to each other. I can only look at one thing at a time. I can look at one sentence, one object, or one idea, the simpler the better. I have a hard time trying to grasp the big picture, anything in a larger context, anything in motion.
I also struggle to explain things, or to ask a simple question. Writing takes much longer than it used to, and speaking is downright clumsy.
I used to be a morning person. Since I was sharpest in the morning, I’d plan my day accordingly. I’d use my mornings for things that required the most creativity or brain power, and my afternoons for other things. I’m no longer a morning person. I wake up exhausted and mentally sluggish, like my brain is full of glue, and I go downhill from there.
Also, I look like shit.
I know my impairment is noticeable to other people, too. Strangers are treating me differently. People who work in customer service are taking more time with me, they’re slowing down and explaining things to me, they’re offering to write things down for me. I think this is great. While it’s distressing for me to be noticeably ‘slow’, it’s reassuring that other people are accommodating my needs as required, and not being jerks about it. (Ironically, the exception is my neurologist, who kept me waiting for 45 minutes, then rushed me through my appointment and had no time for questions.)
The timing sucks. I need my brain to be working at full capacity – and then some – until the end of March. I’d rather have migraines than these side effects, but even if I were to stop taking Topamax today, it would take a couple of months to taper off, get rid of the side effects and get my brain back.
The neurologist says the side effects might go away on their own.