Serene Branson Complex Migraine Diagnosis Makes Me Feel Normal

Sheri Reed

Serene Branson complex migraine
Serene Branson
If you saw CBS reporter Serene Branson experience that scary stroke-like speech "spell" during the live Grammy broadcast the other night, then you're probably still wondering (worrying) if it wasn't a stroke, then what the hell really happened to the poor woman that night?

Well, her official diagnosis of a "complex migraine" has finally come out. Branson gave her doctor permission to share her medical condition and what attributed to her garbled speech while on air. I have to say, my sympathy and compassion for Branson aside, this diagnosis comes with great comfort to me personally and makes me feel, well, a little more normal because I've suffered similar migraines myself.

Several years ago, I started getting some really weird symptoms -- visual disturbances, numbness down my arm and in my face, and mild headaches -- that were eventually diagnosed as migraine syndrome. They were very infrequent, so they didn't interfere with my life, and I didn't worry about them too much.

One night at home, however, I started seeing black holes in my vision, followed by the usual numbness in my face and arms, but it didn't stop there. When I started feeling especially confused and my husband was less than sympathetic because he didn't understand what I was experiencing, I went to my files to pull out the sheet my doctor had given me about migraines. I located the sheet and as I tried to read it, I realized I could not read. The letters and words seemed foreign and I couldn't make any sense of anything on the page.

Needless to say, I fuh-reaked out. But as I was freaking out, I realized I also could not make words. The words wouldn't come to me. I could think. I knew what I wanted to say, but the words ... the words were gone. Cue full-on freakout.

An MRI and a neuro visit after that, I was told these were "normal" symptoms of migraine syndrome. A complex migraine can look just like a stroke, with loss of vision, numbness, confusion, and difficulty speaking, along with a headache. I've been living with this condition ever since and still have not been able to pinpoint a direct trigger. They're still really infrequent, just a few times a year; however, with each onset of symptoms, I worry that this time it'll really turn into a stroke.

At the same time, I get great comfort in learning more about this condition -- since I felt a little like the docs had to be pulling my leg to tell me those symptoms were anything but abnormal. I have met many other women who have experienced this and other weird symptoms like vertigo and pink vision though. Branson's very public "spell" will only shine the light on this condition -- which might urge doctors to learn more and help me to learn more -- even if it's just learning ways to cope.

With knowledge often comes serenity -- at least in this case -- since so many people experience complex migraines every day and, well, don't die from them (and if they do, maybe you shouldn't tell me).

Have you ever heard of or experienced "complex migraines" before?


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