Until 2011, I had no idea that ocular migraines had a name. I thought everyone had them. But one day while I was working in a cube farm, my neighbor sent me a file and asked me to look at it. “I will as soon as my eyes clear up,” I said. “I have that thing going on right now, you know, with the spiky rainbows where you can’t see?” Well, no. She didn’t know. Because not everyone does have ocular migraines. In case you were wondering what they look like, after mine tonight I thought I would draw it. I am NOT an artist, but here is my rendition, in four panels, of what I see behind my eyelids when I close my eyes during an ocular migraine (aka the scintillating scotoma—isn’t that an awesome phrase?).

drawing of an ocular migraine

The charcoal gray bits are what are black when my eyes are closed, the parts I can see when I open my eyes. The white is just that—white. Eyes open, eyes closed, it’s just a bright white almost fluorescent glow.

Stage 1: I first notice a floating bit of brightness, a tiny squiggle that interferes with sight.
Stage 2: The squiggle expands, becoming larger, brighter, more colorful and with many sharp points
Stage 3: The squiggle for me almost always takes on a curving shape. Not pictured here, because I don’t have the talent, is the fact that it pretty much looks like a misshapen spiral made out of dozens of tiny bright prisms.
Stage 4: Basic whiteout with the squiggle still there but the glow having expanded so I can see only bits and pieces of stuff around it.

The whole process almost never takes more than half an hour and it doesn’t hurt except for the pain you’d expect if someone shone an extremely bright light in your eyes for several minutes.

So there you are. An ocular migraine in four panels.