For the past few weeks, during the recent server upgrade, I’ve had seriously debilitating migraine headaches. I occasionally get mild migraines, but only one or two per year. And suddenly I get a blinding migraine every day at exactly 4PM. That’s the biggest reason this server upgrade took so long, the harder I worked, the more pain I was in.

I looked intensely at my life to see what was triggering the migraines, there must be a pattern if they occurred with such regularity. I changed a few things just about the time the headaches started, maybe they were responsible. I thought it might be due to my new pillow, maybe it gave me a stiff neck. Maybe it was my new electric toothbrush vibrating my teeth in their sockets. Maybe it was because I was eating on an irregular schedule and I had hypoglycemia. Maybe it was bad ergonomics, I moved my desk around for some temporary rewiring. I looked at every aspect of my life and avoided the possible triggers. I could not figure out any pattern, except that I’d been intensely working on the server. Maybe it was just plain old stress. I was looking for an easy solution, it’s easy to change your pillow, or your diet, but it’s a lot harder to change the fundamental stress involved in your work.

At that point, I thought about an old friend who ran a respected graphics service bureau in Los Angeles. One day while he was in the middle of his usual stressful routine, he developed a thrombosis, it migrated to his heart and lungs, and he had a heart attack. As he recovered, he announced that his doctor advised him to find a less stressful job, something that didn’t involve sitting in front of a computer all day and listening to stressed-out customers with short deadlines, some job with a bit more physical activity. He sold his company within a couple of weeks and left the business forever.

I started to feel a little disconsolate over the situation I was in. Every day the headaches got worse. I considered tossing out my whole computer career and becoming a lumberjack or something. As I worked on my computer, amidst a migraine so severe I considered going to the hospital, a funny thing happened. I accidentally switched my monitor to the wrong setting. And then it struck me, the problem was staring me in the face the whole time. It was my computer monitor! I have an old Sony 300sf CRT, it can go up to insanely high resolutions like 2048×1536, but only at low refresh rates. I always set my monitor to 1600×1200 at 60hz refresh. Many people report that refresh rates below 75hz cause eyestrain and migraines, but even 60hz never bothered me before. So I switched to a lower rez at 75hz, and I got immediate relief. My headache started to dissipate, and the daily 4PM migraines have not returned. Oh man do I feel stupid, I’ve been torturing myself unnecessarily. If only I’d figured it out earlier! I made more progress on the server in a couple of days than I did in 2 weeks of self-torture.

One thought on “Self-Torture”

  1. Yeah I’m very sensitive to refresh rates. I was just trying out a different linux distro the other day and it defaulted to something lower than what I’m used to and it was like I could almost see the flickering. (It’s curious how you can actually see the flicker when a monitor is shown on TV).
    85hz is the lowest I opt for.

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