30 January, 2011

On Migraines

I have been asked periodically what it's like to get a migraine, usually by people who have never had one and are therefore under the impression that they're "just like a really bad headache, right?" Since I had one today I thought I'd share the experience. I apologize in advance for how batshit crazy the result is. 

I can't see very well. Shapes and colors hurt. But I can't close my eyes. My bedroom is colorless, by design. Even my cream walls and white trim have become too much to deal with. It all folds together into one thing, combining with the popcorn ceiling, and I am trapped inside an egg, marred only by the spines of the ceiling (starfish) fan. I will never paint my bedroom walls a fresh verdant green or a daring cayenne red, partly because I know those colors will one day launch a full-scale attack and ride elephants Hannibal-style through my retinas to my defenseless and unsuspecting brain, but also because I will never get up from this bed, never go to the hardware store to look at strips of bright colors like a normal human being. I have spent my whole life here, trying hard not to look at my sheets, a soothing blue any other day and now transformed into something spiky and hateful.

I can't think very well. It's all nonsense in here. But I can't turn my brain off. On a good day, I can intelligently discuss classical rhetorical theory. Today, I can't remember the names of any of those old dead Greek guys, except one: Aristotle. The word rattles through my skull, bounces around like a .38 slug, leaving red ragged tunnels in its wake. Aristotle-ARistotle...Aristotle-ARistotle. When I get up, when I can function again (because this can't last forever, this has never lasted forever, this will not last forever...please don't let this last forever), I will tell my friends about this. We will laugh. Oh, Lynn's wacky brain. The story will end, "...and so I just lay there, thinking 'Aristotle-ARistotle...Aristotle-ARistotle,' until I swear I thought I'd lose my mind," and I will chuckle and smile, shaking my head and rolling my eyes. It will be funny. It is terrifying.

It's been worse. Once the word was "didactic," and wasn't that a big ugly bitch, those awful Ds against my over-large teeth, making them swell with every repetition until my jaw seemed grotesquely enlarged. The hard K sounds echoing in my brain-pan, making the cartilage in my nose buzz. I can deal with Aristotle. I never get a word with lovely glides and liquids, never a rhythm you could dance to; that would be too easy.

I know where the headache comes from. I can point to the exact spot in my brain. I wonder why it hates me, that spot; I decide I don't care. I fantasize about pulling my eyeball gently from its socket, reaching into the gap with a smooth cool spoon, and scooping out the crazy part of my brain, the part that makes my right eye jitter and jive like half my brain is in deep REM sleep. The relief this would bring, I am sure, would be almost sexual in its intensity. I can feel my dancing eye through the tissue-tender skin of my right palm, which has for the last half hour or so been pressed creakingly tightly against the space between eyebrow and cheekbone. I am never so aware of the bones of my face as I am in this moment, when they seem to cringe away from my crazy eye, my crazy brain. If I could look in a mirror right now, I would be surprised to see that I don't look like those old Steve Madden magazine ads, the ones where the model's tiny body is eclipsed by giant, swimmy eyes and cheekbones broader than her shoulders.

I don't know where these headaches come from. I know words, like "seizure" and "transformational." "Anxiety" and "stress." Here's what these words mean: "We have no fucking clue." I have kept detailed logs of my diet, stress levels, activities, sitting positions. I have found a lot of commonalities. I know now what an impending migraine tastes like, what it looks like, what it smells like. I don't drink dry red wine, or eat cheaply processed meats. I don't sit with my chin in my hands, or play first person shooters, or spend time in close quarters with people who wear overpowering amounts of certain fragrances. I don't go to raves, or look directly at the flashing lights during a fire drill. That has helped a lot; my life is a lot more normal than it could otherwise have been. But I still end up here sometimes, feeling my crazy eye dance.

I'm not sure I'd change my crazy brain, not really. I'm smart. I know this about myself like I know I'm right handed and my eyes are greeny-bluey-gray. Maybe, I think when this is at its worst, maybe the thing that makes me smart is the same thing that makes my brain occasionally try to kill me. Maybe it's worth it. When I get up out of this bed, I'll think it is. When I get up out of this bed, I'll feel almost stupidly awesome, aware of the pleasure that is freedom from pain, and ravenously hungry. I'll eat like a pig, enjoying every bite the way I imagine a death row inmate would if, right after being served her last meal, she got that clich├ęd life-saving call from the Governor. Then I'll open up a file on my computer labeled "migraine_trigger.docx," and I'll type in "chorizo."

Tomorrow, I'll know that even though I've happily eaten chorizo on a thousand occasions, it's no longer a part of my life. As stupid as it sounds, I'll mourn chorizo, just like I mourned Italian subs and Cabernet Sauvignon; like I mourned Halo and CK One. But tomorrow, I'll know better. And that's something.


  1. I feel you. Although sound and light are worse for me than color. Light especially.

  2. Thanks D. Light is quite bad, but I can handle sound as long as it's constant and soft. If it's rhythmic or periodic, it all goes to hell on me. And smells are the devil. :)