Wednesday, May 25, 2011


 An electrical storm gathers over the Midwest. The barometer drops and wind starts blowing from an unusual direction. Birds disappear. It builds and builds and builds. It swirls through the heavens and gains power and watches the farmhouses shrink in fear, and then it erupts.

A lot of people ask me where the migraines come from. The answer, unfortunately, is that they come from everywhere. These are some things that effect migraine onset: atmospheric changes, sugar intake, stress, dehydration, lack of exercise, muscle strain, apple juice, alcohol, waking up too late, lack of sleep, 3-d movies, computers, car rides, reading in bad light, reading in any light, hitting your head, diet sodas, whiplash, strobe lights, bright light, dim light, loud noises, repetitive noises, constant noises, poor diet, low blood sugar, running, turning your head too quickly, pain or injury in any other part of your body, excitement, depression, estrogen, hormones, full moons, eclipses, certain medications, uncertainty, coffee, caffeine, lack of caffeine, change in routine, common household chemicals, indoor air, and sinuses. 

Lately, I've made a few mistakes. I applied for a job as the lead copywriter for a popular outdoor apparel company and, despite my best efforts, I got really excited over it. Especially when I advanced to a phone interview. I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it, I thought. I'll be able to afford an apartment, and I'll bring my dog home to me. This job is perfect for me. It's all working out. In the long days and weeks between interviewing and hearing from the company, my excitement hardened into agitation inside my head.

There were knots in my shoulders from the weekend at Smith that I let tighten and stiffen. The car trip was long and I got home feeling nauseous, a feeling I tried to cure by eating. Never a good decision.  The nail in the coffin was drinking a little bit of fruit juice sweetened seltzer. With my migraine threshold already low, I may as well have eaten a bag of Skittles. I took one sip and felt a flash of lightening clap over my brain. I said, "uh oh."  I went to my bed.

It lasted a week.

I've written a lot about what the pain of migraine is like, using a multitude of imagery and metaphor. I don't want to write about it again, for your sake as well as mine, because even writing about migraine brings back  shadows of the pain, which can melt and turn real with one wrong move.  But something I failed to emphasize in the past is the way your brain twists and perverts all sensation into pain. Not just the obvious ones like light and sound, but also the more subtle things, like smell and taste. Smells of any kind become waves after wave of nausea hitting you in the stomach. Taste is converted into something much more tangible- a pain you can almost touch. Even the lightest of flavors releases an aching shimmer that spreads down your jawbone, then turns inwards and pounds down your eardrums. My migraine got so bad this time that even swallowing water would create this sensation.

I tried everything I knew. I drew the shades, then opened them again, then closed, climbing in and out of my bed. Migraine is a picky master that constantly changes its mind. I lay in a bath of hot water and then suddenly needed it to be cold water. I tried to kill it with strong medicine, taking three pills, but it just refused to die. It retreated for a bit, I'd go to work, it would come back. The effects of the medicine is almost as bad as the malady itself. For days after you take it, you feel wrecked, sore and lethargic and depressed. The day I found out I didn't make the second round of interviews for the job, I was in the thick of the Sumatriptin fog. I cried hard for five hours.

On Thursday, I drove to my friend Tyler's house. He rubbed my back for over an hour and we watched the season finale of America's Next Top Model. I watched out of one eye.  Whenever his hands were on my neck, the pain ebbed away, but the second he lifted them, even just to adjust the volume on the remote, it came screaming back. I chanted 'Don't stop please don't stop' under my breath until his hands were too tired to do any more. Then I went home, rubbing my palm in circles against my face as I drove. The next morning I got a professional massage. It hurt so bad I had to bite my hand, but I could tell he was working things out that would help later.

It lifted on Saturday, the morning of Steph's baby shower. We stood outside in the rain cool air, a circle of women, and I realized all of a sudden that I could straighten my neck. I could lift my head without being pain-hobbled. It felt like the world suddenly snapped from a blurry confusion into a clear focus. Steph's sister, a Natureopathic doctor, administered a shot of B-12 which she promised would help. It did. The migraine continued to recede all afternoon, leaving me standing alone on my street, blinking into the sunlight and feeling nothing. I breathed cautiously. I didn't want to do anything to provoke it, bring it back. I walked into my house slowly, as if I had sea-legs.

For a week I was worthless. I'd missed a lot of things, beautiful sunny days and birthdays and grand openings, writing and work and phone calls. Friends are compassionate, and they try to be understanding, but they find it hard to believe that a migraine can last so long. A week is long time to be checked out, of course, but it's really nothing in comparison to the horror stories that hang over every migraine suffers head: throbbing agony that lasts for a month, for six months, pain so powerful even morphine is useless.

But mine is gone, finally, for now. I can return to my life. But it's not as easy as it should be, returning. In her book of essays, The Merry Recluse, Caroline Knapp says: "I thought about this a lot as I was running: how quickly solitude can turn to isolation, how quickly that soothing sense of self-sufficiency can be replaced by the sense of estrangement, and how difficult it is to get back into the world once you’ve stepped away from it, as though you can’t quite propel yourself back into the normal human one." Unfortunately, I've found this to be very true.


Michu said...

I was wondering what your shot in the ass was!! Those B-12 ass shots got me through the bar exam. They are pretty amazing :)

Melina said...

B-12 ass shots, hell yeah!! I really didn't know how to write that part....uh....I got a shot in the butt. In the cheek. in the butt cheek. In the rear. In the derrier. In the caboose? I should have just said "those b-12 ass shots kick ass!"

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog months ago and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. I knew I had to comment when I saw your reference to "The Merry Recluse". I bought that book several years ago because the title fascinated me....and it is a book I read over and over. The passage you quoted is one that spoke to me as well.

Melina said...

Hi Barb, welcome! Thank you so much for your comment. My friend from the soulpancake writing team sent me that's stunningly simple, but true, sometimes heartbreakingly so.

Thank you again for reading and for the kind words.


Adriana Iris said...

I have so much to say to you about this post that I feel like i should ask you out for coffee so we can talk about that long. B12 rocks my world.

One Girl Trucking said...

Wonderful post Melina! I love your writing, I have been there with migraines, your writing describes so much of what I use to feel.

JoJoT Wilkie said...

The Merry Recluse quote reminds me of how I felt when I returned from New Zealand, then from Ecuador. Traveling alone is odd like that: you are constantly surrounded by people, always in need of assistance (especially when you don't know the language), always conscious of your surroundings and feeling susceptible to everything (especially when you don't know the language), and yet you feel so alone, and isolated. The "self-sufficiency [is] replaced by the sense of estrangement" when you return home and try to interact in a place that is no longer fluidly familiar. There is some form of depression related to coming home after being abroad, and I got it hard. Twice.
So I can sort of relate to the feeling AFTER a migraine. I hope I never understand the feeling more explicitly. You are too good at describing the pain for me to wish I could empathize.
And I won't ever offer a migraine sufferer an Advil.

Kelle said...

I always enjoy your vivid description and attention to detail. And Girl, your pictures are becoming more and more fabulous. They are your own. And I'm loving them!

JoJoT Wilkie said...

Met a girl last night that had a migraine. After I convinced her that I was not hitting on her, I gave her a shoulder and neck massage. It helped. A lot. Amanda thanks you.

Baby By The Sea said...

Yes. I get that writing about migraines gives way to more pain. Yes, I've had one each week for the last two weeks and that's just too much. Bummer. I'm allergic to B12. I'm sending happy thoughts to your head.