Saturday, December 12, 2009


Migraines. Do you have them? Then what I write here will probably resonate with you. If you have never had one you can only wonder and be grateful for your good fortune.

It's not the aching head that is the test. It's the Black Hole. If I can manage to get through the two or three day ordeal without going down the Black Hole, I don't consider it a migraine - just what I euphemistically call "a really, really bad headache". Vomiting doesn't count. Nor does complete intolerance of light and movement. What counts, after nearly 50 years of these nightmares, is the Black Hole.

The Black Hole is where the pain takes me to after being down for about 24 hours, continuous stabbing pain unabated, unable even to move. The darkness inside my brain manifests as depression accompanied by increasingly morbid thoughts about loved ones - fears made powerfully real down there in the Hole. I cannot cry the terrors away - migraine pain makes crying not the release of emotion, but the agony of nausea, vomiting and greater pressure in an already overly pressurized cabin. I cannot even give voice to the visions of these terrors, unwilling to allow them into my conscious, and currently sane mind. For years I feared I was simply "going crazy". But finally, on day 3, I would know it was behind me, just the "hangover" day to cope with. Day 5, back to life.

Lately, for the past several years, I have been experiencing a change in the nature of the headache. For years I knew the instant one had begun its attack - a sharp stabbing pain behind my eyes, slight dizziness, and a heaviness of my head - my neck unable to support what rapidly became a boulder. Putting life aside as quickly as possible - turn the gas stove off, get the child out of the bath, call Dad to watch the kids, try to finish the work day & get home safely, whatever I was engaged in had to come to a close as I headed for the bed, the dark, the silent, often feeling like I had failed somehow to control my psyche, visualize good health, be in the moment, remove stress from my life, be positive about my world view, eat this, don't eat that. Friends, relatives, therapists, doctors - all opined on the cause and cure of my migraines, as though I, myself, didn't obsess about it - Oh! that must be it - you are obsessing! Now why couldn't I have figured that out?

Over the years I discovered some good medication (Cafergot - old, tried and true, and cheaper than all the new stuff), acupuncture (the miracle worker Dutch physician that used to live on Orcas Island saved me from insanity, I'm certain), and after many years, the ability to "go with it" - the migraine. Embrace it, I believe, is the current language. Enter Stephen King. Yep, horror story King of the Hill. I heard him interviewed on NPR. He was asked (maybe it was a Terry Gross interview) about his ideas and how did they not frighten him. His answer, as I recall, was about giving voice to his greatest nightmares so that they could no longer hold sway over him...once he had given them a voice, they were simply stories, not REAL, not even potentially real. And so, next migraine I gave it a try, while I was in the Black they came, in all their horrid violence, and I whispered down deep in my soul, you are not real, you are just my pain, you are not real, you are just my pain, you are not real, you are just my pain... No, it did not catapult me out of the Black Hole. It didn't even shorten the length of the migraine. But it did change something in me. It gave me the strength to, yes, embrace the pain, and in that embrace I knew in that moment, and in every similar moment in every migraine thereafter, that this was JUST a migraine, not a failing, not a psychosis, not self-induced, not punishment, not a sign of things to come, not my dark side, not too much coffee, not denial, not eggplant and tomatoes...just a migraine, and it will pass. Thank you Stephen King.

As menopause came on, the migraines began to fade. What? Did I not spend ten out of the last thirty days in bed this month??? With each passing year I had fewer and fewer marathon head bangers (and by the way, if you have ever wondered how that expression came into being, I think it was someone who, as I have done on several occasions, simply banged their head on a hard surface in an attempt to alleviate the migraine pain with a different pain - to turn to a different brain channel, fool your endorphins, jump the track, pass out - anything, ANYTHING, A N Y T H I N G to get away from the pain!). Amazing. I was almost migraine free. I almost laughed at the two-aspirin headaches I would now, occasionally, experience.

But here's the rub. Bummer. A couple of years ago I swatted at the pest that knocked loudly at the back of my head. When the bones in my face felt like I'd been beaten, I pronounced, "It's just sinus" and headed for the pharmacy. Gradually the insistent monster appeared full force, once again snatching me out of my day and slamming me flat in the cold, dark, quiet. The Black Hole alive and well.

Here's the difference now. Sometime in the Stephen King transitional phase, I spied, while in the Hole whispering to the horribleness, the edge of the Hole. It looked like a spiral. I was sliding down the spiral hole into the depression and the fearful visions. Weird. Not falling. Just spiraling downward. Then something new happened. I was sliding down the darkness, reaching a plateau of some sort, when out of the corner of my inner eye, I saw something light and colorful. My brain jerked to a stop, then made a hard right, and that's when I saw the something light and colorful resting on a level UP on the spiral.

I now know the power of the creative mind. The something light and colorful was and is the creative energy at work underneath the migraines and all the bio-chemical depression that comes with them. It was, that day, an idea, perhaps for a tapestry, or a painting, or a solution to some problem. It has been, on other days in other migraines, a vision of a piece of art I would see full-blown, an absolutely "new" idea born on that spiral, proof of spirit alive and well. Now, I recognize the spiral in migraine and wait for the light and colorful to capture me. Then it's a sure climb out of the Black Hole.

Next week I'll post a picture of the something light and colorful from the migraine I just climbed out of. In the meantime, I wish for all of you, good health, and great manifestations of your own creative energy.

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