I have chronic migraines. I wrote the following prose-ish, confession poem piece to convey exactly what the experience of being a migraineur is/was like. I share this, not as an attempt to garner pity, but to add my voice to the collective.
I’m in a much better place now compared to what I relate in the poem, but one never knows when the headache goblins will come a knockin’. Please, please feel free to share. Sometimes when you’re in pain, it helps to simply be reminded that you’re not the only one.
Rhetoric of Migraine
What do you do when your body betrays you? When the relationship with your most constant companion turns abusive?
Despite the betrayal and abuse, your relationship grows
more intimate. You know what not to do
to incite your abuser’s anger. It’s my fault I have a migraine—I drank a glass of wine last
night. You know what’s wrong with you before the doctor tells you
migraine. You understand your body and its offenses better than your doctors. It’s not
retinal detachment; it’s an aura. Yes, I’ve had an MRI, and no, I don’t have a tumor.
Please don’t give me that medicine; you’ll only make it worse.
What do you do when the cure is no better?
You, in turn, abuse your body: try so many drugs your kidneys threaten
failure. You push syringes into your own leg. You hold your breath while you prepare
a shot, and suck on a root beer barrel to mask the taste of nausea. You feel ill whenever you
smell rubbing alcohol. You allow doctors to inject poison into your face, head, neck,
shoulders: 33 total. You hear the crunch of the toxin forcing itself into your muscles
when the doctor does the ones above your ears. You’re not vain,
and would welcome the option of raising your right eyebrow.
What do you do when pain, slow and steady, eclipses your life?
You turn resentful toward well-meaning people. “You don’t look sick.” Thanks, I’ve had
practice. “Do you know why you have them?” Headache goblins. “I had a
migraine once—it was awful.” Isn’t that cute? You’re so pretty. “Have you tried
acupuncture?” No, my meridians are just fine, because—they don’t exist.
At every new job, you wait for your employer to complain
about your absenteeism and presenteeism. (In other words, you must come to work even
if you feel like shit, but mustn’t look like you feel like shit when you get there.)
At first, you miss the small things—movies, concerts, happy hour. Eventually, you miss
the big things. You can’t work, keep friends, drive a car, read a book.
What do you do when you’re not just broken physically, but mentally?
You literally turn dumb before your migraine emerges. And, when it finally comes,
the pain itself binds your brain. You can’t string words into a sentence—
except the sentences you always say. I can’t go. I can’t stay. I have a migraine.
The side effect of one of your medicines is “decreased cognitive function,” and so you
can’t recall the words “decreased,” “cognitive,” or “function”. The theft of your words is
the ultimate insult, because they’re your livelihood
and your sanity. You worry because you’ve read constant, chronic
migraines might cause stroke or brain damage. You submit to scans for lesions and tests
What do you do when pain’s ugly stepsisters—depression and anxiety—come to stay?
You’re lost in a constant feedback loop.
(Pain causes depression causes anxiety causes pain.)
You add more doctors and pills. You laugh at all the ironies—you’re Alice armed with a
vorpal pillbox. The box separates the “this pill makes you happy” from
“this pill makes you sleepy”. You turn your bedroom into a dungeon
and Depression locks you inside. He whispers lies to you. And you believe them,
because they seem innocent. It would be lovely to just float away and leave my body
behind. A coma seems like a welcome retreat. It’s not that I want to die,
just stop existing for a while. But the lies grow more insidious, and you believe the worst
of them all: you can’t live one more day in the dungeon.
This handful of pills will fix that.
What do you do when your entire sense of self, your identity, is distilled down to this single malady?
Every decision you make is because of Migraine.
Every thing you can’t do is because of Migraine.
Every thought, utterance, moment is consumed by Migraine.
You’re so weary of Migraine you can’t fathom how your loved ones manage it.
You wonder how you have anyone left.
You ask the doctors and therapists, friends and lovers, anyone who remains. You ask the
dog who stands sentinel, day and night, next to your bed. You ask the hot spray of the
shower that brings temporary reprieve. You ask this once blank piece of paper.
What do I do?