Sometimes I’m not sure if I can make it through the night. Or the hour. Or even the next 30 seconds. The pain behind my left eye is a raging clamp of hot metal on muscle, merciless in its persistence, waking me in my sleep.
It doesn’t care that I need rest in order to teach in the morning. It doesn’t care that this is the third day of headaches in a row. It doesn’t care that my daughter and baby Maya are visiting and the crying just stopped – and I just have to get some sleep. The migraine wails into my head as I pack the corner of my pillow into my eye socket, pressing, pressing into the pain.
Like my grandmother, I suffer from nauseating migraines. We had other similarities; better ones, like dancing and the arts. But it was a migraine that caused her to leap from the fourth floor of her apartment building in New York City. As a child I was fascinated and repulsed by this story, and yet it bonded her to me, forever. As a teen I grew dismissive about what she did. After all, headaches weren’t that bad!
But now as a card-carrying migraine survivor, I get it. I can see her on the ledge when I’m writhing in pain, and I feel compassion for her decision. You see, the pain is so great, it’s as if you are being eaten alive, your head heavy and on fire, burning and burning and burning. And you just need it to stop.
As a young mother I used to hide in my bedroom, under the covers, in the grip of a headache – no small feat when raising children. Guilt pulled me out of bed and I’d pretend to be tough. I’d push swings and ignore the nausea; made dinners with a scarf over my nose; read aloud and sang to my daughters, and even managed to smile. When I look back, this was no small miracle.
Then came the yearlong attempts of scientific discovery, banning one thing at a time to find the cause of the headaches: no chocolate, no red wine, no hot baths, and no gluten. Then there were years of things added into my life. Surely they would help! Daily full-body ice baths; swims in the cold ocean; hypnosis, therapy, and meditation; prescriptions of feverfew and butterbur, magnesium and vitamin B complex. But the migraines just kept coming.
Sitting here at the computer on the third night of one of the worst headaches of my life, I find myself too damned exhausted to fight anymore. I’m giving in, realizing this pain is just like all the other traumas in my life that I’ve learned to accept. They make me me. And if I’m honest, I know a little secret about them.
I know that my creativity is somehow connected to pain, and that I write more descriptively as the result of having suffered. It’s as if the agony opens up something I didn’t see before: a gift for me to unravel. That’s when I write.
There are many idols of mine – artists and writers – whose work was greatly affected by their migraines: Vincent Van Gogh, George Seurat and Claude Monet; Virginia Woolf, Cervantes, Louis Carroll, and Nietzsche, to name a few. Good company, I’d say. So I’ll take it from them, and keep writing.