Anatomy Of A Migraine

About 3pm. I am in a foul mood. I have been listening to music and entertaining myself by trying to put together some hooping choreography. Then all at once the bottom drops out, and it dawns on me that this is a pointless exercise, as nobody is ever going to see it. I fetch up in the kitchen with the computer, grousing at someone unfortunate enough to be on Facebook Messenger.

I have no idea if the sudden plunge is a harbinger of migraine, a trigger for migraine, or merely co-morbid with the migraines. An acute case of emo is part of the prodrome of colds and various gastrointestinal misery for me, to the point where I can tell something is up before my nose even starts running. On the other hand, stress triggers depressive episodes, which in turn trigger headaches, which in turn put me under more stress, because I can't cope with anything when my head hurts. YMMV.

It takes the person I am grousing at pointing out that mood changes are connected with his migraines for me to notice this. The last time he had one, he ended up telling me in very small words that his hands looked like starfishes, which is one of those hallucinatory side effects nobody ever realizes is possible unless they have the damnable things, so he knows whereof he speaks. 

This does not surprise me. I am about as sharp as a sack of wet mice when I don't feel well.

I try to convince myself that ice cream weather and the existence of melon soda makes up for whatever is tanking my mood. It doesn't work. The Stop & Shop is out of strawberry Haagen-Dazs, and doesn't carry weird Asian junk food.

By 5pm, I hate everyone and do not want to leave the house for any reason. This is a problem, because I have a desk shift at the dance studio tonight. It's a reception desk, where I am required to not bite the head off anyone who asks a stupid question. It is also located immediately across from the studio where the West African drum class takes place. They use real drums. A lot of them.

This is going to end poorly.

Around 6, I start trying to figure out what color eye shadow goes best with apathetic misanthropy. Mint green, as it turns out, because the lazy way to do that is to match it to your shirt. "I am happy you chose that color," says the Facebook friend, who actually has no opinion whatsoever on my eye makeup, but is trying very cautiously to find something nice to say that will not get him mauled. This is particularly important, as he is actually at the studio where I'm headed, albeit on a different floor.

The bus is late. The bus is always late. The bus is also located outside, where the sun is, so I hate this especially much today. I put my bag on the seat next to me and pretend not to notice when other people look at it as they board. Evidently there are enough places to sit, because nobody asks me to move. My phone screen is apparently polarized to reduce glare, as trying to play solitaire with my sunglasses on produces a moiré pattern that makes it annoyingly difficult to tell whether the suit markings on the cards are red or black.

I am tempted to stay on the train forever. Subway tunnels are dark, although I could do without the noises and the fluorescent lighting in the cars. I force myself to disembark in Cambridge anyway.

There is an Asian grocery on my way into work. It has a ramenya and an osushiya in the front. I immediately dislike everyone in them, because they are between me and the melon soda, and they move only grudgingly aside. I stifle the urge to elbow all of them in the kidneys. 

The store is very bright. It takes me a few minutes to locate all the tiny expensive bottles of Ramune. I also grab a can of Kona something for the unfortunate at the other end of the messenger window. I have been sour at the poor man all afternoon, and I keep threatening to show up with coffee whenever I know we're going to be in the same building. Just because I'm having an awful day doesn't mean anyone else has to. It's Japanese, so it probably tastes almost but not entirely unlike actual coffee -- I don't drink the stuff, I don't know -- but it can't hurt.

Everything costs twice as much as it ought to, but that's what happens when you have things shipped air freight from Japan.

By the time I get to the studio, the world has started to take on that oddly fish-eye quality. I don't know why my depth perception goes wonky before a migraine. Color saturation does funny things as well. I climb all the stairs in the damnable building to deliver the coffee, and promptly fuck right off again, as the rehearsal is also full of a lot of caring, sympathetic people who I do not under any circumstances want trying to fix my bad mood. Communicating with other humans takes a lot of energy at the best of times, and trying to do that when I feel lousy just steals reserves I need to not hit things or cry. There are a very few people authorized to interact with me under trying circumstances -- three at last count, two of whom are across the country and the other one of whom I have just handed the can of "coffee" -- and most of the people in that rehearsal are not on the list.

My co-worker is not on the list either. She's a very nice girl, with an interestingly asymmetrical haircut, but right as the West African drums start I find myself wishing she were sitting a little bit further away than the other end of the desk. Like a mile or so. 

Bright colors begin to bloom. Whites go a bit purple, as if catching reflection from a blacklight. I've been off for so long at this point, I actually fail to notice this until I start hanging my head and blocking out the ambient light with my hands. It's been observed that people would pay good money to see the things I see before a migraine, if not for the stabbing head pain at the finale.

The next hour is a litany of telling myself no.

No, you cannot take the drums away from the West African class.

No, you cannot ask your co-worker to sit all the way over there.

No, you cannot go pull your friend out of rehearsal just because your misery wants company.

No, you cannot have any more Aleve until the bottle says so.

No, you cannot burst out crying in public.

No, you cannot throttle the woman whose shampoo is making the entire locker room, and most of the first floor, reek of lavender and bath powder.

No, you cannot turn off all of the lights in the lobby.

No, you cannot hide in the corner of the fire stairs.

No, you cannot crawl under the desk.

I manage not to snarl at anybody, although when one patron shouts the traditional "have those things given you a headache yet?" joke over the African drums, I break my rule about politely lying to strangers about how I am and answer very shortly, "Yes," before taking their real question. I spend most of my time hunched over my Kindle, with my hands clamped across my eyebrows as a makeshift visor.

Half an hour before close, I start getting those amorphous blotches of nothingness in the lower right quadrant of my visual field. They're not even blackness; they're just spots of no input, right eye only, that move with my gaze. They're a bit like the spangly blobs you get after you rub your eyes too hard, only with a lack of anything instead of the purple in the middle. All humans have a physiological blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the retina, but normally the higher level of visual processing sort of plasters over it, 'filling in' with whatever you remember having been there the last time you could see that particular spot. Migraines give me more blind spots, because, I don't know, demons. The fact that they're a common part of auras does nothing to make them less annoying.

I give up on the Kindle, because words ripple. It eventually flips into the screen saver, which on my model is a copperplate-esque illustration meant to showcase the contrast and resolution of the e-ink display. The scintillation of the fine lines would be much more interesting if I didn't know it meant I have about thirty minutes to get myself into a small dark room before the really horrible bit starts.

I cave and ask my co-worker if she can close up by herself. She says 'yes', which is good, because I fully intend to leave even if the answer is 'no don't abandon me I haven't a clue'. 

The train rattles. I hate the train.

I yank my hat down as low as I can, trying to cut out the lights on the platform. There are people everywhere. One of them steps up right behind me on the escalator, pushing, forcing me to step up so close to the lady in front of me that her bag makes me lean slightly backwards. I am not on the best of terms with long staircases when I am tired and stressed, and especially not when my depth perception is fucked. Nothing is as horrible as taking the multi-story escalator from the platform to the lobby at Porter when one of my eyes doesn't really work, but the short rides at Davis are not fun right now either. I hate the escalator, and both of the people crowding me on it.

I have missed a bus. The next one isn't for twenty minutes. Someone is smoking outside at the bus stop. I hate them.

I give up playing solitaire on my phone. The screen is too small, and I have just spent two and a half minutes staring at a field of cards feeling stuck, before recognizing two very obvious possible moves. I want to go home. Now.

My bus finally arrives. The mooing herd shuffles toward the front door. A young man, staring at his phone instead of watching where he's going, narrowly misses hitting me in the face with his knapsack. I hate him.

The bus rattles. More than the train. I hate the bus.

A gaggle of young women are sitting in the back. One of them shrieks in laughter. I wonder briefly if she'd still be able to make that sound if I jammed her iPhone into her soft palate. I pull my hat down even further and hate all of them.

I am not a good human being when I'm ill.

I say thank you to the bus driver as I disembark, because none of this is her fault. I wish every last one of the street lights between the bus stop and my house would go out. I would be perfectly fine with tromping along in the dark, just this once. If anyone tried to mug me, I would simply kill them, and then go home to finish my headache in peace.

I feed the rats and contemplate whether I can get away with showering in the dark. My friend on Facebook Messenger says it's not a good idea. I haven't the faintest clue why he's still responding to me. He knows migraines are (unfortunately) not fatal. Masochism, probably. I decide I can probably get away with only leaving the vanity light on, although I don't really open my eyes much, so it's probably a moot point.

I don't know how long I'm in the shower, but it's long enough for Jazmin to pull me out by knocking on the door. The water is starting to run cold. I do a half-assed job drying my hair and stumble out with only one eye open. I consider this to be one eye too many, but we have too much furniture in the living room to navigate blind. My room is at the exact other end of the apartment. My bed is much too far away.

I hate migraines.


  1. Nice writing - compelling inside view of that most horrible of headaches. I hope my auras never go into the next state - it sounds awful, and I'm not as good as you are about being civil.


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