Janet Steen | Longreads | February 2019 | 14 minutes (3,463 words)
One of them I think of as a malevolent flower growing in my head, unfurling petal by petal, causing great distress. Another variety is an ink spill in the skull, maybe if the ink were scalding hot, starting at one precise point and then spreading heavily into every cavity. The most common is the plain old nail underneath the eyebrow, always on only one side of the face, hammered upward and lodged there for hours or possibly days, depending on whether I got the timing right with the medication. For me that’s the Wal-mart of migraines, super basic, but it’s still a fascinating one. The pain seems to be contained in one area but is so intense and pulsating you could swear it’s everywhere. So I play games with it. I try to feel with my mind — which is funny, because it’s in my mind — where the exact line of the pain stops and starts.
I may as well do something with these long expanses of time when there’s really nothing to do but feel what’s happening up there. So I try to give myself over to it. Feel the contours of the sensation. It has a shape and a texture. It spreads and moves. It’s like a country suddenly forms and establishes a government up there. Each migraine episode, if you really pay attention to it, has a personality. Oh, this one really wants to take me down. On another day it might be more passive-aggressive. This one is the toxic narcissist, gaslighting me. Sometimes when I’m not sure how bad it’s going to be I like to say I’m flirting with a migraine, but it’s really the migraine that’s flirting with me, and then I finally cave and let it have its way.