My migraines manifest in many different ways: Nausea, dizziness, derealization, light or sound sensitivity, neck and shoulder cramps, a throbbing ache in the back or front of my head, or a sharp pain on the side. Yesterday and today it has been one of the more “typical” migraine manifestations, the sharp, pulsing pain on one side of the head that gave migraine — Greek ἡμικρανία, hemicrania or “half head” — its name. I came across this painting several years ago on a website called deviantArt. It’s actually titled Depression, but to me it’s exactly how this type of migraine feels.
The other kinds I can mostly muddle through, but this type I need to just give in to, lie down in the dark and whimper till it’s over. Yesterday I didn’t give in — went for a walk and then to a babysitting gig, and the punishment was brutal. Driving home was the worst — I had to fight the urge to close my eyes against the pain, especially at intersections where there were lights. I learned this lesson years ago, but apparently have to keep relearning it: I can’t keep pushing myself. One of the weirdest psychological aspects of migraines, for me, though, is that I blame myself for them, and I feel that I’m being lazy by giving in to them.
Yesterday’s bad migraine was probably triggered by me pushing myself through a yoga video the night before, even though my body was telling me that I was too tired and needed to rest. My friend asked me why I pushed and I said that I just hated to not finish something once I’d started. It’s true. I want to be a finisher, to be strong, to be able to push through pain and laziness. This wouldn’t be a bad quality, I think, if it weren’t for the migraines. It would get me far in life, I think. But the migraines limit me and force me toward wisdom rather than strength. Toward quiet rather than striving. It’s frustrating, but I think it also gets to a deeper truth. We are not all-powerful. Even if I didn’t have migraines, even if I could push my body further, be leaner, run marathons, whatever the apex of physical strength is…Wouldn’t that just obscure the fact of my mortality, my ultimate frailty?
And, too, wouldn’t it make it harder to hear the still small voice calling me to be still? Are the migraines ultimately the voice of God, speaking, in a different way, the words of Psalm 46?
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
In the pain of the migraine, there can be no striving, no accomplishing. All I can do is lie still and wait.