Dear CF,

The summer never really showed up here. This morning I took the bus to work with an umbrella, one of my eighteen winter coats, and a migraine. I met with students. They’re kind, gentle, busy, and their share in our meetings involves trying not to let me know that they’re too busy for my class. My share is showing them how much busier they need to be to make it. That’s what summer school is.

I’m tired.

I don’t know where the migraines come from. Stress, exercise, lack of exercise, too much sleep, too much dopamine, not enough lipid in the blood. Menstrual cycles. Mood cycles. Low potassium. High blood pressure. Dehydration. Eating. Forgetting to eat. To say “I don’t know where the migraines come from” is such a stupidly obvious thing to say, but God, it’s awful. When I have a cold, I know it’s a virus. When my muscles are sore, I can decide whether to tear and build them or let them relapse. Cramps are fine. They’re here for a bit, then they’ll go away. When they’re particularly bad, I feel pleased that I’m not having that particular child. because I associate pain level with personality. But every migraine is different. Each one has its own snowflake fingerprint, and it always wears gloves.

Sometimes, like today, when I’m worn out from the feeling of being in one, I have an awful Eureka moment where I decide that art triggers the headaches. These days I’ve been getting them four days a week. Possible cause: I went and saw Anna Deveare Smith’s one-woman show Let Me Down Easy, built on a series of interviews she did with people who have or treat cancer or have somehow been caught up in the net of our health care. It was a show about death, and how we don’t think about it, and how the world is dealing with every single day. The luxury of not dealing with it cripples you by the time you leave. I left a broken tower of unearned health.

That was the same day I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

In retrospect, it was a bad combination. Since then, I’ve been getting migraines almost daily.

Like I’ve said before, mine are mild, as migraines go. They’re not the awful nausea-inducing ones. I don’t get the auras. My vision gets a little lazy, but no spots, no passing out, no barfing. Just a reluctance for my brain to understand what my eyes are seeing. Sometimes (not always) my mouth tastes sweet. My muscles swell up, my sinuses get inflamed, and for the next few hours I can either shut down entirely and wake up periodically with a spike behind my eye, or I walk around in a shimmery puddle of hurt where it takes superhuman effort to look at someone and smile.

Smile, and suddenly I’m eight feet deeper in headache. Be a real friend to someone the way you do, you know, listening to them, feeling with them, and I’m eight hours deeper in headache. Paradise Lost measures the distance Satan and the rebel angels fall in units of time. (They fell nine days.) That’s the shift: eight feet deep for a smile, eight hours deep for a real talk.

It means it’s hard to be a good friend. I have so many good friends. I owe so many friendship debts. I’m always, always behind. And the more behind I get, the worse the headache will be.

Sometimes I avoid people because I don’t want a headache. I have the choice to feel good enough to work and think or be a good friend. They’re mutually exclusive. Sometimes I make the selfish choice.

I barely have enough for friends and teaching. I’m coming up short. And since I’ve got such a shallow supply of whatever that is—generosity? energy? soul? electrolytes? I don’t know what the word is for the thing that gets used up and brings the headaches on—I’ve cut out art.

I don’t listen to music, because it will make me feel things intensely, and give me a headache.

I don’t watch any new movies or television shows, because they will make me feel things intensely and give me a headache.

I don’t even read any new books anymore, because they will make me feel things intensely and give me headache.

Instead I rewatch and reread things so that I don’t need to deal with surprise. I read the internet, which won’t threaten that part of me. It’s all a variation on a theme I already know. So I spend my days always a little bored. And the hours trickle away and I’ve done nothing new, and experienced nothing that makes me really feel, and written nothing that makes me thrill, because I might start swelling up on the inside, and that headache might be the one that never stops. That’s what they feel like–they distort your sense of time and you feel like you’re going to have them forever.

I hate this.

Last night I watched Mary and Max. Have you seen it? It’s a claymation film. It won awards.

Today I had a headache.

I don’t know what to do.




7 Responses to Migraine

  1. J says:

    Dear Millicent,

    There are too many brilliant things about this blog. The open letter form…that simultaneous feeling of intimate correspondence and illicit reading stirred up!

    …I’m really, really sorry about your headaches.


  2. Kay says:

    when otherpeople are having seasonal allergy attacks, o’m having migraines. rapid fluctuations in weather bring them on too. when i was doing yoga regularly they were nonexistent. menstrual cycles were very bad. the week before during and after. i think salt has a lot to do with it, too much water retention. of course wine is bad too, i now buy it without sulfites. imitrex helps bity head feels numb, better than pain though

  3. bungars says:

    I have no advice but feel very deeply for you. Have you tried all the medications? Percosets and muscle relaxants and so forth? Pot? Little rewards for the pain?

  4. sandy says:

    Oh, kiddo. Big, no-strings-attached hug.

  5. dianne says:

    Oh I feel for you – I sometimes struggle like this too. When you visit us later this week, you and Aaron get our bigger bedroom, away from the litter boxes and more room to stretch out.
    No expectations of you – if laying around in bed is what you need to do – then that’s what you do!

    If the rest of us are going somewhere for a few hours and you’d feel most comfortable staying behind – that will be fine. You’re tired, you can rest here.

    If you’re out of extraversion chips, we’ll introvert together.
    I get migraines much more often when my extraversion chip account gets overdrawn – an occupational hazard for sensitive teachers and activists.


  6. dianne says:

    duh – I meant when yhou visit *next* week (I’ve been migraining too)

  7. Millicent says:


    Thank you. Thank you so much.

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