An interview with Priya Rama, an artist living with migraine. She shares how painting is therapeutic and helps her manage her experiences with chronic illness.
Priya Rama describes herself as “a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and much more.” She loves traveling, reading, cooking, and visiting art museums. She also lives with chronic migraine.
Art has played a significant role in her life and has impacted how she manages her migraine attacks. Here is her story.
I’ve been creative my whole life. My mother tells me that even as a toddler I was creating artwork, using different objects to trace their shapes. As I grew older, I would recreate any photos or images that caught my interest with whatever supplies I had on hand.
My formal education in art and design took place after I moved to the United States and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Communication Arts and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University. I then went on to pursue a Master’s in Art Education from the University of Cincinnati and a PhD in Arts Administration, Policy, and Education, at The Ohio State University.
I have been experiencing migraine episodes since I was a little girl, and I have always “seen” something during my attacks. My migraine episodes don’t produce typical auras, where changes in vision may signal an impending migraine. For me, the visual images play out inside my head once the migraine gets underway.
When I finished my PhD, I decided to take a break from working and academia for a year because I had too many things on my plate. It was during this time that I began to paint my migraine visions.
Painting during the migraine episode made me feel calmer.
My breathing became smoother, and I felt peaceful, even amidst the pain. Now, I paint my migraine images all the time.
Regularly painting during migraine episodes has allowed me to let go of all the anger and frustration that I’ve built up over the years. Much of this frustration came from my futile efforts to “fight off” migraine episodes. Now, I have come to a place where I’m able to accept the attacks. I now know that when one comes on, it’ll eventually come to an end.
This change of perspective has changed my life.
Initially, the pressure I put on myself to accurately capture what I was experiencing was difficult. I felt a sense of urgency to depict what I was feeling in the exact moment I was feeling it. But with time and experience, I realized that I was translating a multidimensional experience onto a two-dimensional surface. My paintings did not need to be exact representations of my experiences.
Once I let go of some of this pressure, I was able to get closer to capturing my true experiences. Over time, the more I painted, the more vivid and textural the images became. The key for me was to just be in the moment and allow whatever was happening to happen.
Pain is a lonely experience. Even if you have a supportive network of family and friends, ultimately, you need to deal with the pain on your own. Realizing and accepting this truth has helped me stay afloat, rise, and even soar. Painting has helped strengthen my glass-half-full perspective.
Painting has given me a way to move through my migraine episodes. Creating artwork based on my migraine symptoms has helped strengthen my painting as well. It’s helped me make the visuals I’m depicting more colorful and dynamic, with lots of movement and texture. I now approach a painting, and a migraine episode, like I’m swimming through it. It can be mesmerizing!
My message to other people navigating migraine is to try to engage in some type of creative activity during an episode. Whatever your form of creativity might be.
Depending on your symptoms this may mean lying in bed, eyes closed, doodling, and creating patterns without looking at the paper. Sometimes I bake during a migraine attack. Something about the precision of following a baking recipe calms me down.
This sort of practice may not be possible at all stages of an attack, but you may find that introducing moments of creativity into migraine attacks can be therapeutic.
For me, engaging in creative expression while navigating pain has given me a new, more positive perspective on living with migraine.
Fact checked on August 11, 2023
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