January 27, 2022
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Put the pen aside and focus on how you can address your symptoms and relieve your pain.
Being a writer with chronic migraine is kind of like being an artist without an ear. It doesn’t actually affect the creative work, but when a migraine attack happens, it’s all you can really focus on.
Sticking with the Van Gogh analogy for a moment, having migraine is somewhat comparable to the whole missing ear scenario. Imagine you’ve just cut off an ear. One side of your head still feels relatively normal. The other side, however, is throbbing in pain.
You start to feel dizzy and lightheaded, and soon, the nausea kicks in. The throbbing in your head doesn’t dull. If anything, it intensifies. Vertigo and nausea are playing a nasty game of tug of war, but the only clear winner is extreme discomfort.
The pain switches between a stabbing sensation and a pounding ache. Pain might not even be a strong enough word for what you’re experiencing. Agony is more accurate. Whatever it’s called, it’s exhausting. You want to lie down, but sleep is clearly impossible.
And now, in the midst of all that turmoil, you’re expected to write something.
If the idea of sitting in front of a computer screen during this seems unbearable to you, you’re not alone.
How can I be expected to type out the thoughts in my head while those same thoughts are being suffocated by an all-encompassing pain? How can I be expected to think about anything other than making the pain stop?
The answer is I don’t. I can’t.
During a migraine attack, the only thing I feel compelled to do is a find a way to get through it. Writing is the furthest thing from my mind.
If you also have a migraine attack: Go easy on yourself. Take a break from writing and address the pain you’re going through. Ask for empathy from whoever is expecting your written work. Your writer’s block will be lifted when your symptoms subside.
There’s this perception in pop culture that all highly creative people endure some sort of mental suffering. That art is born out of pain. From Sylvia Plath to Kurt (Vonnegut and Cobain), examples of the “tortured artist” are plentiful. It’s an odd myth that romanticizes a genuine struggle.
Personally, I don’t buy it. There are plenty of nonartists who suffer. Writers are just more verbal about their struggles than, say, accountants.
Still, one has to wonder, are writers more prone to migraine? Given the nature of the work — staying hunched over a computer screen for hours at a time — it’s certainly plausible.
My own battle with migraine doesn’t seem to support this theory. I’ve always been a writer — I was that kid scribbling bits of poetry on my math class assignments — but I haven’t always had migraine.
Why I developed migraine, I’m not sure. But I do know that it’s completely unrelated to my writing. In college, I spent hours each week penning essays for various English courses. I wrote hundreds of poems and short stories. Last year, I even wrote an entire manuscript of fiction. And, yet, the correlation between my migraine attacks and those more intensive bouts of writing has been nonexistent.
My advice: Don’t push yourself to write during a migraine attack. Your pain isn’t supposed to get the creative juices flowing. Most of the time, if you force yourself to write something during a migraine attack, it won’t be your best work anyway.
If migraine hits and I happen to be working on a piece of writing, I’m probably not going to keep writing.
I don’t procrastinate when it comes to projects with a deadline because the very idea of sitting up in front of a computer during a migraine attack is near unfathomable.
I rarely experience auras or light sensitivity, but I have intense vestibular symptoms. It’s almost like motion sickness, but it happens from the smallest movements like walking, sitting up, or even just turning my head. I’m almost always nauseous during a migraine attack — though I’ve only actually thrown up once or twice.
Sometimes, it comes on somewhat slowly. I’ll feel a slight tingling and think, “This isn’t too bad — maybe its just a regular headache.”
When that happens, I’ll try and push through it. I might drink some water in an attempt to stave off the inevitable. But, when the pain comes barreling through, I lose all ability to focus. I have to lie down, and that’s OK.
There are methods you can try to prevent migraine, but once an attack comes, the faster you can get rid of your symptoms, the faster you’ll get rid of your writer’s block.
There are people with migraine out there who’ve found a way to perfect their treatment plans. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I’m still in the trial-and-error phase.
However, there are a few strategies I’ve found helpful.
In this technology-driven world we live in, it’s hard to be completely screen-free on any given day. On days when I’m writing a lot, though, I’ve started wearing blue light glasses to help prevent eye strain.
The first thing I do when I feel a migraine attack coming on is lie down and put an ice pack over my eyes. I’ve also used heating pads before on my neck and shoulders, but I’ve found that ice works best for me. I keep a face roller in the freezer, so I can roll it across my forehead and temples.
Recently, I’ve started taking 5 to 10 milligrams of melatonin every night to help prevent migraine attacks. Research shows melatonin may be an effective treatment option, but the evidence is limited. It’s too early to tell how it works for me, but I’m remaining hopeful.
When all else fails, I turn to my medicine cabinet. I usually try to take an over-the-counter pain reliever first, but there are times when I can tell right away that I’ll need something stronger.
In that case, I take triptans. Triptans are a class of prescription migraine medication. They relieve migraine symptoms by blocking inflammation at the serotonin receptors and may result in the shrinking of swollen blood vessels.
Besides triptans, there are other medical treatments for migraine attacks. Some of these treatments include:
Work with your doctor to determine which treatment or combination of treatments is right for you.
Living with migraine is incredibly difficult. Anyone who’s ever had a migraine attack can attest to that.
If your creativity is stifled by migraine, that’s OK. Put the pen aside and focus on how you can address your symptoms and relieve your pain. You’ll get back to writing when your head pain is gone, and your work will be so much better for it.
Medically reviewed on January 27, 2022
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