A nightmare of incense

A nightmare of incense

Over the holidays, my Avid Bookshop staff and I wanted to have a little party to celebrate the season and each other.  As always, I tried to make things more complicated than they needed to be, wondering what food we would make or have delivered.  My friends reminded me that having a handful of cheap snacks plus plenty to drink (alcoholic and otherwise) was all we needed for a fun night.

It was my self-assigned duty to retrieve alcohol for the party.  Over the years, my drinking nights have become more and more rare.  This particular night I wasn’t planning on imbibing at all, but I wanted to make sure we had a few options on hand.

My boyfriend Jim and I went to the liquor store around the corner from the house where the party would be held. I wanted to get some liquor and mixers and perhaps a case of beer.  We got out of the car—the December air was crisp but not too cold, and the storefront was decorated with big white lights, reminding us that Christmas wasn’t far off.

We walked into the store and BOOM!

More incense than I’ve ever encountered at once smacked me in the face, swirled around my head, shot up my nostrils, and stung the back of my throat. I swear, they must have had ten sticks going.  Usually this liquor store has a little bit burning and I can zoom in and out quickly, but this was out of control.  I actually held my breath as I stacked bottles in my hand. I walked them to the counter and plopped them down so I could go back to the refrigerated cases to find some beer. I retrieved a case and found that, even though I was holding my breath, the smell was unbearable and my migraine brain was starting to feel tingly. It happened that fast.


Very quickly and—I’ll admit it—pretty rudely, I shoved my debit card into Jim’s hands and said, “I can’t be in here!”  I ran out and took huge gulps of winter air into my lungs, trying to wring out my brain and clean out my nostrils.  I felt as if the smell had stuck on me and that I’d never get it off, like it was glued to every single hair in my nose and every pore in my skin.  Do I sound overdramatic? So be it: I do have a theatre background, after all. But trust me: this was bad.

Jim came out a few minutes later and we put the stuff in the car.  I thanked him for his service, and he pointed out something I hadn’t even considered—he, too, is a migraineur who’s sensitive to smells, and the situation was pretty rough for him, too.  I hadn’t even thought about that, and I found myself apologizing. I was so stuck in my own discomfort and identity as “the migraine girl” that I didn’t stop to think that he was making a sacrifice by staying in there for me.

A few minutes later, we were at the bookshop holiday party. Turns out other people had been at the same store that night and also found the smell unbearable.

I haven’t been back to that store since, but not just because of the smell—it’s just that I haven’t had any occasion to buy any alcohol.  When I do return, though, I wonder if I’ll say anything about the incense. Would you? Or have you had the experience where you have decide to speak up about a major migraine trigger (especially one that is affecting even non-migraineurs)?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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