Migraine Symphony

5:45 am and I'm awake with level 5 pain that's clearly building. The naproxen bottle at the bedside is for just such occasions, but my water glass is empty and I haven't the energy to fill it. Sleep is elusive, but it is the strongest remedy that doesn't require getting out of bed. I try to get comfortable and begin breathing deeply from my diaphragm: Deep inhalation through the nose, complete exhalation through the mouth.

The pain, which began with a sharp, pervasive edge, becomes a deep throbbing throughout my head. Leaden bones fill my body. A slight dizziness comes on; it is faint though, not overwhelming. Then the ear pain begins, a deep, sharp ache in my left ear. A few minutes later, the right ear corresponds with deafness and ringing. The pain has reached a level 6, but I'm enjoying the feeling of spacing out, like I'm slightly drunk and vaguely detached. The migraine has become a symphony, each symptom entering like an instrument adding its unique sound to the composition.

Suddenly I realize that I've "gone into the pain" as mindfulness meditation teachers advise. The idea is to focus on the individual sensations rather than the overall effect of the pain. To not think emotionally about the pain, but to feel the sensations in your body. I've been trying to grasp this concept for at least five years, but I always wind up frustrated and angry, often in tears.

Two factors made this time different. Actually, three factors. First, the pain changed from sharp to throbbing. It seems every other time I've tried, the pain has been constant and unchanging. It is kind of difficult to attend to all the different sensations when I only notice one. Second, I didn't focus only on the pain, but on all the ways migraine was affecting my body. This gave the exercise variety instead of highlighting the unending repetition of pain. The full-body nature of migraine -- that it is not just a headache but a bunch of symptoms that can affect the entire body -- was apparent, thus reminding me, in a good way, that this isn't just a headache. Third, and unfortunately probably most significant, I didn't do this on purpose. I didn't set out to go into the migraine, just to breathe and fall asleep. Noticing the symphony was an unintended surprise, not a deliberate attempt.

Whatever the reasons, I'm grateful for the moments of seeing migraine as a melody instead of a misery. Experiencing a little beauty in the suffering is an immense gift.

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