The Migraine: An Original Poem About Migraine
by Kathleen Dempsey
Comparable to a drug-induced haze,
I have fifteen minutes to prepare for HELL.
Nauseated, I retreat to bed,
In the fetal position, I hold my head.
It pounds, like a sledgehammer against steel,
As waves of fireless burning flow through my being.
I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m a broken thermometer.
I can’t eat, I can’t drink.
It won’t stay down.
Waves of sickness clutch my stomach,
It will not settle without a pharmaceutical.
An invisible knife punctures my head,
Entering the base of my skull with perfect precision.
I cry ——
But only on the inside. Begging, pleading to an unseen force,
I whimper, as my head is in an ephemeral vice,
MAKE IT STOP!
I wonder —is this punishment?
for some mortal sin in a past life…
Or is it a trial, of how much I can endure.
I take another pill.
It subsides a little.
Enough to function,
But not for long.
Not long enough for commitment,
Not long enough to make money.
I have survived the first pang of days.
But like a long-lost bad memory,
It will return with a vengeance.
Each time trying to break my spirit.
But it will not because I persevere.
Savouring the in-between times,
When I can create,
I can travel, I can live.
And forget the shadow of my agony,
If for just a time.
Yesterday, I had a terrible migraine. It started Sunday night, and I slept fitfully through the night, waking up to the pain several times. Yesterday, I had to call in sick. There was no way I could handle going to work: the bright lights, the noise, the heat (it was 92 here yesterday). I have mostly been doing good since the new treatment, but a major storm front came through Vermont. It’s the pressure changes before the storm hits that begin the migraine attack. Sometimes, they subside when the rain actually begins, but that did not happen yesterday. I went to bed in pain last night.
The poem above was written by Kathleen Dempsey of Toronto on January 4, 2018. She has suffered from migraines since she was 24 and has suffered from chronic migraines for the last three decades. I have suffered with them for more than four decades. (I’ve had them all my life, and I will turn 45 this November.)
I knew I suffered from migraines, but until I began going to the Headache Clinic at Dartmouth, no doctor ever really took them seriously. During my first visit, they diagnosed me with chronic migraines and began trying to find the correct treatment for me. For Dempsey, it took a few visits to the hospital before she was officially diagnosed. Like me, she has tried just about everything to manage her migraines. Some of her attempts to relieve her migraines included opioids, preventative medications, holistic treatments, a decade of triptan use, and even the silly suggestions on social media, like sitting in the bathtub with frozen peas on my head! I have tried many of the same things.
Sadly, like me, she has not been able to get more than temporary relief and has had to give her migraines more control over her adult life than she would like to. I learned a long time ago to persevere. I push and push until I can’t any longer. The pain becomes all-encompassing. Like many with chronic migraines, Dempsey was unable to work for many years. Despite this, she says she’s a fairly happy person with a life full of hobbies, family, and friends. As her poem shows, living with migraines can sometimes be depressing.
She comforts herself by knowing that when the attack is happening, it will only be short-lived, and then she will feel okay. She hopes that one day her migraine attacks will stop. I never know how long my migraines will last. Sometimes, it’s hours; other times, it’s days. Eventually, I get some relief.
Dempsey copes with her pain through creativity. She creates through poetry, photography, painting, drawing, and jewelry design. She has said that writing poetry about her migraines helps her show others the impact they have on her life and that they are not just another headache. Like Dempsey, I have learned we should never wait to do the things we enjoy, and we should spend as much time with the people that we love as we are able to. Like Dempsey, I try to incorporate this philosophy into my life, spending as much energy as I can creating through writing this blog, having fun, doing a job I love, and traveling when I can. I try to do as much as I can when I can. I make a point to learn something new every day and to know my limitations. For Dempsey, the purpose of life is to have fun and help others, making memories as she goes along — and that is exactly what she does when she is migraine-free. I try to do the same.