Migraine vs. The Writer

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Happy Monday, friends. I’d like to start by saying a huge congratulations to the winner of the ProWritingAid giveaway. I announced it on Twitter yesterday, but in case you missed it…

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If you’re still interested in trying out ProWritingAid (and I highly suggest you do) you can get your free trial started…now! Well, as soon as you click the linky-loo below. (Yes, it’s an afflink, but it doesn’t affect the price of the product whatsoever.)

Writing Improvement Software

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Freaking migraines.

I’m writing this on Sunday evening, and it may or may not be a good thing for me to do at the moment. See, I’ve had a migraine today. I think it’s over. For the moment it’s been downgraded from migraine to annoyingly bad headache. But, I’ve dealt with these things for so long, I can also feel my body still giving me warning signs that I’m not entirely out of the woods just yet. My body isn’t happy I’m looking at a computer screen. But, at the same time it also wants me to do something to distract myself from the pain it’s in and the pain it has been in all day.

See, migraines are funny that way. They’re different for everyone, but for me there comes a point where I can do too much or too little and navigating that fine line is difficult, so, here I am.

My Migraine History

I’ve suffered them since I was a child. I’m not talking headaches, okay? Headaches and migraines are different things. For people like me, watering down the definition of migraine to meet the definition of a headache is dangerous. If I tell my employer I cannot come in to work because I have a migraine, sometimes that is met with: “Well, can’t you just take a Tylenol and come in in say…an hour?”

Nope. So, pardon me if I am one of those migraine sufferers who will prod a bit if someone says they have a migraine and yet they are playing video games.

Oh yeah, my history.

They’re hereditary for me, passed down from my father who got them from his mother, and I suppose she got them from one of her family members. I don’t know that my mother has actually ever had a true migraine. I don’t know if my brother has. I get them on average around 3-4 per month. Sometimes it’s worse.

When I was little I had them much more frequently, because not only do I have them due

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Sympathy cards sent to:       Aila Stephens | P.O. Box 25223
Greenville, SC 29616

to my fantastic gene pool, I also get them as a reaction to eating Sodium Nitrate or Sodium Nitrite…a fact that went unknown until I was in the second grade. My reaction to nitrates and nitrites is frightening. I was hospitalized when I was in kindergarten, scarily dehydrated. It was around this same time frame that, while suffering through a nasty migraine, I pleaded with my father to please get his rifle and put me out of my misery. True story. Sad story, but true.

Once the sodium nitrate/nitrate aversion was discovered, my migraines became less frequent, but they didn’t disappear. Once, my mother was cooking something overnight in the crockpot which contained a ham hock and the simple action of breathing that in put me in terrible pain. I was put on some heavy medication as a youngster because they were so unbearable.

Aside from my nuclear family unit, though, convincing other adults that a child as young as I was at the time actually suffered migraines was a bit difficult. That’s an adult problem, was the general consensus. So, I found myself on occasion being forced to suffer through them while at school because my teacher didn’t believe me, or thought I just wanted to get out of assignments.

My Migraines Now

oLuckily I’ve gained some valuable insights as to what triggers migraine for me now. I still can’t eat things with Sodium Nitrate or Nitrites. I also can’t eat onions anymore. (Which, is probably what happened to me today. We had breakfast at a diner yesterday, and I’m guessing they probably cooked my eggs where they cooked someone else’s bacon, and there were some onions in my hash browns. Good job, Aila.)

Sunglasses are a must for me. The bigger, the darker, the better. I’ve even been known to wear sunglasses in the wee hours of the morning or the darkest parts of night in order to cut down on the brightness of passing headlights. Even wearing sunglasses, if the sun catches on the car in front of me in just the right way, the migraine is near instantaneous.

Some people go to bed when they have a headache, because a nap makes it go away…not me. If I have a run-of-the-mill headache, I cannot go to sleep to make it better. If I do, nine times out of ten, I wake up with a full-fledged migraine.

I also upgraded, for lack of a better word, to aura migraines. Most of the times I hear something that isn’t there, a sort low beeping noise. Sometimes I see flashes of light, sometimes bright, sometimes like a dim strobe.


It helps I have a supportive husband who never complains about caring for me when I have a migraine. I cannot handle much light, so we have blackout curtains hanging in the living room and our bedroom.


Balance is everything for me. I usually want a light blanket, but also a cold pack on my head. I don’t want sudden loud sounds, like dogs barking, so I cope with having the TV on rather quietly, to keep them from hearing and reacting to every little thing outside. I don’t want strong smells, but I will occasionally utilize some essential oils. I take my medicine, which sometimes includes chewing up some baby aspirin (eight of those things with some tepid water can take the edge off if I catch the migraine early on.)

Even caffeine becomes a tightrope act. Too much makes the migraine worse, too little makes the migraine worse—or can actually cause migraines in some instances.


Migraines knock me on my ass.

Someone could offer to fully-fund my dream Disney World vacation and arrange for David Tennant himself to be my tour guide…and if a migraine struck, I’d have to pass on the adventure to someone else.

Today, for instance, Mother’s Day…I had to call my mother (after the migraine had started to ease) and tell her I wouldn’t make it. She understood, of course, because that’s what moms do, but I felt even worse for disappointing her.

As a writer, migraines can be stupidly disruptive. I’ve forgotten ideas. I have to take time away from the computer because a screen so close to my face is a bad idea. I also get really negative thoughts while the pain is at its highest points, and even sometimes on the way down—thoughts that I’ll never be good enough at this, that I’m too awkward for social media, that I should just give up and do something else, nobody likes me, I’m a burden to my husband, etc.

I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy. I’m talking about this so that other sufferers know that they’re not alone in all of this. The perceived severity of migraines has been diluted because it’s become what people say when they have a headache. If you’ve ever said that and now you’re wondering if you’ve actually ever had a migraine…chances are you didn’t. You’ll know it when you have one.

Being A Writer When It’s Impossible

So, how do I take care of business while I’m caring for myself in the throes of a migraine? To put it simply: I don’t.

There’s nothing I can do during a migraine except for try to get better. They can last for hours or they can last for days. There’s nothing to be done except wait and employ all my personal tricks.

When the migraine wanes, though, and downgrades, there’s this period of time between headache and healed when I might not be able to write but I can do something to be productive, even if only a little bit.

Today, for instance, once the migraine faded and my head stopped swimming and my stomach settled, I dimmed the screen on my laptop and tinkered around with a bookmark design for Alabama Rain. I worked slowly and took several breaks for my eyes. I stopped when my body told me to.

When I gave up on trying to come up with the wording for the bookmark’s backside, I took a breather, drank some water, refreshed my cold cloth, and then decided to reorder business cards.

I jotted down some notes on an idea I had for my next book. And while it might not have looked productive to an outsider, I shut my laptop and shut my eyes and I just thought about my current work and the trajectory it is on. I contemplated changes and also I tried to think of the story as if I weren’t writing it and instead reading it. Thinking is very important to a writer.

So, why didn’t I buckle down and write in Alabama Rain rather than this post? Either way I’d be coming up with new content…well, I figured if the pain level increased, I’d feel less guilty if I abandoned a blog post. Also, by getting it out of the way, I’m freeing up my entire afternoon tomorrow (today for you, or yesterday or last week, depending on when you are reading this.) to write in Alabama Rain.

The Unspoken Side-Effect

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a mother, a father, a chef, a police chief, a coal miner, a teacher, a librarian, a dog-walker, or The Queen…suffering from a migraine causes all sorts of problems, there’s pain agony and nausea, sometimes visual and/or auditory hallucinations, sensitivity to light, sound, ambient temperature, etc. etc. etc. but there’s also one that isn’t talked about much.


We’re supposed to be doing something else. Anything else. We rarely plan to spend 5+ hours sitting in the dark, trying to block out smells and thoughts that are too loud. We aren’t enjoying ourselves, and no one else is enjoying us either. So, here’s my big secret. Here is how I truly take care of business when I just can’t:

I take care of myself, first. And you should, too. Not take care of me, take care of you.

So, that’s all I have. Literally, that’s all the energy I have to give today. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you have a wonderful, productive week.

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2 thoughts on “Migraine vs. The Writer

  1. DAHenneman says:

    As a fellow sufferer, I really appreciate this post. It might help others to understand how we have to navigate the pain and why we may not always be the best versions of ourselves. So sorry you have to suffer these, they are not fun 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aila Stephens says:

      I am sorry you suffer them as well. I understand how someone who has never had one might think they’re “just a really bad headache,” but they are so, so much more than that. For at least 48 hours after one has passed, I am on pins and needles worrying it’ll return. But, they’re a fact of our lives and we can’t be defeated. We keep on, we write on, and we move on. *high five*

      Liked by 2 people

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