An electrical storm gathers over the Midwest. The barometer drops and wind starts blowing from an unusual direction. Birds disappear. It builds and builds and builds. It swirls through the heavens and gains power and watches the farmhouses shrink in fear, and then it erupts.

A lot of people ask me where the migraines come from. The answer, unfortunately, is that they come from everywhere. These are some things that effect migraine onset: atmospheric changes, sugar intake, stress, dehydration, lack of exercise, muscle strain, apple juice, alcohol, waking up too late, lack of sleep, 3-d movies, computers, car rides, reading in bad light, reading in any light, hitting your head, diet sodas, whiplash, strobe lights, bright light, dim light, loud noises, repetitive noises, constant noises, poor diet, low blood sugar, running, turning your head too quickly, pain or injury in any other part of your body, excitement, depression, estrogen, hormones, full moons, eclipses, certain medications, uncertainty, coffee, caffeine, lack of caffeine, change in routine, common household chemicals, indoor air, and sinuses. 

Lately, I've made a few mistakes. I applied for a job as the lead copywriter for a popular outdoor apparel company and, despite my best efforts, I got really excited over it. Especially when I advanced to a phone interview. I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it, I thought. I'll be able to afford an apartment, and I'll bring my dog home to me. This job is perfect for me. It's all working out. In the long days and weeks between interviewing and hearing from the company, my excitement hardened into agitation inside my head.

There were knots in my shoulders from the weekend at Smith that I let tighten and stiffen. The car trip was long and I got home feeling nauseous, a feeling I tried to cure by eating. Never a good decision.  The nail in the coffin was drinking a little bit of fruit juice sweetened seltzer. With my migraine threshold already low, I may as well have eaten a bag of Skittles. I took one sip and felt a flash of lightening clap over my brain. I said, "uh oh."  I went to my bed.

It lasted a week.

I've written a lot about what the pain of migraine is like, using a multitude of imagery and metaphor. I don't want to write about it again, for your sake as well as mine, because even writing about migraine brings back  shadows of the pain, which can melt and turn real with one wrong move.  But something I failed to emphasize in the past is the way your brain twists and perverts all sensation into pain. Not just the obvious ones like light and sound, but also the more subtle things, like smell and taste. Smells of any kind become waves after wave of nausea hitting you in the stomach. Taste is converted into something much more tangible- a pain you can almost touch. Even the lightest of flavors releases an aching shimmer that spreads down your jawbone, then turns inwards and pounds down your eardrums. My migraine got so bad this time that even swallowing water would create this sensation.

I tried everything I knew. I drew the shades, then opened them again, then closed, climbing in and out of my bed. Migraine is a picky master that constantly changes its mind. I lay in a bath of hot water and then suddenly needed it to be cold water. I tried to kill it with strong medicine, taking three pills, but it just refused to die. It retreated for a bit, I'd go to work, it would come back. The effects of the medicine is almost as bad as the malady itself. For days after you take it, you feel wrecked, sore and lethargic and depressed. The day I found out I didn't make the second round of interviews for the job, I was in the thick of the Sumatriptin fog. I cried hard for five hours.

On Thursday, I drove to my friend Tyler's house. He rubbed my back for over an hour and we watched the season finale of America's Next Top Model. I watched out of one eye.  Whenever his hands were on my neck, the pain ebbed away, but the second he lifted them, even just to adjust the volume on the remote, it came screaming back. I chanted 'Don't stop please don't stop' under my breath until his hands were too tired to do any more. Then I went home, rubbing my palm in circles against my face as I drove. The next morning I got a professional massage. It hurt so bad I had to bite my hand, but I could tell he was working things out that would help later.

It lifted on Saturday, the morning of Steph's baby shower. We stood outside in the rain cool air, a circle of women, and I realized all of a sudden that I could straighten my neck. I could lift my head without being pain-hobbled. It felt like the world suddenly snapped from a blurry confusion into a clear focus. Steph's sister, a Natureopathic doctor, administered a shot of B-12 which she promised would help. It did. The migraine continued to recede all afternoon, leaving me standing alone on my street, blinking into the sunlight and feeling nothing. I breathed cautiously. I didn't want to do anything to provoke it, bring it back. I walked into my house slowly, as if I had sea-legs.

For a week I was worthless. I'd missed a lot of things, beautiful sunny days and birthdays and grand openings, writing and work and phone calls. Friends are compassionate, and they try to be understanding, but they find it hard to believe that a migraine can last so long. A week is long time to be checked out, of course, but it's really nothing in comparison to the horror stories that hang over every migraine suffers head: throbbing agony that lasts for a month, for six months, pain so powerful even morphine is useless.

But mine is gone, finally, for now. I can return to my life. But it's not as easy as it should be, returning. In her book of essays, The Merry Recluse, Caroline Knapp says: "I thought about this a lot as I was running: how quickly solitude can turn to isolation, how quickly that soothing sense of self-sufficiency can be replaced by the sense of estrangement, and how difficult it is to get back into the world once you’ve stepped away from it, as though you can’t quite propel yourself back into the normal human one." Unfortunately, I've found this to be very true.

falls apart, slowly...

Migraines are destroying me. Two weeks ago while cutting a grapefruit, an electric current cut through my head. It was the act of stabbing- the way my wrist and my arm tensed in quick jabs to cut through the fruit- that caused the sudden onslaught of pain.

The headache lasted for two weeks. It ebbed at times, and I was able to sit and write for a few hours, go to the food store, take the dog for a walk. These little things were huge triumphs for me. Other days I didn't get out of bed, knowing if I moved a muscle or tormented my eyes with sunlight, the headache would come rushing back full force.

Some people drive fast. Some people smoke things, drink things. Some people, like my roomate's boyfriend, chew up and swallow a glass cup (on a dare). They all turn out fine, but I- I can't get away with SLICING A GRAPEFRUIT.

When I wasn't alone, I spent most of my time with Will. I was a miserable person to be around- all distance and helplessness punctuated with sudden, urgent demands: Turn off the music, close the shades, help me get out of bed, I can't finish the dishes, shut the door. Stop talking, I'd say, I can't hear anything right now. And then, five minutes later when the pain mysteriously evaporated, I'd become agitated, animated, scared to death that I had pushed him away for good this time. Talk to me! I'd plead. Tell me what you're thinking! Let's go outside- let's do something together.

We'd agree to go outside for a walk. He'd go to the other room to get his coat, and when he came back I'd be flat again, curled into a crescent in the sheets, pain once again blossoming behind my right eye. Turn the light off- I'd tell him. Shut the door.

The last hoorah

I'm outside the city of Pucon, Chile, on my hands and knees on the dirt on the side of the road, fingernails digging into the dirt, throwing up. The tension in my skull is momentarily relieved. I can open my eyes without the evening sun gouging them. When I climb back into the car, Matt, Dave and Andy are silent. Someone rolls down their window.

I don't mind vomiting from a migraine. Besides providing a slight- albeit temporary- relief, I find it proves a certain point that is difficult to otherwise get across: just how cruel the pain inside your head really is. You can be curled up in fetal position on the couch, a sweatshirt tied around your eyes, hands clenching and unclenching in some sort of primal pain response. You can be crying, silently, and breathing in quick labored breath, or sitting in a cold shower with the lights off and your clothes on and still you get the same response: Headache? Do you want an Advil?

There you are, brain swelling until it bursts over and over, and someone offers you a pharmaceutical normally taken for muscle aches. It's is ludicrous. If you could, you would remove the sweatshirt and tell the person politely just how misguided they are. If you could, you'd ask them to go get you a hack saw so you could cut open the roof of your skull, give yourself a skylight into the brain, to relieve the pressure. You really would. But you can't talk, and you can't move.

But when you throw up, it's a new ball game. Your migraine thrusts itself rudely into the lives of others, comes out in the open. It's especially poignant when you are sharing a confined space with other people, such as a car, especially when you are driving back to another small cabin with a shared bathroom. Especially when your having to pull over and double over on the side of the road is making them late for something. Suddenly, they have to deal with your headache in a very real way. It's sort of satisfying.

Back at the our cabin, the 9 kids running around with sticks and a BB gun shooting at dogs, I walk with a scarf tied around my eyes to my bed, hands out in front of me, feeling along the walls. The kids want me to come play with them. I tell them no, as usual, that I'm not feeling well. As usual.

The modicum of relief allowed to me at the sacrifice of my dinner is gone. My head is filled with metal butterflies beating their barbed wings, banging around my skull looking for the way out. I can't help but buzz with bad metaphors. This thing in my head wants to be named, wants to be recognized. Just as I think the butterflies cannot beat their wings any faster, they open terrible mouths and sink their rows of shark teeth into my brain.

The butterflies are sharp and vicious- the stabbing, the fine bladed knife etching a story into my gray matter one letter at a time. But there is also another kind of pain, the dull, pulsing pressure. Picture a ball, the size of a baseball or a fist, rolling around the base of my skull. I tilt my head to the right, just the slightest bit to reposition on the pillow, and ball of pain rolls to the right, bangs to a stop. I turn my head to the left, it rolls heavy to the other side.

A parade of images is marching through my head. The dog I saw on the sidewalk today, blood seeping from a hole in its head. The dog wasn't exactly dead yet. It made the flies happy. There is sand in the sheets and the hot water is broken. Yesterday Andy washed his clothes with a stick in a bucket, later on I stood shivering in the same bucket throwing teacups of cold water over my hair. I think of stupid, irrelevant things. The bones in the chicken we were served at the Achibueno, the way I picked around them, the ligaments that we pulled out of our teeth. The time we ran out of gas on the highway and Dave, Andy and Matt ate from a bag of leftover turkey and bread, grease everywhere, using the hood of the car as a picnic blanket. I had lay in the grassy ditch near the highway, hungry, a headache swirling behind my eyes. I began to think, I'm losing my edge for this lifestyle.

The bloody crusade in my brain continues and I'm helpless. Tino opens the door a crack to check on me but I whimper for him to shut it, the slice of light seeping in unbearable. He goes away. I kept thinking about the girls, how they stayed home from the river one day to bake with me and I was late, I had forgotten all about it even though I had promised them. I think about the way my heart scurried like an animal in my chest the time I was stuck in an eddy about a huge, unrunable rapid in a canyon, how I spit with fear and cried.

I try to take control over my thoughts. I count the days until I go home- 7 days? 8? If I have to lie here in my bed until then, I will. I think about my home, clean sheets, evening light on snow. Everything clean, cold.

When it's dark enough, I take a sleeping pill. I wilt into a strange sleep. The headache lasts for three more days. On the final day, we throw a birthday party for Clay. We're at a hotel in Villarica, playing croquet and making ice cream. It's a lawn party. There is wine barrell hot tub, still cool, the water heated by a wood stove. I curl up in it, lay motionless under the water for three straight hours. By this time the water has warmed sufficiently. The kids join me and we're all having a good time.

By this time, of course, I've come to a realization. For a year I have been travelling with the school throughout Chile, Canada, the Southwestern USA. I'm so good at my job. I've been so happy. But I'm not up for it anymore. I don't feel good, ever. Something must be wrong with me, and I have to go home.