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Migraine in 10 Movements

By Megan D. Henson

PROMPT — Who am I today?


I am learning to sing. My skull is a resonance chamber for classical music.

Pain also resonates. The migraine aura: the piano’s sound causing shooting pains down my cheek, the ghost in my peripheral vision with gold sparks dripping from its fingertips, Bell’s palsy overtaking the left side of my face, the eye twitching back and forth, a rhythm…it is all beautiful, but I’m full of dread because the real show hasn’t begun.

The real show is pitch, both of sound and darkness. Welcome to the migraine. Welcome to reverberation, to a full brass band, to a skipping time signature, to a minor key change. Welcome to the closed black curtains of surrender.

Learning to sing is learning to breathe as is living with migraines. The pain and the breath go deeper than the belly, all the way down into the toenails. It tugs and tugs and when I hold on—when I just can’t let go—something tears, be it brain matter or callus, it tears.


The insurance will not give me my medicine.


The insurance gives me a different medicine. This one is an auto-injector, meaning it hurts more than the syringe and it’s complicated. I choose to administer it in the belly because the belly is tolerant. My therapist is diabetic. He has an insulin pump in his belly and so, I feel closer to him. This is a child’s daydream—a daydream of being a furry, acceptable little creature snuggled in his breast pocket, hearing his heartbeat.


(Grow up. Be a woman.)


The aura, I tell him, was so beautiful. Aurora borealis. Like being punched in the jaw.

He tells me to go into the aura. I close my eyes and dive. I get beyond the swirling seasickness and into the emotion of it. I find the answer: music. I tell him why.

Below the migraine is the aura.

Below the aura is tight scalene muscles.

Below the tight scalene muscles is my larynx.

Within the larynx is my vocal box—my throat is like a dragon guarding her golden egg.

Inside the egg is the music.

Inside the music is pain, but now I see pain as something that doesn’t hurt. I’m developing a new language—a vocabulary I have yet to create.


When I am well, my brain is covered in Christmas lights. The migraine is a surge of power knocking out those lights, but the over-abundance of electricity creates a breath-taking spectacle.


I am unsure of the difference between “optical” and “ocular” as both relate to sight.


When I sing, I have to drop my jaw and breathe from my belly. I have to look in the mirror and deal with myself. I stretch horizontally, which means moving into higher registers without tension; I turn my head back and forth as I sing and relax the scalene muscles.


Sometimes I imagine I have swallowed a little yellow canary and he’s nesting in my larynx. I have found the acceptable creature within myself. I have turned my raw pain into tenderness.


(Open the notebook. And the first vocabulary word is…)


Megan D. Henson received her MFA in Creative Writing from University of Kentucky. She is the author of What Pain Does (Dos Madres Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, Gravel, Silver Blade, the winnow, and is forthcoming in Breath & Shadow. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


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