Depression Sucks Part III: Migraine Edition
Hello, it’s your friendly neighborhood artist coming out of hiding for a brief moment. Back in January of this year, I wrote Depression Sucks: Part II. When I wrote that, I didn’t think I’d be back for Part III so soon. I also didn’t think 2022 would play out the way it has for me so far, but what’s life without unpredictability?
Where have I been?
I’m so glad you asked. *nods to empty room*
In a word, resting. In longer words: resting and trying to heal old trauma that has held me back for too long so that I can be the creator (and human) I’m meant to be. (In all seriousness, some of you have reached out to me to check in and that warms my heart!)
2022, Why Couldn’t You Just Go As Planned?
Before 2021 ended, I decided January, February, and March would be dedicated to editing and finishing the final draft of my novel. I decided to set art aside and devote all my energy to this project, fully knowing and planning that my income and my social engagement from my art business will plummet.
For the first two months, everything was on track. I was putting in a crapload of hours writing and seeing daily progress, and I was only mildly intolerable to be around as I obsessed over fictional characters and tried not to fixate on my dying Instagram engagement and complete lack of art sales. I thought I was doing good with all this and my depression, but things really fell off the track in March.
*Migraines have entered the chat*
Migraines Can F*** Right Off.
The first time I ever experienced a migraine was in my eighth-grade Spanish class. I was looking at the whiteboard and suddenly my vision went wonky. A weird pattern appeared off the center of my vision. I blinked, but it remained. Then it grew as if I was looking through a broken window. Panicked, I went to the nurse’s office, where I explained what I was seeing. Which prompted the question, “Did you puff on a cigarette too hard?”
After trying to explain I a.) don’t smoke and b.) I literally just walked straight here from Spanish class they let me call my mom. Her response to my panicked story was a calm, “Oh, yeah, you’re about to get hit with a migraine.”
Lucky for me, from then until 2020, I had maybe one or two migraines a year. Now, in March and April of this year, I had roughly 19 days straight of migraines and headaches. And in July, another 9ish days straight. When looking at 2022 as a whole, I have lost over a month to migraines and migraine symptoms such as brain fog, dizziness, anxiety, nausea, and overall feeling like a worthless shell of a human because my brain is an asshole. But this post isn’t about my migraines. It’s about what causes them.
Hi, I’m Sensitive.
I rediscovered Elaine Aron’s work in the last month on the trait of high sensitivity while trying to make sense of migraines. Then through Youtube binge sessions, I came across a doctor that described migraines as the consequence of sensory overload. Migraine sufferers have a more sensitive nervous system and incoming sensory information can essentially fry their circuits and trigger migraines. Do you know who also has a sensitive nervous system? Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). Also, fun fact: depression is linked to migraine sufferers and HSPs. Check, check, and check.
Society is not built for Highly Sensitive People like me, and so I’ve dedicated a lot of my energy trying to adapt to an overstimulating world. Spoiler alert: I can’t adapt. (Hence the struggles with depression.)
I am trying to solidify the fact that I physiologically react to my environment in ways that I cannot control. I cannot dull my senses. I cannot prevent powerful perfume from giving me an instant headache. I cannot stop loud noises from making me jump. All my life, I have tried to thrive in the environments that others seem to love, but I physically am not wired to live a life like 80% of the population.
I have known for a very long time that my body reacts to emotional stress. When I ignore my feelings and keep trucking along, my body is like “um, no. You’re going to listen.” The mind/body connection is no joke. I first experienced this as a young kid with stomachaches. When I’m stressed and don’t remove myself from the stressor, my body decides to yell at me and migraines are a megaphone.
In all ways, I am sensitive, and I cannot and should not try to change that–but I most definitely need to change how I live my life.
Get Over It Already
I started going to therapy again this year. If you think I started going to help with my depression you’d be wrong. I went because I wanted to stop picking my skin. You see, when I get anxious, I shred any and all bumps on my skin in an attempt to make it perfectly smooth. Does it make it smooth? No. It makes it scarred and inflamed. Why am I anxious? Well–turns out I’ve got a whole bunch of trauma stuffed into this body of mine. Therapy, am I right?
I was telling my therapist about one of my past relationship experiences and described it in the same flippant manner I’ve used for years while talking about my past and my struggles. (Like the one I’m using in this blog post.)
“But that wasn’t trauma,” I say, brushing it off.
My therapist sat there calmly as therapists do and asked “Why don’t you consider that trauma?”
I had a lot of thoughts. Because that person didn’t set out to hurt me. Because it shouldn’t be a big deal and I should get over it. Because I stayed by choice and therefore I hurt myself. Because I don’t want it to be. Because I should just be tougher, etcetera.
And then I had a realization. A lot of things have hurt me deeply in my life, but I thought that if I could just convince myself none of my trauma was a big deal, that it wasn’t actually trauma, that would make the pain go away. I put it out of my mind and apparently pushed it deeper into my body where it has aged into a fine wine with undertones of migraines, acne, eczema, skin-picking, and persistent depression.
That’s where the mess in messy ever after really comes from.
Rest and Creativity
So, trauma. Now what? It’s pretty annoying that there is no linear path to take in order to heal. Healing is chaotic and does not fit into the demands of our society. Especially in the United States. I’m incredibly lucky that I work for myself because I have had the freedom to walk away when I need to–but I’ve walked away pretty much this entire year and sacrificed over half my income. I’ve done some random things here and there and have tried to get back into my routine, but I’m tired. Like–so tired.
I want to create. I want to be productive and sell my art. I have ideas and visions rolling around in my head, but I just can’t muster the energy yet. And that’s okay. I have to keep telling myself this because I don’t know how to be still without feeling shame and guilt. But now more than ever it’s important that I learn self-compassion and rest. My purpose right now is to exist. I literally write “find joy and move my body” on my to-do list these days–when I’m actually making one.
Creativity comes from a highly emotional and vulnerable place, and it can often be healing, but to push my creativity now would be detrimental. I love making art, but I don’t have anything to give right now. I barely even have enough to carry out the daily tasks of life.
I keep giving myself new timelines. Okay, a week after the last migraine, get back to work. Nope. Okay, at the end of the month, maybe you’ll be rested. Nope, okay, so maybe at the end of summer you’ll be functional again? Hmm, that’s quickly approaching.
My new timeline: 2022 sucks. Maybe 2023.
If I don’t continue this uncomfortable new routine of resting, I honestly don’t think my body will put up with my sh*t anymore. Writing this blog post even seemed to have challenged my strength because an hour after I started it last week I had to retire to my bedroom with migraine meds and ice packs because I triggered another one. Words are hard, apparently. (For real though, they actually are. After days of migraines, the cognitive impairment is kind of unreal.)
The Silver Lining
I do have to acknowledge that the migraines are forcing me to listen to my body and slow down. I’ve been learning to test my limits less and to surrender to earlier signs of overstimulation. As a result, things are slowly improving and I think the worst of it is behind me for now.
Naturally, I can’t help but wonder why my body so demanding now. Looking back at the years previous to this, I’m honestly in the healthiest, most nurturing environment I’ve ever been in. And I actually mean that and can feel that. I feel supported and loved for exactly who I am. I am safe. So why does it feel like I’m crumbling?
Because it’s safe to fall apart now.
The safety I feel now in comparison to the insecurity I’ve known for so long is almost painful. Like coming inside from the cold of January winter and running your hands under warm water but instead of comforting it feels like fire. It takes time for your nerves to adjust to the change. Over and over again I’m reminded that healing can feel more painful than the injurious act.
I have been in survival mode since my adolescence, but it’s time to thrive. Well, not this very moment, because I’m still resting and healing–but soon. For now, I’m going to exist in this place between surviving and thriving. It may not look productive, but it’s the most gratifying work I will ever do. This year has been a challenge, but one that will make me stronger if I continue giving myself space to heal and grow. I don’t know how long it will take, but I’m here for it.