Miss Migraine: Migraine jargon

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on August 2, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

I
If you have migraines, they call you a “migraineur.” It rhymes with “entrepreneur,” but it’s not in the dictionary. I think it’s an ugly word, that it implies you create migraines or that you organize or manage migraines, usually with considerable risk. Migraines might come with considerable risks: pain, nausea, dizziness, weakness, blurred vision, more pain, depression, anger at circumstances, irritation at loved ones for incessant (but well meaning) “how are yous,” still more pain, inability to function on an adult level, etc., but so far the ability to organize or manage them has escaped me.

I know that’s not how the roots of the words really work. The roots of “entrepreneur” mean “someone with enterprise,” and the roots of “migraineur” just mean “someone with migraine.” I guess that’s me, but I don’t want to be called that. I don’t want to be that.

And, I already have a name.

This isn’t the place I wanted to inhabit. (Photo of the porch roof and street outside an abandoned house about to be torn down on Negley Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA, 12/1/2008. By Kelly Lynn Thomas)

II
They always tell you to avoid your “triggers.” What “triggers” your migraines? they ask. I hate that word, too. It implies a beginning to the pain. A beginning implies an end. But for me there is neither, just an endless line, or a circle, or a constant in an equation that always works out to the same number.

So I tell them everything. Everything triggers my migraines. When they look at me skeptically, I run through the list: weather, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, chocolate, cheese, nuts, not eating enough, stress, not enough sleep, too much sleep, loud noises, bright lights, strong smells. Then they usually ask me if I need glasses.

III
Treatments: There are endless migraine treatments. Medications, vitamin supplements, diets, sleep behavior changes, occipital nerve stimulation, acupuncture, chiropractors, reiki, biofeedback. There is always a new one, and it is always a miracle for some random person on the internet.

The number of these things is exhausting. I read somewhere that it would take 25 years to try every single migraine medication available. I’m 25 now. Maybe if I had started when I was a baby, I could have found the right drug already.

How do you feel about migraine jargon/terms? Does it comfort you or irritate you?

Jazz! Poetry! Jazz Poetry 2015!

Instead of my normal #FridayReads post, I thought I’d do a run-down of one of my favorite annual Pittsburgh events: City of Asylum Pittsburgh’s Jazz Poetry Concert.

This is a concert that gathers some of the top jazz musicians and top poets and writers from around the world and brings them together for a unique collaboration.

I always, always, always come away from this event with a new favorite band or musician and writers that I can no longer live without.

The Vijay Iyer Trio played this year, and let me tell you, I am smitten. Head over heels falling in love.

Here’s why:

I know, right?

And then we had the poetry. This year COA went above and beyond and combined not only music and words, but graphics and sign language as well. Amanda Fadigan performed a Heather McHugh poem in ASL, and it was beautiful.

Like this:

For the first time, I believe, the event featured a graphic novelist. Seeing the actual panels of the graphic novel while the author read in her native language and someone else read the translation was a multi-layered experience. I’d love to watch that reading again so I can parse more meaning from it.

That’s another thing about Jazz Poetry. You get to hear literature in many languages (and this year, see one in sign language!). Hearing the original, what it sounds like, is a different kind of music, and one I enjoy greatly.

And then, of course, there’s the finale:

#SummerReads #5: Teaching My Mother To Give Birth by Warsan Shire

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress.

warsanshireteachingI can’t remember how I came across Warsan Shire, but whatever person, website, or blog caused her name to cross my eyes deserves a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali-British poet with a sharp pen.

In Teaching My Mother to Give Birth, her voice dances between repulsion and reverence for her subject matter, which is often the body. Her own, yes, but also those of her relatives.

I love that the body is inseparable from the places it inhabits. Each person is rooted in the context of place and the way that place has accumulated meaning to the subject and the poet (who don’t always have the same viewpoint or opinion, something Shire never shies away from).

In my favorite poem from the collection, the reverence/repulsion dynamic is hard at work.

Beauty

My older sister soaps between her legs, her hair
a prayer of curls. When she was my age, she stole
the neighbor’s husband, burnt his name into her skin.
For weeks she smelt of cheap perfume and dying flesh.

It’s 4 a.m. and she winks at me, bending over the sink,
her small breasts bruised from sucking.
She smiles, pops her gum before saying
boys are haram*, don’t ever forget that.

Some nights I hear her in her room screaming.
We play Surah Al-Baqarah* to down her out.
Anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.
Our mother has banned her from saying God’s name.

*haram = legally forbidden by Islamic law
surah al-baqarah = chapter in the koran used to ward off evil

The narrator describes her sister’s pubic hair as “a prayer of curls” but “anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.” This puts a delightful spin on things, as one might expect the sister’s mouth–something almost never covered up–to be pure and her genitals–something almost always covered up–to be described as dirty or unpure.

But instead of going for the easy cliche, Shire dives into the narrator’s deeply conflicted view on sex and sexuality. She is repulsed by it, by fascinated by the effects it has on her sister’s body. Even though sex is clearly forbidden in the poem, the speaker has replaced the most holy word, God’s name, with the noises associated with sex, elevating sex to holiness.

The rest of this collection is just as strong, with images that evoke all five senses and get at the primal heart of our nature.

Even if your local library has a copy of this collection, it’s worth buying.