Most of the time, the migraine headaches I tend to get are able to be managed. A good combination of ice, pain medicine, and caffeine applied at the first, unmistakable signs that a migraine is coming on will do wonders in keeping me both vertical and functioning. So I tend to think of my headaches as more of a nuisance than a disability of any sort.
Every now and again I'll get what I once, in frustration, termed a "vampire headache." This is a migraine that has already started by the time I wake up in the morning, and that doesn't respond as well to the usual measures as the more garden-variety headaches do. The reason for the name "vampire" is that these headaches often seem to follow a sunrise-sunset schedule, keeping me out of things from dawn until dusk; but usually, more often than not, somewhere between late afternoon and early evening I will begin to experience the bliss of alleviation, a slow subsiding of the pounding pain, and a return to a more normal, if somewhat drained, feeling. It's frustrating to lose most of one's daylight hours on a given day, but it's not all that bad, and I know, as I lay in bed watching the shadows grow on the walls, that the pain will be gone soon.
But once in a great, great while I'll have a migraine that makes the vampire headaches seem like nothing at all. It will start just like a vampire headache, in that I'll wake up in the morning already in the full throes of a migraine; and it will linger throughout the daylight hours, as I keep applying ice, medicine, and caffeine at regular intervals. But whenever I stand up for any purpose at all, the room will spin just enough to produce nausea, and the part of my head that hurts the most, often the left side or the back of my neck, will pulse like a bad stereo system installed in the sort of car that has improbable tires and loud paint. The sun will set, and the pain will continue; midnight will come and go, and the pain will still be with me, and even when I last look at the clock, around 2 a.m., before finally going to sleep in spite of the pain, the pain is still there, still pounding, still swirling, taking on a surreal reality all its own.
When the sun goes down and the pain doesn't disappear, I start to feel especially restless and cranky. Why me? Why this? Why now? I'll think, tossing and turning, and trying to position the ice cubes behind my neck to achieve the maximum numbness. But there aren't any answers, and after a while, I'll realize that this isn't a huge burden, or even a significant cross, compared to what other people face, and handle, and suffer on a daily basis.
And with that thought comes calm, as I remember to offer up the pain for those others, the ones I don't know and probably never will, who suffer from hunger and thirst, from war, from painful diseases in places where life is cheap and pain is just a facet of reality, from the mental and emotional suffering that accompanies a loss of faith, from the inner darkness that makes my darkened bedroom seem like a garden of light and peace.
Somehow, the very act of uniting my little suffering with all of that, and most of all with His suffering and dying for us all; somehow, thinking of Him, and imagining His pierced hands momentarily on my head as I offer to Him so small a drop of pain in the ocean of human sorrow, brings to me a kind of alleviation that without lessening the physical pain at all makes it in some mysterious way much more endurable. I am able to be still, to rest, to stop fighting to capture that elusive sleep that I hope so much will help; and because I'm not fighting to capture it any more, it steals up around me, and folds me in soft arms, wrapping me in painless dreams.
And I wake, and it's Tuesday. And there is still a little pain, but so little it seems like nothing, easily managed, easily controlled. I feel shaky and disconnected; light seems like a palpable, physical force, and my eyes are blurry even when I put my contacts in--but the pulsing, pounding, piercing sensations of yesterday are only a memory. And I know, from past experiences, that the headache that stole my Monday is the rarest kind I ever have, the kind that occurs only a handful of times in a given decade, though that doesn't entirely stop me from being afraid it will return or recur before the echoes of it have entirely faded. I can see it as a grace, even while I fear it; I can be thankful for the opportunity to grow in spirit, even though my weak flesh hopes it will be a long time before I lose a whole day to such a thing again.