I’m doing something slightly different during the month of June here at the Rainbow Elephant. I’m going to open up and share with my readers a very real and personal part of my life that has a direct correlation with much of the art I create. Anyone who has hung around with me much (or if you’ve read the “About My Scribbles” page, then you know that I have chronic migraine disease.
June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. And I’ve decided to take up the blog challenge issued by FightingHeadacheDisorders.com. The challenge is to use their daily prompt to blog about something to help unmask the mystery of chronic headache disorders. Honestly speaking – I will be writing some of my posts all at one time rather than in real daily time. That’s because I never have a month, nor even a week when a migraine or a string of migraine attacks don’t debilitate me to where I can’t sit at the computer and type.
Hidden Behind the Mask
Let the games begin! The first prompt of the month is: Phantom of the Opera: What do you hide behind your Migraine/Headache Disorders mask? What do you let people see?
I’ve shared in my blog postings before how I will sometimes hide things in my drawings that mirror thoughts in my head. I know as I’m accomplishing the art piece that I’m using a certain color to represent a thought or I’m using particular elements that represent something different than they appear to be. These are my little secrets, typically only known/recognized by me. About 75% of the time that I’m creating – I’m using the artful process as therapy for me. Many times it’s specifically for helping me to manage my pain. And periodically I’ll create art that is a self expression of my experiences with Migraine Disease.
If you’ve ever taken a look at a collection of Migraine Art you’ve probably seen drawings, paintings, sculptures, photography and other creative pieces that show the very real experience of either the extreme pain or the Aura’s associated with migraine. None of my migraine art represents visual aura’s, because I don’t get visual auras. However my migraine art does express the pain factor as well as other migraine experiences. And yes – I usually disguise the pain in some way that makes it look…. um…… ah…… pretty? By that I mean that most of my migraine art doesn’t show lightening bolt’s striking an eye (even though that’s the pain experienced), or a vice squishing the skull, or someone in the shadows holding their head, etc. These traditional migraine art images show in a rather realistic way what the migrainuer is experiencing. I’ve done my fair share of these pieces tainted with dark thoughts, pain, and sadness.
Pretty Migraine Art?
However, I usually use bright colors, light spaces, whimsical shapes, and sometimes humor to express my migraine experiences. There’s absolutely nothing about chronic migraines that is fun, cheerful or even light hearted…. well except the irony of things once in a while. But even then the “humor” is subtle and not realized when you’re in the midst of a hellish migraine attack. I create migraine art with these unusual creative twists to them specifically to offer the viewer a chance to smile when they see the art. Specifically to “hide” the migraine part of the art. The disease exists in my art as invisibly as it does in the lives of so many people who live with migraine.
Hiding the Bad Stuff
My drawing titled Elimental represents the technicolor vomit I deal with on a fairly regular basis. Turn the picture clockwise and you’ll clearly understand how it resembles the “tossing of the cookies” event hidden behind the closed bathroom door of many a migraineur. This is something that we don’t typically share with others as it’s …. well…… it’s just gross and not a pleasant conversation starter. It’s one of those things we keep hidden behind the mask. I venture to say that not too many of your friends who have migraine open up enough to tell you how many times they puke from a migraine attack. Trust me though – it happens. And for some of us it happens often.
There’s a great deal more than little messages in my art that I hide behind the mask. One thing I hide often is how much it affects me on any given day. If I’m sharing my information with a non-clinical person I make statements that minimize my condition. I admit the reason that I do this is primarily so that I’m not perceived as a whiner, a party pooper, a drama queeen, or someone who likes sympathy.
Even as it is sometimes an all-consuming thing to me – I try not to push my disease onto others by moaning or complaining to them about it’s current status. Even when I’m feeling at my worst if someone asks me, “how are you doing?” I’ll come back with something like, “well I’m not at my best at the moment.” When really what I’m thinking is, “I feel like crap, please go far, far away from me!” Although it would be rude to say it like it really is sometimes – it would be perfectly acceptable for me to say, “I’m really struggling right now.” And still – I also hold that type of comment back to hide or shield others from the truth.
Support Systems Need the Good, Bad, and the Ugly
I do vent to close friends and family a little more truthfully. Yet even then am I brutally honest about what I’m experiencing. My husband gets frustrated with me if he asks how I’m doing and I come back with a, “I’m hanging in there” or “I’m managing okay”. He says that’s not helping him gage where I really am in the migraine cycle. So I’m getting a little better about being more accurate in describing where I am in my disease. And I’m trying to do it without “hiding behind” the pain. So now I’m starting to use the pain scale to tell hubby, “I’m at pain level 7 and moving towards a 10;” or “I’m down to about a 3 now, but I still can’t hold anything down on my tummy.” Even though I know it hurts him to hear the message, I’ve learned it’s better for us both for me not to hide behind the soft, unrevealing truth.
With my online friends, I sometimes mention my migraine issues, but more often I’ll simply mention in a blog post that I’ve been “struggling with health issues”. Let me just come clean here and now and tell you that when I make such comments here on my blog you can safely assume I’m referring to migraine pain or complications resulting from migraine treatments. And when I’m away from my blog for more than a day or two – the migraine related issues have been so bad that it’s kept me from feeling good enough to sit up at the keyboard.
Clearing the Air
The fact is that I deal with this condition every single day of my life in one way or another. I pretty much have to run my life around it. Whether it’s deciding what I can or cannot eat that day; how the weather may affect my ability to work another hour; debating on buying tickets to a show that I may have to cancel or wear earplugs through; asking my husband to insure there is absolutely no noise at all anywhere in the house; trying to hide from work peers that I’m about to vomit on their shoes; laying in the dark begging the pain to go away; reporting to the doctor how many side affects I’m dealing with using the current medication prescribed; reading up on the latest migraine theories; or trying to figure out how to get an art swap project accomplished and out the door on time in spite of fatigue that has overcome me again….. – almost every aspect of my life is affected by this REALLY STUPID and most aggravating migraine disease. I absolutely HATE IT!!!!!
Why I Hide Behind the Mask
There are many different chronic diseases and health conditions that people deal with. And when I meet such a person who vents about their condition, I listen with empathy and I do not view them as a complainer or a drama queen. And yet – I still feel a need to protect myself from others having this perception of me. I do not know if they have this view of me. I suppose I just fear that they may. So I fudge on telling them about my weaknesses associated with Migraine.
This concern is one of those habitual thoughts that float around in my head that I try to keep in check and not ponder on, as it has a very negative feel to it. For the most part, I’ve learned how to successfully counteract self-defeating thoughts that pop in unwelcome – with more appropriate positive thoughts for me to think about. Nevertheless, there are days when those types of dark-cloudy thoughts linger more than I wish for them to. And how people may perceive me as a sickly person is one of those buggers that likes to re-appear often.
I Supported the Stigmas
I know that there is a very real foundation for me to have this thought come to the forefront of my mind periodically. There are stigma’s that go along with invisible chronic illnesses – including Migraine. One of the most prominent ones that I’ve been the brunt of is how people question the validity of or the degree of pain and disability I experience during an attack. I can’t really blame folks too much for not understanding the severity of a migraine. After all – for years people just thought of them as a bad headache. It’s only been in the last 10 years or so that even the medical society has begun to understand the magnitude of this illness.
I have to accept part of the blame for this Stigma. Because I am not always openly honest about my condition to the friends and family around me – they don’t know how much it debilitates me. I know that their expectations of me are higher than I can sometimes reach, just because I didn’t honestly tell them, “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” do such and such. Instead I’m likely to press on and attempt to accomplish the task. Whether I meet the goal or not – I’ve wasted precious energy I should have been using to take better care of myself. Sometimes I’ve caused myself more pain or major set backs while trying to do something, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I should not have been doing while dealing with migraine symptoms.
By making these mistakes – not speaking up and hiding behind the mask, I think I’ve been adding to the construction of some of the stigmas associated with migraine. Especially as those misnomers pertain to the very real issues chronic migraineurs deal with.
Here’s a video that Dr William B Young of the Jefferson Headache Center has put together to explain to folks how much chronic migraine affects individuals and to help unmask some of the Stigmas that go along with this illness. Although it’s a full 15-minute video I do hope you’ll take the time to watch it and maybe learn a little something you didn’t know before.
Purple Ribbons and Then Some
The awareness ribbon color for Migraine and Headache Awareness is Purple. I’ll be wearing it openly this month and doing what I can to help educate folks about Migraine disease. I will also be posting blog entries about my migraine art/pain management therapies.
If you experience migraines, or know someone who does – please make an extra effort this month to help support breaking down the stigma’s and better understanding chronic headache disorders!
Hugs to you all!
June, Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, is dedicated to Unmasking the Mystery of Chronic Headache Disorders. The Migraine and Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge is issued by FightingHeadacheDisorders.com.