The Unemployment Cure For Migraine Headaches

I received an offer for free nylons in the mail today. I threw it on the edge of the dining-room table along with the daily assault of credit-card offers. I had to chuckle to myself a bit. It’s been five months since I lost my job. I was rolled over by a rudderless, Internet-bound rocket that ultimately spiraled back into the mother ship. I’d actually stopped wearing nylons years earlier, when casual dress hit the financial-services industry. Employers had to allow us to wear pants, you understand, so they could better see where to give us the boot.

Not only am I ignoring the offers of free nylons and credit cards, I’m also crumpling up the coupon for “migraine-strength” pain relief. Come to think of it, five months is the longest I have ever gone without a migraine since I was nine years old. One would think that being jobless at a time of record layoffs would be at least as stressful as developing an Internet-security product, or creating communications packages for bank mergers. But no, I’m miraculously cured.

In the past, I’ve experienced early-warning aura signs and painful, eye-squeezing, migraine pain, regardless of weather or personal cycles. But I suspected that demanding, high-pressure projects seemed to bring them on. It’s a very specific pain. I recently described it to a friend who has never in her life had a headache:

“Fran,” I said, “I’m like a connoisseur of fine wine, only with headaches. I can tell the difference between a stress headache: base of the brain and stiff shoulder muscles; a sinus headache: pain around either or both eyes; and the real deal. It’s like knowing the grape’s growing region, ideal weather conditions and ripening time. I know two days ahead that the winds are blowing a monster my way.”

The timing of a migraine can be tricky. It’s always out of my control, but sometimes it actually allows me to finish the demanding projects that conjure it into being. In the calm after the storm, I’m sometimes left blinded and beaten.

Other times, it occurs just as I’m in the middle of a difficult project, when I need to perform at my best.

I’ve traded notes with friends who have capsized in the same boat. Occasionally, we could blame the weather, although I seem to be the most sensitive to barometric pressure changes. It made for interesting conversations when we could all whine to each other at the same time. We’d imagine how a ship full of migraine sufferers would have sounded in the days of Viking raiders:

“Oh, no Olaf, my left eye is too sensitive to light for me to lead the raid today.”

“Don’t vorry Sven, I’m nauseous myself today, damn Thor.”

Somehow we’d get through our workdays, crawl home to dark, quiet places and let the healing begin. My last job was awful, but it paid the bills. The spark went out of my eyes, but the mortgage was getting paid. The wall started to crack where I banged my head against it, but my cranium felt so good when I stopped.

Getting my walking papers gave me the freedom to meet Marie, a fellow migraine sufferer, for lunch.

Marie complained about a painful episode that kept her in a darkened bedroom for two days. She blamed the double-barreled storm, with fronts that were 10 hours apart — the type that usually would have done me in. I told her that my husband and I enjoyed the evening despite the storm. We went to a Mexican restaurant (got a table right away and had great service) then to a movie. “It was beautiful and quiet. We had the whole city of Chicago to ourselves. Migraine? No, I didn’t have any migraine.” That’s when it occurred to me: I haven’t had a migraine since I lost my job.

I haven’t had a headache of any kind in five months, so the coupon for migraine medication is definitely going in the trash, but I’m sending for the free nylons. They’re great for tying up plants in the summer.

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