The first one I remember happened when I was 12. Scaling the climbing wall with friends when finally the pressure spreading up the back of my neck and behind my eyes caused me to lose my grip. I swung back and forth in the air, my belayer having caught me after that brief fall.
I feel lucky, truly, that I have no serious health issues. I don’t have diabetes, or MS, or high blood pressure, or even bad period cramps. I am “a picture of health”, as my doctor always tells me - “except for the migraines”. “Feel lucky”, I tell myself - and I do. But every now and again in the throes of nauseating overwhelming pain I can’t help but wonder “why me?” Why has a condition that is heightened by sensitivity and anxiety been assigned, by some ironic fate, to the most sensitive and anxious person I know - myself?
The barometric pressure changes before a storm, I get a migraine. Didn’t sleep well, eat enough, stay hydrated, migraine. Hormones? Migraine. Stress, of any kind - migraine. Even running into someone on the street I don’t like can cause a migraine. It takes just the tiniest weight on one end of the scale to bring a wave of excruciating pain.
And yet, living with chronic pain humbles me. Occasionally it makes me completely pissed off, and I rise up furiously from my bed, make doctors appointments for MRIs and insist they fix me. But in the end no tumors are found and nothing is cured, and I’m left alone - just me and a really bad headache.
The way to survive chronic pain is to find the strength to plow through it to the other side. And oh! That moment where the side effects of the nauseating migraine drugs wear off is pure euphoria. Not from some chemical high, but because life without pain is so worth being alive for. When I can be outside without the sunlight making me throw up, when music sounds good again and food doesn’t hurt going down. Sometimes a lack of pain is enough to make life feel exquisitely beautiful. I’ll never take those moments for granted.
And tonight, while the storm rages on the East Coast, I’m going to turn off the screaming lights, light some candles. Forgo the drugs. Embrace this horrific throbbing migraine, this part of myself, and think of my friends, former lovers, colleagues, teachers, and mentors who are surrounded by a sea of churning water. I feel so lucky to be here.
The first time I felt that cold crazy depth of ocean underneath my body was in Greece. A desert girl, I’d stared at the gloomy raging Atlantic when visiting grandparents in Deal, but that floating salty tumbling sensation of lying on one’s back in the ocean? That virginal experience was given to the Mediterranean.
Ask anyone on Paros and they’ll tell you what beaches to swim in. High salt content and warm temperatures mean there are no sharks, no - but sea urchins if you don’t put your feet down carefully, and a vicious herd of jellyfish on one side of the island. But a mere 10 minute walk from my sun drenched courtyard was just ocean, sandy beaches and cool water that pulled you in like a bath, hoisting up your limbs on its salt and drifting you out to the depths, so that if you lay on your back with your ears underwater you could swear you heard the earth moving beneath you.
As sacred as it is to find a friend with whom you can drink a bottle of wine and not talk to while still enjoying one another’s company, it is sacred to find a friend who will float with you in the ocean without saying a word. That panicking acknowledgment of how far the sandy bottom is from your feet is negated by someone else’s presence - that fear that if you were to be sucked down into the deep blue that there would, at least, be a witness.
And Paros, that ever-captivating island, it still surprises me in dreams and floats me out to sea. And even with all the chaos the imagination has the power to create in its subconscious, it is that cove where I find the most peace.