Music, migraines and me

I’m lying on the floor of the church where I’m supposed to perform. There’s a rowdy party in my head where everyone has a metal chisel that pounds on my skull. My stomach has joined the fiesta, rumbling and threatening to do something ugly. There are 40 people in the next room who are expecting me to play.

I’m not sure why this particular migraine started – maybe because I napped in the car on the way there, my head at an odd angle. Maybe it was something I ate. Maybe the driver we accidently cut off at the light put an evil spell on me. Hard to say except I’ve gotten migraines since I was nine years old and I’m not the only one in my family who gets them. It’s welded into my DNA.

So there I am, stretched out on the floor in the church office because there’s no couch and standing up makes the room spin. While I’ve played through all sorts of cut fingers, tendinitis, allergies and sleep deprivation, I can’t make it work now. There’s a parade of concerned people lightly tapping on the door and tip toeing in … my sweet partner who rubs my shoulders, the worried event producer with a bottle of water and a plethora of folks offering everything from Vicodin to Valium. It’s amazing the drugs that people pull out of their purses and pockets. Too bad we’re law abiding citizens. We could have a pretty lucrative drug market here. All we need are a few ladies of the night and illegal gambling and we’ll raise more money for this church than they’ve ever seen in their lives.

But no, that’s not such a good idea.

I’m also getting a running commentary about what’s happening out there.  One audience member is doing her drag king routine. Another one is warbling a tune a cappella and still another is telling some jokes. The reports get more and more desperate.  I keep thinking the headache is leaving so I’m murmuring encouraging reports about getting up soon.

As time goes on, I hear the door to the outside click open and shut several times.

The pain in my head finally subsides to a dull rumble and I can stand without careening over. I told the producer I could do a short set. If I don’t walk too quickly and keep my head upright, I can sing without losing my dinner.

What’s left of the audience sits politely, their eyebrows knitted in concern. I put them at ease immediately, joking that, “The good thing about a migraine is that it can’t kill you. The bad thing about a migraine is that it can’t kill you.” I thanked them for waiting and then did a set of songs and comedy. If I turned my head too quickly the room blurred but other than that, it went well and toward the end I almost forgot about the clanging in my head.

I offered to return at another time to do a show for free but I never heard back from the event organizer. Maybe he was afraid he’d have to have paramedics standing by.

The first time something like this happened was on one of my early tours  with my friend Martie. We got up on stage in a Washington DC restaurant and started our show. Every time a waitress passed by with a steaming fragrant plate of food my stomach did a flip flop in time to the jack hammer in my brain. After a few songs I looked at Martie and asked off mike, “Can you finish the set alone?” She nodded sympathetically. I crept off stage. The audience thought it was part of the show.

A few years ago I played at one of my favorite venues in Rockford, Illinois. The evening started with a meal at the Chinese restaurant down the street. Afterward my friend Kara and I played to an enthusiastic crowd that was everything an entertainer could ask for. Feeling great at the end of the night, I said goodbye to Kara and headed to my hotel. Sometime in the middle of the night a racket in my head ratcheted up to a brain cell destroying level. I swallowed medication and went back to sleep. Woke up a couple hours later with the same pain and took more drugs, to no avail. I canceled my teaching gig for that night – fortunately, it was a small class so I only disappointed four people – and slept until check out time.

I returned to that venue just this year and once again, had a wonderful time. I ate at the same restaurant and like before, I woke up with a headache. Fortunately, the drugs killed it and I could go on to my next gig.

No more MSG-laced Chinese food for me.

I was scheduled to play at a festival not too long ago. Wanting to give them some notice, I told the artist liaison early in the day that I was sick. I was taking some drugs and going back to bed so all should be well in time for my evening performance. She called back and said they’d need to know by two that afternoon so they’d have time to replace me. Yikes. Pressure like that can sometimes make a headache worse. I called forth a calming energy, took more drugs and had a long hot shower. Fortunately, that fixed me right up.

I’ve found some relief with bio feedback, better eating, regular exercise and really good drugs. I’m currently experimenting with mineral supplements, chiropractic adjustments and a diet that removes food I may be sensitive to. While I can’t argue with the health benefits of a better diet and being in better shape, I don’t like taking the drugs. They’re expensive, sometimes hard to get and have weird side effects like losing my sense of smell.

I’ve also tried acupuncture, massage, a multitude of herbs and whining. Whining helps a little. And a good massage is worth its weight in migraine meds.

Lots of well-meaning folks have suggestions for relief but really, taking feverfew or getting a foot massage is like shooting bee bees at Godzilla. And for those folks who think it’s a hangover or just a little headache … you may find yourself in one of my satirical songs. If I’m really pissed, I’ll include your name and phone number.

99.9 percent of my performances go off without a hitch. If Godzilla breaks into my head he’d better watch out. I’m armed with migraine meds and I’m not afraid to use them.


About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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8 Responses to Music, migraines and me

  1. Ah, the people who offer “advice” on how to deal with migraines even though they’ve never had one. I love those people. *rolls eyes* Or people who have had 1 or 2. I, too, have gotten them since childhood.

  2. Love your sense of humor! Oh yeah, I can relate on so many levels. I particularly like your good news/bad news about migraines. How awful that you knew you needed to perform while willing that migraine to go away. There’s nothing like added pressure to fuel these beasts. PS. I visited Rockford when I was ten and loved it. My sister lived there at the time. Nice town.

  3. denise says:

    Jamie i hear ya migraines kick my butt & for many years i just had to deal with the pain & the whole effects that come along with these mind numbing ,life stopping pain .
    like you i have tryed alot of things to ease the pain & as i write this i had just had a bout this am with the starting of a migraine i have found that my new meds work very well & fast im on Treximet … im greatful for this pill …when a bad one hits me i lay in the tub of Hot water with wet hot towels covering me as i with ice packs on my eyes & the back of my neck…(melting from the Hot water im laying in… those often come with bouts of throwing up which i find cold black coffee helps with the throwing up issues… the side effects of this treatment sometimes gives me swimmers ear which is also painful… dark no light or sound in these times & all life for me Stops…. the afterward feelings take their toll as well though im always glad when that part comes because i know ill feel better soon… know you arent alone & that your talent shines even on those days of pain…

  4. Amy Coffman says:

    Wow. As my Mom would say, “bless your heart…” I, too, have suffered from migraines for decades, and when they come on, you’re on THEIR timetable. Luckily–knock on wood–I haven’t yet had one coincide w a gig (though I missed a festival slot w a band I was playing bass for, due to food poisoning. Do NOT order sour cream enchiladas at an iffy restaurant w an important show only hours away. Just saying.) Really enjoy your blog. Yeah, MSG is the devil.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Yeah, migraines are bossy that way. Food poisoning? EW. I once did a gig with something like that. If the audience only knew why I was making multiple dashes to the washroom. We musicians are like the post office, eh? Glad you enjoyed the blog! Please come back ‘k?

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