While I was writing, I also had a brief, but significant, fixation with snowdrops. It started, as these things often do with me, when someone mentioned them during the aura phase.
These white, winter flowers are a symbol of rebirth. I kept coming back to the promise of their balmy coolness until snowdrops became an important motif in the book. This was way before I had a publication deal but they eventually ended up in the cover designs.
I later learned that galantamine, which is found in snowdrops, is also a chemical that supports brain function. A coincidence, of course, but migraine life is full of the uncanny.
Although what happens to my character Lux is totally different to my own story, I wouldn’t have been able to create her without mining my own life. With pain comes empathy and I need the latter to write. I stitched what I found in myself together with the sparkling shadows, the smell of hospitals, the stretching of language, and made something that’s fictional but feels true to me.
But despite how much inspiration I owe to migraine, the trope that art and pain go hand in hand is one of my least favourite binaries. While studies show the wellbeing benefits of creativity, illness isn’t a choice and shouldn’t be romanticised. It’s also worth noting that The Migraine Trust says there isn’t any evidence that people with migraine are any more creative than anyone else.
For me personally, it’s difficult to divorce my creativity from my migraine. Making things helps me switch the lights back on when I’m in a dark place, while migraine has given me access to parts of myself that I didn’t have before. My aesthetic or voice, or ‘the way I do art’, is threaded with it – from the slightly askew use of language and the sense that things are not quite to be trusted, to the direct translation of experience into words and images.
As a writer, my identity hinges on having a strong command of language and a broad vocabulary. The jumbled speech and occluded words that come with my illness frustrate me. I’m used to getting blank looks when I say, for example, “sideways holes” instead of “tunnels”, but writing has become a means of rebelling against the way migraine sometimes restricts my use of language. (I learned a new one – Spanish – for the same reason.) It’s also an outlet for my new, lateral appreciation of it.
Committing words to paper or screen is the best form I know for making the nebulous more concrete, for processing. It’s a means of communicating just how strange and awful things can be. As Joan Didion wrote in her essay ‘In Bed’: “That no one dies of migraine seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing.”