From time to time I hear about ways to stave off pain, and the one I hear about most is meditation. I am a long time meditator, and although this has never really worked for me when I am in the throes of a really bad migraine, I also knit, which is a kind of meditation for me, especially if it is mindless knitting – like simple stockinette stictches which one does not have to think about, no pattern to follow, just one row of knit stitches, one row of purl stitches, one after the other, forever until you get to the pattern part or some part of the garment you found interesting enough to do the thing in the first place.
Another thing in knitting like that is taking the skeins, which are long pieces of yarn, usually hand dyed, and wound into lovely hanks, and put onto something called a “swift” and a “ball winder”. Now knitting hurts my eyes, and I can only do it when I do not have any kind of headache but winding skeins is another thing. It is very meditative and I use that to stave of headaches. Following is a piece I wrote about one of those times.
“The air in my apartment is acrid. There is a permanent cloud of dust that never settles. My head is starting to hurt. It is the deep insistent onset of a migraine is growing louder with every second. The left side of my head has the dull ache that soon I will not be able to silence. The pain wakes me at 3:40am, and sleep escapes out the window. I take my medication and get up. If I concentrate on something I can slow the inevitable from coming down the tracks while the pills start to work and sleep will overtake the pain. I enter my second bedroom studio to see if what is available.
I have a swift – well I have several swifts, but my most beautiful swift is from Japan. A swift is a contraption of sticks and a center post where one places a skein of yarn to be wound. Once on, it looks like one big wide circle of color about 18” in diameter. The swift keeps the yarn from tangling, turning while the yarn winds into a perfect ball on, suitably, a ball winder. I also have several ball winders, each for a different purpose. At windings end, the yarn end arrives in the middle of the ball – not on the outside where it can easily tangle to create a mess. American and European swifts turn horizontally. Japanese swifts turn vertically. Picture a Ferris Wheel, with the yarn where the people should be, going round and round. Japanese yarn skeins are smaller, as is the swift. The wood is cedar. It is much more beautiful to watch.
As I turn the ball winder, it looks like rows of people getting off and going onto a round bus in a very organized fashion. If I lose my concentration and wind too fast, I lose a person or two (tangled or broken) and must stop to fix it. The bus gets bigger and bigger as I wind.
Sometimes the yarn catches the light and people are pearls, some are holding hands, some are just running for their lives to keep up. I slow down slightly so they all get to the bus. A sweet sigh escapes when the last thread leaves the swift. The ball is taken off its winder, fixed to th other threads, the door closes, and the process begins again.
After a while the swift becomes relegated to the general carnival noise in my head, and the pain starts to return. The throbbing, aching pain comes back while the endless motion of the Ferris wheel is turning. It recedes as I concentrate on getting all those yarn people to line up.
I play games with the usual carnie folk – the guy with the sledge hammer trying to hit the bell. The bell gets hit more often than not sending shock waves through my left cerebral cortex. As the darts fall in the center of the dart board they mimic the ice pick hitting its mark down the center of my nose. Only the slight hum of the Ferris Wheel, yarn people silently getting on and off, the faint whirring, some stepping and some just moving on, seems to have any lasting effect on the pain.
I struggle more to concentrate, there but just beneath the surface. The Ferris Wheel keeps moving, the sledge hammer keeps ringing and dart board keeps hitting its mark, thump. On and on they go: whir, ring, thump, whir, ring, thump, whir, ring, thump. Whir faster, ring louder, thump harder.
I stand up, lose all sight, unable to lift my head, the pain has overtaken the carinal and I let the ball winder stop, yarn people falling all over the desk scattering here and there, to be found later and put back on the bus. My stomach feels nauseous now from the carnival noise and smell of the fried batter, hot dogs and cotton candy. I have stayed as long as I can.
It is time to block out the light and the sound and get some ice for my forehead and try to sleep. This pain will be around for a while. The little green pills that belie their strength, are starting to dull the pain and help me sleep. I check the time so I know when I can take the next round of greenies. I drift off, try to sleep, but my mind is still turning. My little carnival has stopped now, and is twirling quietly into the distance. Only the swift, half empty of yarn, remains in the studio as a reminder that a battle has been fought, and for a while, won.”