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Art Taught Scientists About Migraine’s Pathophysiology

Well before the use of MRI and fMRIs, drawings of visual auras gave researchers an indication of what happens in the brain at the onset of a migraine. These artistic representations – the most helpful of which were drawn by scientists who have migraine with aura – have led to crucial discoveries about the pathophysiology of migraine.

The most notable discovery is of the involvement of cortical spreading depression, now understood to be a key component of how migraine spreads through the brain. (Maggie Koerth-Baker’s elegant description of cortical spreading depression is “…electrical stimulation and depression moving through the cerebral cortex. Think about it like a wave, with a crest where electrical impulses are stronger than normal, followed by a trough where they are lower than normal.”)

An academic paper exploring the connection between drawings of visual auras and migraine research developments was published in the journal Brain in 2007. I learned about that paper when Boing Boing reported on it this week. Both are worth a read, though the Boing Boing article is much easier to get through.

This is a fascinating investigation even for those of us who don’t have visual auras. I love the idea artistic representations created by migraineurs played a pivotal role in understanding migraine.

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American Pain Foundation’s Pain and Creativity Center

The American Pain Foundation and HealthCentral have created an online exhibit to highlight the importance of creativity activities in coping with chronic pain. The exhibit includes poetry, prose, digital photos, artwork and crafts, and inspirational videos. Everyone who has made a submission has included a paragraph describing how their art represents their pain experience.

Although the deadline has passed for submitting entries for mention at this month’s American Pain Foundation’s anniversary celebration, the exhibit is ongoing. You may add your contribution on the APF Pain and Creativity Center.

Whether you’re interested in looking at others’ work or submitting your own, recognizing the importance of creativity in health is inspiring.

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All Types of Art Submissions Requested for Migraine Book

Betsy Blondin, an editor and writer who has migraine, is compiling and editing all types of migraine art to publish in a coffee table-style artistic and creative book about migraine. She describes the project as:

I have wanted to publish a book like this for many years to provide another way for people with migraines (and those who live with them!) to share their expressions of migraine with others and to help promote awareness to people without migraines that organizations and sites/blogs such as yours have long been doing. I am particularly interested in helping to illustrate the positive and uplifting moments and events in the lives of people with migraines, because I feel that while migraine is horrendous, it doesn’t define who we are all the time.

Here’s my Web site page about the project: http://www.wordmetro.com/projects.html, and I’m attaching submission guidelines for the book for your information. I am offering a nominal fee to contributors whose work is accepted for the book.

The submission guidelines are below. You may e-mail Betsy with questions about the project.

Migraine: Expressions
Writing and Art Submission Guidelines

Thank you for considering contributing your creative writing and art to this migraine art book project. My hope is not only to help promote an awareness of the impact migraines have on our lives, but also to illustrate hope and positive events and to share how much we all do and accomplish. Although migraine is a huge part of our lives, it doesn’t define who we are.

For All Submitted Works

  • Please include your name, location, contact information, and a little bit about yourself with any submission.
  • If your work is accepted for publication, you will receive more details and an agreement to sign (you will retain ownership of your work and receive a fee). Artists and authors will be asked to confirm that the submission is their original work, that they own the rights to it and are therefore free to license us to print it in the book.

For Written Works: Quotes, Poetry, Prose (Essays, Short Stories)

  • Prose should be 2,500 words or less.
  • Written material can be e-mailed to migraine@wordmetro.com as attachments, preferably in Word documents or saved as plain text or rich text format.
  • Please edit your work prior to submission. If your creative piece is accepted but needs editing, we will contact you.

For Works of Art: Drawings, Paintings, Photographs, or Other Media

  • Please send print/high-resolution (minimum 300 dpi, 4 to 5 inches) digital files of photographs or scanned work, preferably saved as jpg files.
  • Smaller files can be e-mailed to migraine@wordmetro.com, and larger files (more than 5 by 7 inches) can be mailed on disk to Word Metro, P.O. Box 984, Carlsbad, CA 92018.

I hope you’ll consider submitting something. I’m trying to figure out what mine will be, but will let you know what it is when I do.

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Visual Aids for Headache

I’ve already posted on the New York Times article that calls migraineamong the worst nonfatal afflictions of humankind” (cluster headache sounds even worse to me) which the Providence Journal has reprinted. But, the images that accompany the reprint are some of the best visual depictions of headache or migraine that I’ve seen.

The second one accompanined the original article, but I love the one with the flame.

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Headache Treatment Through Art

Artists with migraine or chronic daily headache often depict the subject in their work, and many people with migraine use art as therapy. Here are some terrific examples.

James Cottrill of Relive Migraine Headache posted last week about the beautiful work of Heather Powers. He specifically called attention to a photograph called Blinding Migraine, where she captures how she felt during a migraine that hit while waiting in traffic. It’s a great image and it’s only the tip of her terrific work. Check it out! If you’re interested in ordering any prints, please e-mail Heather.

James’ post reminded me of an interview with Christa Barnell, a painter who also has CDH, that appeared on ChronicBabe a while back. Painting is Christa’s medicine. She says, “It keeps me focused on something else besides pain. During my worst summer of pain, I would have to wake up and go straight to the easel, skipping breakfast and brushing my teeth. If I didn’t distract myself with something right away, I would notice the pain and just go back to bed for the day.”

The ChronicBabe article offers a glimpse into the life of another headache sufferer and how she copes. Make sure you take a look at her gorgeous work, too, which can be ordered through her website.

Both the American Council of Headache Education and the National Headache Foundation share migraine art on their websites. ACHE’s site has a migraine art museum, while the NHF showcases winners of its Migraine Masterpieces contests held in 1998, 2001 and 2003. (Christa won second place in the 2003 contest.)