I had my first migraine when I was 12. At the time, I thought it was a sinus problem, allergies or something. I almost passed out and had to go home from school. Between ages 12 and 25, they have been increasing in frequency from one every few years, to one a semester, to three to five per week. One year ago I met a new friend, the “acute” migraine, migraine’s nasty older brother. The only treatment is sedation.

I spend my life around loud noises. I am a classical musician. I intend to make my life playing the French horn. Let me tell you something about what it feels like to play my horn with a migraine.

One day last semester I had an acute migraine. It had lasted 36 hours by the time I got to rehearsal. I was unable to go to the doctor to be sedated because of my obligation to the orchestra. Doped up on pain pills, I spoke to the conductor before we began and said, “If you have trouble getting my attention tonight, please be patient.”

Then I remember scolding him about a comment he made in rehearsal months earlier, my inhibitions being dulled by the narcotics. He had said, “The invention of aspirin was the worst thing ever to happen to classical music, you (orchestra members) don’t understand pain.” I told him that I thought that was a stupid thing to say. My music has certainly not been improved by my intimate knowledge of pain. I digress.

The rehearsal was Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish.” Sometime in the middle of the second movement, while I was playing a high passage, I felt like my right eye exploded in my skull. [Tweet this.] I remember reaching up to feel for the blood. I almost fainted, but I made it through the whole rehearsal. And, furthermore, I played well.

I have found little sympathy in my field for people with migraines. I will not get a job if I can’t play well when I have a migraine. There is no “doctor’s note” I can bring in to an audition in case one strikes mid-excerpt. But my passion is my passion. I will not let the pain keep me from my dream. [Tweet this.] Once I was about to start a rehearsal of a contemporary, very loud, work for horn, percussion and prepared tape. Our coach said to me: “Elizabeth, are you alright? You look like you’re going to throw up.” I replied, “Well, I may. Don’t worry, I’m not contagious or anything, it’s a migraine. I’ll be fine.”