How to Treat Migraines with Acupuncture by Jennifer Gallo Gaites

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Imagine you are a pincushion. A soft landing spot. A tufted gathering place for sharp objects. Like the felt tomato pincushion that your mother used to have, a bit of whimsy tucked among the sewing scissors and seam rippers. You used to hold its soft plumpness in your small palm and push the pins deep into the red fabric until their flat-tops were flush with the felt flesh of the tomato, trying to cover every bit of fabric in silver. Trying to make a hard shimmering shell. Like chainmail. But you never had enough pins.

Imagine the shape of your body like a sewing pattern, a paper template affixed to yards of material. A guide for the shears. The pins, evenly spaced along hems and seams, marking where stitches will bind the fabric together.

Imagine yourself as a dartboard, the feathered projectiles piercing the forgiving cork of your body.

Breathe, the acupuncturist tells you.

Imagine your body is a punctured tire. The air slowly leaking out, deflating.

Imagine, instead, your back like an undulating country road lined with telephone poles.

Let your body melt into the table, the acupuncturist says.

Imagine you are a specimen in a high school biology lab. A formaldehyde soaked frog, pinned neatly to a styrofoam board. Splayed open, organs slick and visible. Remember the neat narrow paper labels: Heart. Stomach. Liver. Kidneys. Your knowledge precise, but imperfect.

Remember the podcast you listened to where comedian Mike Birbiglia talks about doing things he’s not sure he believes in but tries anyway, like praying and acupuncture. Try not to laugh because you’re afraid to jiggle the needles. Wish you were better at things like remembering punchlines, answers, sitting still.

Wish you didn’t find the joke so funny.

Alexa, play ocean sounds, the acupuncturist says to the small speaker in the corner of the room.

Imagine your body as an ocean, the rise and fall of your breath expanding and receding the circumference of your rib cage. The needles lining your back appear longer, then shorter. Like pilings left behind after a storm that washed the jetty away.

Breathe deeply. But not so deeply that your skin moves.

Consider giving up dairy or gluten or caffeine or red wine, but not chocolate. The list of possible triggers is long. Remember years ago, the pediatrician, when you were a new mother near tears because the baby just wouldn’t stop crying and you were blaming yourself, something in your diet making your milk painful to digest. Cheese, broccoli, spices, carbonation. The doctor listened to your desperation and looked at you.

You can make yourself crazy looking for answers, she said matter-of-factly.

Remember wanting to hug her; she eased your guilt. Her letting you off the hook felt like an act of kindness. But when you got to the parking lot, the infant gurgling in her carseat, you thought, Well, now what?

Imagine you are a bulletin board, laden with thumbtack-pierced scraps of paper, postcards, a slice of delicate ribbon quivering with your every movement. The keeper of schedules, snapshots, aspirations. Edges curling with time. Admire the decorative bits and pieces. The clutter and disorganization of memory.

Remember how many other things you’ve tried to treat the migraines: Ignoring them. Ignoring them but icing your neck. Ignoring them while laying in a dark room. Getting a CT scan, getting dismissed. It’s probably just stress, the doctor said. Taking a stab at birth control in various doses and forms because It’s probably hormones, the doctor said. Stopping birth control in various doses and forms because It can cause headaches. Trying medication, meditation, ice masks. Entering perimenopause, not that you chose that.

Now acupuncture.

Feel the acupuncturist’s finger run along the connective tissue between your shin bone and the fleshy front of your calf. Admire and also worry over the placement of each needle. As you get older, so much of what you know feels imprecise. How does she know with pinpoint accuracy? How does anyone know? You envy, yet trust, her confidence.

Imagine your body is a map. A scattered coating of pins, marking where you’ve been. Notice the softness in the gaps.

Wonder if the tingling down your leg is normal. Wonder if there is a needle that is a little too close to your spinal column. Wonder why you do this to yourself. Trust what you don’t understand, which, it turns out, is almost everything. Rely on someone else’s knowing. Rely on faith. Release the weight of responsibility. Become unpinned.

Meet the Contributor

jennifer gallo gaitesJennifer Gallo Gaites is a writer from Fair Haven, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her work has been published in Literary Mama and book inc journal. She is working on a memoir in essays about identity and motherhood, and sporadically keeps a blog at She is a writing instructor at Project Write Now.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/MissMayoi

  7 comments for “How to Treat Migraines with Acupuncture by Jennifer Gallo Gaites

  1. Perfectly described. I tried acupuncture a couple of times for my chronic migraines – (we’ll try anything right – even becoming a tomato-shaped pincushion) – but it didn’t do anything other than trigger a migraine both times. Here’s hoping someone clever invents something perfect soon… until then – keep writing 🙂

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