I suffered my first migraine when I was a sophomore in high school.  Stunned by the wavy lines I was seeing out of the sides of both eyes—the classic aura that precedes the pounding pain—and the awful nausea, I fled study hall for the girls’ bathroom. I barely made it as hall guards tried to block my path. (Study halls? Hall guards? This was Chicago Public Schools, circa 1964.)

There may be scores of reasons why Michele Bachmann shouldn’t be president, but her migraines—the latest hot topic in campaign news—are not one of them.

It’s often noted that women are more likely to be migraine sufferers than men; true, but I’ve known many men who have them. In my first writing job at a suburban Chicago newspaper, the news staff consisted of two reporters—me and a young man who has gone on to be one of the major reporter/editors in Chicago daily journalism. We both battled migraines; his seemed more debilitating than mine, and we used to joke that if we both got one on the same day, the entire news operation would be decimated.

I’d always been told that many migraine sufferers are perfectionists. To that I plead guilty—and I can think of worse types to handle the detail and juggling of executive positions.   

There’s also a certain steeliness that migraine sufferers develop. I learned that the visual aura—the stomach-churning, wavy, illuminated flashing lines—would pass after around 15 minutes, and if I could keep my eyes closed for just about that time, I could also limit the nausea. I willed myself to work through the pain.

And there was one major advantage. The day after, I felt some physical soreness—usually in my neck—but I had incredible energy and focus too; and could accomplish more in a day than I could in two normal days.

Before Michele Bachmann’s migraines destroy her campaign, it might be worth surveying how many others high up in government—in the Congress, in the Cabinet, in important agencies and staff positions—suffer from migraines; chances are many do, and chances are they’ve been able to perform just fine. I bet you’d find, as I have in my life, that many of the sufferers don’t have a menstrual cycle—to which migraines are often linked—because they’re guys.

I noticed, as many fellow sufferers do, that migraines tended to occur after a period of high stress: in college, after finals; in my work life, after a deadline was met or a book manuscript was finally on its way to my editor. If I plotted my migraines on a graph, I would probably find that many occurred on a Saturday.

If Bachmann were ever to become president, the stress would never let up.  She might find herself migraine-free for at least four years.


Photograph: bachmann.house.gov