Art born from the mother of all migraines 

“Is art therapeutic for me?” Gregory Mueller repeats the question. “Since the very first day I drew a picture!”

Local artist Mueller, who has suffered from severe migraine attacks for over 18 years, recently won an honorable mention and a cash prize from a piece he entered into Migraine Masterpieces, an art contest sponsored by the National Headache Foundation ( to raise awareness of the fact that a migraine is more than just a bad headache.

“The first one I had,” Mueller recalls, “When I was 30—I thought I was dying. I thought something was wrong with my head and I just lay down and made my peace, got ready to go.”

There are different kinds of migraines, but the mechanical cause of a migraine is essentially the same for all sufferers: changes in the size of arteries in and around the skull. The violent headaches are often preceded and/or accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, flashing lights and tunnel vision and can be triggered by stress, fatigue, certain foods, alcohol, noise, bright lights, sudden changes in barometric pressure, and any number of other factors.

“When I was two years old,” Mueller explains, “I fell out of a two-story window and landed on my head. I have some neck injury and if my neck doesn’t stay in alignment, it goes and hits those nerves that are scarred and I have an instant migraine. In the past 18 years that I’ve been having them, I can have three in a week or one a week or, if I’m lucky, I can get away with two weeks without having one.”

Nowadays, Mueller takes a site-specific migraine suppressant to stop the vacillation of the blood vessels as soon as the first symptoms appear, effectively shutting down the headache .

“Wonderful thing, that,” he says flatly, “No more trips to the emergency room.”

And, of course, art helps a little. Mueller guesses the prize money should cover about two injections of the migraine medicine.

“It’s not something you’d want to hang in your living room,” he says of his winning entry, “It’s pretty painful to look at, especially for someone who has headaches. I’m sure that was one of the elements that even made [the judges] look at it.”

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