Sallie Parker, a 67-year-old writer and artist living in Charlottesville, NC has struggled with migraine since she was a child. Aside from battling its symptoms, she’s also been confronted by the many misperceptions that surround her illness such as “it’s all in your head” or “people with migraine have migraine because it benefits them in some way.” Determined to push back against a disease that has profoundly affected her life, she is using her unique art to create awareness around migraine and to advocate for research.
Sallie began experiencing migraine many years ago, at a time when awareness of the disease was not widespread, which often led to a lack of compassion, even from those closest to her. “My mother never had a headache in her life, and she didn’t understand it,” Sallie says. “She’d get mad at me and say that I was making it up. I missed a lot of important moments because I was bedridden with migraine every day after school. I learned to live my life dealing with the blinding pain.”
Earlier this year, Sallie had an attack so severe that it forced her to rethink her relationship with migraine. “I was sitting on the edge of my bed clutching my stomach and my head, rocking back and forth with the pain,” she remembers. “My sister came over to try to help me and was aghast at how much pain I was in. She was asking me questions, and I tried to answer, but I couldn’t even speak.”
It was while recovering from that attack that Sallie realized she could harness her creative energy to fight the disease.
“I came out of that attack really, really empowered,” she says. “I decided I wasn’t going to be a victim to migraine anymore — that I would be the one going on the attack.” And for Sallie, that meant tackling the same stereotypes and misperceptions she’s faced for 50 years. “Everyone still seems to think people with migraine want to have migraine; that it’s all psychological; that we have [migraine] because it benefits us in some way,” she says.
As a lifetime artist, it’s no surprise that Sallie is using creativity as a way to push migraine awareness and research. But her latest project underscores just how daring and unconventional she’s willing to be. “I’ve made a giant papier-mâché head that portrays what a migraine feels like,” she explains. “It has a butcher knife through the left eye, another one through the top of its head, and another through the back of its neck. It looks absolutely miserable.”
Sallie has worked with the city of Asheville to plan a new migraine awareness event. She’ll be at the town square wearing her papier-mâché creation, alongside other activists carrying signs with lesser-known facts about migraine. “It’s our way of spreading new awareness in hopes of dispelling the myths that surround the disease,” she says.
With her event, Sallie is taking a small but bold approach to advocacy, and that suits her just fine. “Every little bit helps, and I’m doing what I can to [be a] part of that voice for the community,” she says. “I’ve decided to make it my mission to raise awareness. I want people to know that [migraine is] very real.”
For more information about migraine, visit SpeakYourMigraine.com.