Haley’s Poetic Playlist: “Migraine”

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Okay, lovelies. I have been trying to hold out for a while, but it was only a matter of time before I looked at one of my all-time favorite groups: Twenty One Pilots. Love them or hate them, they have a way with lyrics and it’s hard to deny Tyler Joseph’s twisted way with words (as well as Josh Dunn’s skilled drumming, of course).

On a personal note, I owe a lot to this two-man band. I first heard them during a rather challenging time in high school, and since the discovery, their songs have helped me through some very tough times, to say the least. Consequently, I have seen them twice live, and will be seeing them a third time this summer.

This song that I chose is from their album Vessel, and it’s titled “Migraine.” Now, this is a fairly popular song, and while I could write pages upon pages about their other albums and songs, I wanted to look at this song because it is one of the first that won me over. I think it says a lot in a short period of time. Also, it’s the week before finals and it was easy to look at an old favorite rather than do a ton of research on a different song.

“Migraine”

[Verse 1]

“Am I the only one I know,
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
Shadows will scream that I’m alone.”

The song is entitled “Migraine” as both a metaphor for the pain that our minds can cause us and because songwriter Tyler Joseph actually had a headache when he wrote the song, as he admitted in a Spotify commentary. The “poet” is asking if he is the only one silently battling his own mind. He claims that he feels alone and that the dark parts of his thoughts (a line he uses during a song in a later album) tell him that he’s the only one suffering. Might I add that the clever slant rhymes flow beautifully?

“I-I-I I’ve got a migraine and my pain will range from up, down, and sideways,
Thank God it’s Friday ’cause Fridays will always,
Be better than Sundays ’cause Sundays are my suicide days,
I don’t know why they always seem so dismal,
Thunderstorms, clouds, snow, and a slight drizzle,
Whether it’s the weather or the letters by my bed,
Sometimes death seems better than the migraine in my head,”

The first verse of this song really dives into the not-so-subtle metaphor — depression and anxiety. This depression moves around and affects different parts of the poet’s body aside from just his head, a common symptom of depression. He is happy that it’s Friday because that means it isn’t Sunday. He doesn’t understand why Sundays are always so hard for him, but he equates this day of the week with poor weather. Clouds and rain often leave even those without depression feeling gloomy and down. He claims he isn’t sure if it’s the bad weather or the letters by his bed (most likely suicide letters), but sometimes he feels it’s better to just give up rather than continue to live in this dismal state of mind.

“Let it be said what the headache represents,
It’s me defending in suspense,
It’s me suspended in a defenseless test,
Being tested by a ruthless examiner
That’s represented best by my depressing thoughts,
I do not have writer’s block,
My writer just hates the clock,
It will not let me sleep, I guess I’ll sleep when I’m dead,
And sometimes death seems better than the migraine in my head.”

The second half of the first verse continues to describe Joseph’s struggle. He puts his depression into perspective by comparing it to a test that he is unprepared to take. This makes this part of the “poem” relatable to even those who have not experienced depression — being unprepared for a test is overwhelming and this is what the poet experiences each day — overwhelming anxiety that is out of his control.

The part about writer’s block beautifully and simply explains the clarity that one with depression lacks, making it extremely difficult to accomplish even simple tasks. Anxiety can often leave a person sleep-deprived, which he addresses in the last two lines by claiming he supposes he will “sleep” when he is dead, bluntly concluding that sometimes this option seems the better of the two.

“Am I the only one I know,
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
Shadows will scream that I’m alone,
But I know we’ve made it this far, kid.
Yeah, yeah, yeah”

This chorus is extended to better explain the concept that the singer may look fine on the outside — as many people who suffer from depression typically appear — but that inside he is struggling. He concludes this second verse by talking to himself, most likely in an attempt to calm down, stating that he shouldn’t give up because he already made it “this far” without being completely consumed by his bad thoughts. (This is the chorus that is repeated throughout the rest of the song.)

[Verse 2]

“I am not as fine as I seem, pardon,
Me for yelling, I’m telling you green gardens,
Are not what’s growing in my psyche, it’s a different me,
A difficult beast feasting on burnt down trees,
Freeze frame please, let me paint a mental picture portrait,
Something you won’t forget, it’s all about my forehead,
And how it is a door that holds back contents,
That make Pandora’s Box’s contents look non-violent,”

Again, Tyler bluntly states that he may appear to be okay, but that he is in fact the opposite. He sarcastically asks for forgiveness for yelling about what is really going on in his head, which most likely makes those around him uncomfortable. It’s his way of saying, “sorry to burst your bubble, but there aren’t perfect little thought gardens growing in my head, I am actually miserable.” He goes on to explain that something much more insidious occurs in his brain each day, and he references the Greek mythology of Pandora’s Box by claiming it’s tamer than what is going on in his head.

“Behind my eyelids are islands of violence,
My mind’s ship-wrecked, this is the only land my mind could,
Find, I did not know it was such a violent island,
Full of tidal waves, suicidal crazed lions,
They’re trying to eat me, blood running down their chin,
And I know that I can fight or I can let the lion win,”

0d6881c7cb398a456d7ea080772efbeaThis first line has beautiful internal rhyme with “behind,” “island,” and “violence,” as it uses a shipwreck to deepen the depression metaphor and provide further imagery and insight regarding the happenings inside his head. I like how he clarifies that he did not travel to the “island” by choice, emphasizing the fact that depression is not something people choose to have. Rather, depression is something that one learns to live with and combat to go about your daily life. He can let the “lions” (which is a metaphor for the anxiety and depression) take over, or he can fight back and take control of his thoughts as best he can. The last two lines of this section of the verse set us up for the thesis, or main point, if you will, of the entire song:

“I begin to assemble what weapons I can find,
‘Cause sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind.”

These are two of the most powerful lines I have ever heard, and they have gotten me through many rough days. Our narrator starts to salvage what he can, so that he can regain control of his thoughts. This is really a song about overcoming our greatest fears, and this final line tells the listeners how to do that.

[Chorus]

“Ah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Oh, oh
Yeah, yeah, yeah”

[Bridge]x2

“And I will say that we should take a day to break away,
From all the pain our brain has made,
The game is not played alone.
And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it,
And keep it frozen and know that,
Life has a hopeful undertone.”

Here, the song takes a more hopeful turn as it suggests that we are not all alone, but that instead we just need to take the good moments when they come. This part of the song highlights the optimistic side of life by stating that things will be okay if you take it one day at a time.

[Chorus]

“We’ve made it this far
We’ve made it this f…”

I love that this song has an open ending. I think it’s genius, as Tyler has been talking to himself through the entire song, assuring his mind that he has already made it so far. But does he give up at the end? Or does he continue to push through it!? The listeners cannot be sure. And this is a beautiful representation of depression — sometimes you just don’t know.

Overall, this is a clever song that brings to light something that most people don’t like to talk about. I like that it makes depression and anxiety digestible for someone who may not understand it. This song’s happy tone and upbeat tempo appeals to those who have dealt with mental illness, but it symbolizes the reality of depression with its rather serious and somber lyrics. That reality being that most appear happy on the outside but are fighting their own quiet battles inside.

Moral of the poem: you never know what someone is going through, so sometimes it is best to sit back and put on a Twenty One Pilots album.

— Haley Renison, Poetry Editor

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