Monday, October 25, 2010

Migraine - 9.1.2008

She felt the first stabs of pain ten minutes away from home and braced herself for the evening ahead; all the while cursing her luck as well as the sea of harsh headlights she had to drive back in. By the time she reached home and ran to the medicine cabinet the pain had progressed from a vague dullness to a living, breathing, pulsating entity coursing through the electronic networks of her brain. As she took off her shoes and had a sip of water the nausea began rise up in her throat. She made a beeline for the bedroom and wasted no time in getting under a thick blanket.

The darkness descended but it was already too late. Soon the pain would form thick boulders that would descend on her skull and pound everything to pulp. Somewhere, she'd read that providing adequate supplies of oxygen could help alleviate a headache. So she began to inhale deeply, ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out….Breathe innnnn, breathe ouuuuut…’ she chanted.  In all her years of attempting to meditate, she’d not once managed to fight distractions for more than five minutes. Now, for the first time ever, an hour had gone by and the cycle of deep inhalations and exhalations had not lost its rhythm. The pain, however, was getting worse.

Her entire body was heating up. When she put her hand to her forehead she could feel the hammering veins. She could do nothing but ball up into foetal position and try to block out any sounds or specks of light that leaked in through doors and windows. It was time to try another technique. ‘Imagine yourself in a happy place.’ The beach. ‘Feel the sea breeze on your body.’ Uh-huh. ‘Hear the sound of the waves. Let it soothe you.’ She saw herself, ankle deep in saltwater, wearing a light blue shirt three sizes too big, fluttering in the wind. Waves washed up to her feet and then fell back. She tried desperately to let the sound calm her but all she could do was look around frantically, appalled at being the only one on the pristine stretch of sand. She searched desperately for a kindred spirit to come and share in the moment, to come and hold her so tight that she would no longer feel the pounding in her head. The intensity of longing made her throat tighten up. Instinctively she felt her bones squeeze in, in an attempt to banish the extreme sadness of the moment. The sudden tensing of muscles in her neck sent a shaft of red-hot pain northwards. In complete agony, she let out an audible moan.

Someone opened the bedroom door. The sudden brightness pierced through her shut eyelids. The voice asked if she was ok. She groaned out the word ‘migraine’ but didn’t have the energy to respond to further questioning. The voice thought it better to leave her alone. As the door creaked shut again, she saw strange images appear out of nowhere. A circle roughly sketched out in the blackness. A human figure standing, in profile, on the circumference of the circle. Then another and another until the entire circumference was covered with human figures, radiating outwards like spokes of a wheel. Each figure a progression of the previous one – a man in graduating stages of movement, the sum total of the images signifying a running man. Like a flipbook creating animation out of still images. The imagery overwhelmed her to the point of exhilaration and she realised that her pain had now become so intense that it was allowing her to travel across unknown dimensions. She wondered how long this would last. The euphoria was exciting but the torture had to end soon. She’d always been one for ‘keeping the faith’ and now used this belief to ride it out bravely.

Intermittently she felt her body tiring of the fight. This headache, this migraine, was reaching epic proportions, squeezing the life force out of her. It was in moments like these that she often found herself repeating the mantra of ‘this too shall pass’. In her delirium she began to contemplate the essential nature of her beliefs and how she sometimes felt too weak to carry their burden (faith is a boon, but often, she reflected, one just wants to stop, to give up). Perhaps, she thought, this is why what begins as an individual quest for spiritual truth eventually ends up as institutionalised religion. Us mortals, she reasoned, needed the faith of others to keep us from falling when we could no longer muster the strength to carry on. She shifted uncomfortably under the blanket and smiled weakly – ‘Here I am, writhing in agony, while other parts of my brain contemplate the intricacies of organized religion.’

Outside there was a clap of thunder and even though all the windows and doors were shut, she was convinced she could smell rain. She imagined its freshness wetting her brow and cooling her body. Suddenly she needed to feel light and airy. She kicked off her blanket and attempted to sit up. Her head swam but there was also something new - a distinct lack of pain. She felt battered, as though she had just emerged from a boxing match. The migraine seemed to have scuttled back into its corner, leaving residual grumbles and threats of returning another day. She was winded and knew she hadn’t been declared the winner either. She also knew that tomorrow would feel like something out of a horror film with her walking around the house like a zombie. But right then, all she heard was the rain and she knew the worst was over. She hadn’t been knocked out yet.  


  1. Whoa! Supremely evocative to the point of being scary. Wonderful!

  2. Thanks :) Writing this gave me a headache.

  3. What a gem!! Especially, "this is why what begins as an individual quest for spiritual truth eventually ends up as institutionalised religion"

  4. Thanks for your kind words, Bihag (what a lovely name you have, by the way).