As people who have endured the most extreme forms of migraines know, they can produce an unfathomable, almost unendurable pain. Having suffered from them since I was 15 years old, I’ve learned a good deal about and from pain.
For those who suffer from severe migraines on a weekly or even daily basis, they can lead someone to contemplate suicide. Fortunately, though my migraine pain of those early years was off the charts, the scourges recurred no more than once a month. And they were always preceded by an ‘aura’ that gave me a half hour warning to get into a quiet, darkened room and prepare for the rack.
I vividly recall the first time I got one. I was walking back from a basketball practice at a tiny, pit-like gym near my home. Passing the chain-link fence of the school, I noticed my vision had gone all wavy and weird, accompanied by strange physical sensations, together producing an almost hallucinogenic experience. (Those were days well before pot had become prevalent with young people, and I had never taken a drink, much less a toke.)
I reported the symptoms to my parents when I got home, but in keeping with the family taboo against talking about anything but surface stuff, I was not given any information though, as I later learned, my father had suffered from migraines for many years. I recall writhing on the bathroom floor, but the nausea was the least of it. The pain was of a degree that makes the word ‘headache’ laughable. The acute phase lasted for four or six hours, followed by blessed sleep. In the morning I felt fine, and went to school.
This became my monthly routine for nearly 15 years. Always when I’d get the aura, I would excuse myself from whatever I was doing, and retire to darkened room to be racked with pain there are no words to describe.
Once in college and living with a group of guys, I came back during the onset phase to find a party in progress. I told my roommate that they’d have to leave, because even the sound of a fork dropped in the next room was painful during the worst of it. I was so beset by the fear and dread of being seized by another episode that I don’t recall whether he agreed or not.
Migraines are like a storm in the brain, and are related to seizures, with circuits firing at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The next day it feels like the brain has been reset, and there’s a feeling of rebirth.
As pain ascended toward its nearly blackout peak, I recall coming out again, and telling my roommate in no uncertain terms they’d have to leave, that the noise was intolerable. What happened the next time I came out my other roommates told me, because I don’t remember.
This clod wasn’t about to leave. He was a muscular guy, and a fighter, two or three inches taller than me at a skinny six-three back then. Things didn’t come to blows, but my roommates said when I spoke to him the third time, they were afraid I was going to kill him. The party was taken elsewhere.
The turning point came in my late 20’s, when I was visiting the town where I now live in northern California. Indeed, when the unmistakable aura came over me I was in the parkland, where I walk and take sittings now on nearly a daily basis. Though it was sunny that day (light becomes even more excruciating than sound to migraine sufferers), I stayed put.
My companion had seen a few episodes, and she suggested we get a motel room. No, I said, I want to face it down this time, and see what happens. I put my feet in the creek and became very quiet for an extended time, watching passively but intensely everything within and around me. Incredibly, a migraine never materialized! It seemed almost a miracle, and I’ve been free of the worst of them since that event.
Migraines returned in later years in milder form, more of a nuisance than a million needles in the brain, with nausea. I don’t get auras with this type of ‘Marie migraines’ (named after a girlfriend who suffered from this variety). Years ago, during the worst of the migraines, I tried medication, but it didn’t help, just blunted them a bit while extending their duration into the next day.
This second type of migraine is sometimes triggered by encounters with darkness. I still get auras sometimes, but they’re not followed by hours of excruciating pain. They have a name for these—‘silent migraines.’
We all have weaknesses. There are genetic predispositions for migraines or depression or whatever on one hand, and character weaknesses from conditioning and karma or whatever on the other. The former have to be acknowledged, managed and medically treated if necessary. The latter have to be faced, observed and ended.
Even when I was younger, in the throes of the worst pain, I found that turning and facing the pain, even embracing it as much as possible, had the paradoxical effect of making it more endurable. It also took one to levels within oneself that I may never have gone in another other way.
I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone. But without being masochistic about it, try not running away from pain the next time you feel it. It’s part of life, and can be a blessing in disguise.
To a point, pain can be a good thing if one doesn’t run away or try to escape from it. Remaining with pain banishes fear, focuses the mind on what’s important, clears away the undergrowth, deepens the heart, and strengthens one’s character.
People in hell feel no pain; that’s why it’s such a populous place. But not feeling pain, suffering is unending.