Monday, December 7, 2009


That distinguished list of literary figures who also have suffered from them--Hildegard von Bingen, and Auden,Joan Didion,and Oliver Sacks--is no more comfort while one is suffering from them than is the also very distinguished list of those who underwent black depressions. One can compare symptoms:mine happen approximately every ten days, which is to be preferred to Joan Didion's every three or four days. Yes, there is the pre-migraine aura, which begins with lightheadedness and a certain sense of visual inflation,as if the Potempkin village or Hollywood stage- set aspect of reality is distorting, swelling in the middle and curling at the edges. For me, it is as if the visual world has grown too heavy for my eyeballs to continue to process.

The aura is a sure signal for the second phase, what I call"full-body neuralgia" except it is less a matter of nerves than the sense that my skeletal structure is at odds with the muscular structure at the borderlines of the integuments:I feel stretched and compacted. There is an argument between the mind and the body which is called the neck.I can't get the headquarters to balance properly on their pylons, stretched and compacted as I am.This is the time for retreat into a darkened room.

I tend to visualize a great deal--I have learned how to imagine a painting while driving, for example--but the migraine hallucination is different; all the spatial and coloristic aspects of normal looking, and painterly devices of visualization, and that zone between conciousness, sleep, and dream beneath the eyelids,is thoroughly out of control. If the migraine is mild I am in the sea of colors, which is much like the more abstract episodes of Disney's Fantasia, or Kandinsky in a goofy, theosophical mood. If the migraine is severe the sea becomes stormy, lightning-streaked, spaces opening upon spaces full of baroque chiaroscuro, crucifixions or shipwrecks or mass migrations;and if this is the case, I feel deeply but helplessly connected to the grief of the world.

Since I am,like every member of my devout and nutty family, prone to putting a religious spin on everything--the temperature!the teapot!--I am also skeptical of the efficacy of my saintly headaches. The literature is rife with such interpretations,though, of Heine as well as Hildegarde of Bingen finding a sense of religious communion via their physical pain. Dostoyevsky speaks of a conciliatory quality of peace preceding an epileptic seizure. We try to make use of what happens to us, and find a purpose to it. During a migraine I howl a great deal to God, but I doubt if a theology could be constructed of it,or if much might be derived from it if it could.

I watch my imagery intently, if involuntarily.A dream coalesces on the retina in one way, the waking imagination pictures something in another.During a migraine,it seems to be that the equipose which imagery rests upon has been upset.It is humbling to discover that one holds in common that which one held of oneself most private and distinct, but I recognize migrainous imagery in an number of contemporary painters, which I thought peculiarly my own.

Some of these are basic to the structure of our retinal cones. When I was little I used to rub my eyes to see the pictures contained in them. They looked like architectural floorplans which were also hexagonal snowflakes in crimson and gold. (This is probably why I needed glasses early on.)These are like migrainous imagery at one phase, before it mounts into a blizzard with geometry at its interstices.

Hildegard saw these as angelic choirs. Sacks points out a typical "fortress"structure in one of his essays on the subject--one of the staples, apparently,is a tower with crenellations--but to me St. Hildegard's images look much like W.S. Bentley's snowflake pictures, particularly the later plates, which depict "deformed" or partially melted snow-flakes.

This might be enjoyable were the cranial fissures not lite by strobes.Indeed,I feel my skull in exact detail far, far to much, the shape of the skull where the noses attaches its vividly outlined in fluorescents, the sinus passages with an exact pressure- serrated edge. All those small veins beneath the skin get topographically specific; dental work from years ago is concretely recalled. I almost said I wouldn't wish them on Hitler, but he had them, and envisioned the Third Reich.

Dietary protocols, whereby a great deal of pleasure is officially sacrificed,governed me for a while as I attempted to elude the migraine. Dark chocolate,meats using sulfates--such as pepperoni and salami--black olives, capers, coffee--also confusingly prescribed for migraines as well as being on the list of migraine-incubators--wine, cheese. A friend has become macrobiotic. I did that for a while. I seem to remember having fewer migraines but being too listless to care.

Most accounts of the migraines conclude with a resolute tone, which is how one feels when they are over. I feel grateful due to the fact that it is done. The world dread has been surmounted, until it accumulates again. The sense of being cleansed is religious to the religious and functional to the agnostic. My metaphysic tends to run like a fever, from high to low;the question is how to be steadfast.

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