Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Pain and Being.

My migraine headaches begin with surreal peripheral vision. The corners of my visual perception begin to dance and go snowy as though my TV antennae suddenly tipped over or my cable company is slowly pulling the plug. Often there is no pain for a long while, just this snowstorm that thickens but never blots out my vision entirely.

The waiting is dreadful. I’ve had enough migraines to know that pain and nausea are coming—enough to send me to bed and perhaps enough to dissolve me to tears for hours. So I sit with my dancing vision and the dread begins to fill up the spaces in my body.

Last night’s migraine was subtler than most and I’d like to think my reaction had something to do with that. Migraines happen with I’ve been doing 100 things and still feel that I have more to do. Yesterday I stuffed every centimeter of my day with doing. It wasn’t a bad day—just busy. I woke up and got my son breakfast and dressed, rushed off to the grocery story, stopped by the Mac store to pick up my computer, watched my son play with the trains at Barnes and Noble, drove home, got him milk, worked on the computer while my partner put my son to sleep, drove out to pick up some fresh bread, arrived home and ate, picked up clutter, swept, got my son out of bed, played outside in the dirt, came inside, gave my son and I a bath, cooked dinner, burned dinner, cooked dinner again, chased my son around the house begging him to eat, ate, sat down to read my son a book. And this is when the snow started.

It was a pleasant day—fun but busy. But nowhere in that day did I slowly sip a cup of tea, or stare blankly out the window, or listen to a favorite song. Nowhere did I rest. These are the days that produce migraines.

Yesterday, instead of continuing to work until the pain became unbearable like I have a time or two in the past, I lay down in a dark room before the pain even started. I breathed deeply and kept myself as still as possible. Years ago I read a Joan Didian essay where she writes about her own migraines and about how she believes they are her body’s need to be still. When she becomes still the pain lessens. So I too became still.

Then there in the dark breathing deeply, keeping still I had a perfect moment. My body settled right into the present moment. I noticed each breath because I found that if I slightly closed the back of my throat so that I could hear my breathing, my body reverberated slightly and the pain now building in my head did not increase. It did not exactly disappear either, but as I settled more into myself the pain seemed to stay in the same place making it feel further away from me. And because each breath kept that state possible, each breath became the only thought I could have and the moments stretched out to the length of an inhale and then an exhale. And the length of the headache then (or the time before I fell asleep) became an exercise in breathing and stillness. And though I was aware of the pain I mostly just felt like moon light dissipating softly across a dark pool.

Physical pain is such an integral part of human existence. And yet now it is quite common to be prescribed an entire bottle of Percocet for a bump on the head. I understand that there are some kinds of prolonged pain that people just need a relief from. Yet there is an experience that comes from pain—and managing (or even experiencing) that pain that brings about an understanding (and even a blossoming) of our own potential.

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