Light and Pain

It’s 4:58 in the morning. As I write this, another window is open in a file tab just below this ‘Add New Post’ page. A Microsoft Excel file. I’m a data encoder again, and it’s tougher to type in numbers without the numbers group on my keypad–the bane of encoding through a laptop.

I’m taking a break from my unsavory position in my little room. The head-turning and eye-flipping from the data sheets to the computer screen is almost bringing on some nausea and shoulder pain. I don’t really want to have a repeat of the headache festival I’ve had in the past weeks. Thus, the break.

That migraine carnival. It starts with the flashes of light called aura that frightens me more than the headache. That maybe because I, or the articles and book on migraine I’m reading, cannot quite explain why auras happen. Sure, what doctors and scientists have on migraine are still theoretical, but at least they have something on it. But with auras, they seem to be stumped, except to say that the brain appears…hyperexcited…in its response to stimuli, particularly the visual kind.

My aura, and I guess for many migraine sufferers (called migraineurs, makes me think of an exclusive, elite group of head pain…uhmm…enthusiasts?), is a bunch of bright, zigzag lines that blind one side of my vision, usually the right side. Just thinking about it now elicits a protest from my stomach. A year ago, a bus to Bicol contained curtains with patterns that reminded me of auras. It was a terrible journey. The irregular lines on the fabric drew out nausea by bringing up memories of the migraine messenger.

When the aura leaves, there is a lull of clear vision. It’s the eye of the typhoon; things appear eerily normal. I would pop two, 500mg paracetamol tablets and storm to a vacuum of a place–no light, no sound, no smell, no fan air. I know the medicine doesn’t really work, so I stop everything and lie down in that vacuum. Andrew Levy, quoting Joan Didion in his book, A Brain Wider Than the Sky, describes it well: ‘…a time comes during a migraine attack when you stop fighting the pain, and you “lie down and let it happen”–you can’t stop it or lessen it, so you make peace with it.’

So I wait for the pain to come. I wonder which side of my head it plans to visit this time. The right, the left? Behind the eyes? What approach will it take? Throbbing? Pulsating? A gripping, steady attack?

The last spell razed through the left side down to my neck. That was particularly unpleasant, like the aura decided to slither into my head and score the inside with its jagged lines. During these moments, nothing else matters but my guest. Everything stops, just as a town shuts down when a strong typhoon hits its shores. The pain consumes me, and though I make peace with its inevitability, I feel far from peaceful as I direct all my thoughts away from it and toward the next event.

Throwing up–the tail end of the typhoon, the last hurrah before the true calm. Although it makes me feel alone and helpless, this phenomenon tells me that relief is on the way. That is why I don’t mind running to the toilet again and again until only clear liquid comes out. Then, I go back to the vacuum, curl up, and pray for another visitor–sleep.

I should do that now if I do not want another pain caravan to come marching into town.


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