Why it’s worth having a migraine every once in a while

So I get these absolutely devastating migraines. If ripping out a toenail would cure them, I’d carry pliers with me constantly, just in case. One of these struck me the other day in the middle of a dinner that my department was kind enough to by for me, and, as I was driving home to bury myself in a dark, silent room, I was thinking (among all of the incoherent little sparks going through my mind) about what the experience of a migraine might reveal. They’re actually pretty interesting, it turns out.

If you’ve never had a migraine before, they’re hard to explain. They’re a sort of headache, but that’s misleading to say. They’re not just really bad headaches, they’re qualitatively unique among headaches. Sort of in the way (and, not to be crass – it’s the best example I can think up) an orgasm is different from general sexual pleasure. If you’ve never had an orgasm – well…..I’m sorry. Imagine, then, instead of a headache, a blinding, constantly blossoming explosion of pain that, in it’s expansion loses any location in your body – it’s no longer in your head – but comes to encompass your entire consciousness. That’s an inadequate description still but whatever.

Migraines are, I think a uniquely elegant and powerful sort of experience. That’s not to say they’re pleasant – they’re unbearable – but. every time I get one, I think just how amazing it is that there’s this sort of experience to be had. One would imagine that there’s some sort of threshold to the amount of pain that one could experience at a given moment. Like a glass has a certain volume so that, if the liquid exceeds it, it just spills out. The glass can be full and no more. You’d think that there’s some limit to that for pain. As if we could only experience so much, and then it just doesn’t matter. I guess that, neurologically, that must really be the case – our neural system can’t process an infinite amount of any sort of information at once. But, whatever that threshold is, migraines have taught me that it’s much much higher than you’d think. That’s part of the amazement for me, first that I can experience so much pain at once, and maybe secondly, that it doesn’t just kill me or something. That’s an interesting fact that I don’t think many non-migraine-experience-ers can relate to. It’s hard for me to think that other sorts of pain – a burned hand, or a cut, or whatever – could have this sort of consciousness-enveloping quality.

Not only are these experiences very powerful, they’re elegant in a way as well. When they strike (me, at least) my mind progressively loses it’s ability to function correctly. That seed sprouts and blossoms and, the more it blooms and explodes, the more my mind is stretched and has its contents unfolded. It plays clips of songs and movies that I haven’t heard in years, and remembers conversations, playing them as if I were hearing them in the room, flashes lights in my eyes, and makes my skin crawl. It’s as if that blooming flower just is my mind unfolding all at once, and I hear and remember things that were so inconsequential and inane that I thought were completely lost. But they’re in there, deep down.

It’s interesting. I’ve never done any drug, really, but whenever I heard people describe an acid trip, it reminded me a bit of migraines (without, you know, the umbelievable pain). As it turns out, I was watching a documentary on LSD the other day, and it mentioned that LSD is an extremely effective cure for migraines, and that labs are working on a non-psychedelic version for migraine-experiencers. So, maybe the symmetry of the descriptions has something to it?

So, I think it’s worth having one at least once, just for a truly amazing (though pretty horrible) experience of what I imagine is pretty close to the limits of the abilities of your mind. Any migrainey’s out there that want to chime in?

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