Reading migraine...

The past day and a half have been wretched for my poor head. Migraine. I got onto the tube yesterday evening after work, my body vibrating and weak, and my head in a throbbing vice-like grip that also ached my neck. All I could tell myself as I closed my eyes and rested my head against the window that divided the carriage of the tube from the next were the words from Jonathan Sachs. He wrote a book on migraine in which he said they could be seen or used as the philosopher's touchstone. Needless to say all I kept thinking was 'how'? There is, though, a journey through a migraine, or a bad headache. There is the onset of the headache (and of course I speak only for myself and my experience). I wait. I try to tell myself that it will just go away. They never have in the 36 years I've been aware of having them. I more often than not (especially at work) take two painkillers. If it is a headache it goes or fades sufficiently to allow me to get on with the day. If it's a migraine it makes little difference, it's as if the pain is punching its way through, the battleground of the head - the eyes - the neck - the shoulders - working its way through my body so that I feel like I am shuddering with ripples of pain. I massage the fleshy pad between my thumb and forefinger where the pressure point is particularly sore when my head is. I feel like I am a ghost; retreating from the material world - but with the anchor of the thud, thud, thud. I tell myself that I wouldn't mind dying. I imagine all sorts in this 'kingdom of pain' - I ask myself questions that float through me 'would you live if you had to live like this all the time', the answer to which is 'how'? And then the nausea. I count. Or I pinch myself and hold it so that I may be distracted by another small site of pain, but it doesn't work. Yet I also tell myself: 'you've been here before, you'll get through, just wait, just wait'. But the blood drains from me, my face feeling ice white and yet I feel hotter. I have to find a corner somewhere. For some reason this inevitably occurs whilst literally travelling, trains, tubes, and buses. It was any moving vehicle when I was a child. I was always being sick. Yesterday evening I got myself off at Ravenscroft Park and sat on the bench on the open air platform - trying to soak in the chill spliced air, breathing it in, deeply whilst looking up to the dark sky that hung heavy with the homely scents of bonfires and leaves. My head is still thudding. The nausea has abated just enough. I am either sick at this point or not. I got onto the next Richmond-bound tube but there are no seats, so I stand and hold on. Counting the seconds to the next stop. I am forced off, feeling nigh on transparent (catching a reflection of my drained self in the window, my hair unkempt as I have tried to get at my temples (that never works either) and my mascara all smudged as I have repeatedly rubbed at my eyes so that I could apply to join a resurrection of Shakespeare's Sister). I lean my head against the metal, ice-cold tube sign 'Turnham Green', telling myself 'it's ok if you want to be sick'. But still I am not. I tell myself that it's ok if I get on the next tube and then have to get off at Gunnersbury. It's ok. I will still get home. I get on the next and manage the two stops to Kew Gardens. I walk home from the station, counting each step, urging myself on. I open the door, climb the steps, sensitive to the smells of the post-war carpeted staircase, which induces a moment of despair: will I die here? I get in, allow my bag to drop to the floor, shove off my shoes, shrug off my coat, get into the cold bed and shiver, needing the cold, but needing the warmth as the duvets begin to trap in my body. Safe. Sleep.

When I awake if it's gone there's a feeling of sublime subduedness. Like a calm, glass-surfaced ocean following a storm. But sometimes the storm still thrashes and sleep is fitful. Like this morning. I take another two painkillers. I have another couple of hours sleep. I get myself up and out. Iced coffee. I cancel plans, allowing myself the room to settle into my solitary self, as opposed to gearing up into my social one. I venture into my local bookshop, lingering, and ask the incredibly well-read bookseller for recommendations. He's beginning to know my taste. I emerge with two new hardbacks, Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, and The Last Pre-Raphaelite by Fiona MacCarthy. We talk some more. The PRB, a new exhibition planned for next year, my suggestion that he start a bookclub/reading group. And then I am gone. I need food. And to return to read. As I am about to start.


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