Migraines cannot kill you—although in some cases they might help. They cannot really hurt you in any lasting way. Sometimes they even just go away on their own.
And sometimes they don’t.
Joan Didion, in her wonderful essay “In Bed,” wrote that 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. I have tried this. What separates a migraine headache from other chronic illnesses, I believe, is that a migraine constitutes a metaphysical crisis. At first, it is simply impossible to believe that this headache is coming from within your head, which is why it is so easy to call a migraine an “attack.” You almost believe, rather, that you can push it back, back outside your head to its starting point, out beyond the pillow, to those pinpricks of aura in the gray out there somewhere, the red digits of the clock, the pile of dirty laundry, the cat that won’t stop mewing for her breakfast. Then you gradually accept the pain as your own. You acknowledge your oneness, and throbs develop a kind of autonomy. They careen and float about an empty mind, settle, drift, still throbbing, but without stress. Didion was right, you think. The Buddha was right, you think.
And then a throb hits you on the left side of the head so hard that your head bobs to the right. You look for a referee counting you down to ten. There’s no way that came from inside your head, you think. That’s no metaphysical crisis. God just punched you in the side of the face.
The civil desecration of the corpses of suicides was common, as were attempts to prevent untoward influence upon the living by physically isolating and constraining the body and it’s potentially dangerous spirit. The bodies of those who killed themselves were, in many countries buried at night and at a crossroads. The greater traffic over such a crossroads was thought to “keep the corpses down,” and the intersection of paths, it was believed, would make it more difficult for the spirit to find its way home. In early Massachusetts, cartloads of stones were unloaded where a suicide had been buried. Not uncommonly, a stake was driven through a suicide’s heart […]
I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.
I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention and one day I decided I had better things to do.
One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief—that is a fate more terrible than dying.
“With depression, it’s the loss of energy that saves people…I would lie there in bed most days thinking…If I could just get into the bathtub and get the razor—but the thought of getting up and going into the bath was too much. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a comfort to fantasize though.”