My attention was divided. Damian was watching Dr Who, a late Colin Baker adventure, and I was watching it out of the corner of my eye. When it got especially annoying or amusing, there would be a spatter of laughter, a peak of irritation, and we would join in cursing the plot holes or admiring some repurposed Blakes 7 prop. I was reading The Fortean Times, the Strange Days column, and reading out the sillier and funnier of the stories, out-of-place kangaroos and the like. So I was multi-tasking with frequent focal shifts, one eye on the space in front of my nose, the other across the room. One half of my mind on antique sci-fi trivia, the other on the current strangeness of the world.
There was an abrupt spatial shift through the front hemisphere of my head, on a plane extending from my right temple to a spot three inches back into my hairline, descending diagonally across my forehead through the front of my brain, crossing the bridge of my nose, to end on the left cheekbone. The shift was minute but felt earth-shattering, like a computer simulation of a geological faultline. There came with it a minor perceptual shift, but one hard to describe, not vision or sound or smell or any such mundane sense. It was as if my awareness of where I was, my awareness of my own here-ness had been disrupted. There was no pain, but I was puzzled, both by its strangeness and its abruptness, like a pulse which was suddenly there and then vanished, just as suddenly. I wondered if I was getting a migraine, and checked my vision for patterns, glanced at the light to assess photosensitivity. Both were clear, so I shrugged, and chalked it down as one of those things. I suffer sensory noise from time to time -- odd pains, visions, touches, sounds. It was new, but not so strange as all that.
The second pulse hurt. The same sense of sliding planes was there, but this seemed less like a ghost touch and more like something that was sliding my head apart, along the same line, attenuating the tissue along the plane, as if my head were a china ornament being slid apart along an old, old break, superglue gone tacky and threadlike being smeared and crumpled between the grinding china surfaces. It felt like damage was being done, damage to the connecting tissue, damage to the surfaces, damage to my mind. It eased back again, leaving my head unnaturally clear. I squinted again at the video shelf, looking for the tell-tale crawlings and strobings that meant a migraine. I fancied I saw some of the sparkly crumple pattern that mean a severe attack coming. "I think I'm getting a migraine," I said, and my voice sounded remote and vague to me. I glanced again at the light, photosensitivity usually being one of the clear indicators. I was not photosensitive, in fact I wanted the light on. I wanted it on brighter. It was too dim. I wanted a brighter light.
The next pulse was blinding white pain, so abrupt it knocked me flat. There was a bullet-time moment of the fault becoming a crack, the crack filling with white light, and then striking like lightning through my head, and then the whiteness flared until there was only it, and I was lying face down on the bed, the magazine under my face, my body feeling weak and weird. "Are you OK?" asked Damian, who had turned to see me as I spoke. It wasn't far to fall, I had been lying propped up on my elbows, so I wasn't hurt, but I didn't want to move far. It felt like another pulse was probably coming. And I felt so weak, like my muscles were string and water. I had Damian bring me my pills, and, afraid, took the full dose rather than my usual half. He helped me into the good migraine position; lying flat on my back, a cool pack over my eyes, water within reach, light dimmed. I'm used to this. I know this. Be calm, I told myself.
The next pulse threw a shadow before it, a super-dark sine curve across a plane of mind which only exists within the migraine. Like a transparent forward-facing cross-section through the perfect middle of my head, swung round like a fifties window on the hinge of my ears, until it jutted out from the base of my skull, lay like a ghost below the curve of my jaw, my four-dimensional mind folded and intolerably compressed into a two-dimensional awareness. At the top point of the wave, a spot of white light began to form. As it grew in brightness, it began to obscure the two dimensional fold of mind, and this evaporated like mist. But instead of taking the light and pain with it, they migrated to the sluggish flesh at the top of my spine, the base of my skull, and began to touch the sticky tissue there with purifying light. The light began to grow, and at this point I ... I don't know. I panicked, I realised I couldn't control or change it, I relaxed into it, I closed my eyes and submitted to the pulse, let it take me, burn me through, not through any gung-ho spirit or desire for experimentation but simply because I knew this was a tide I could not fight; it was go with the flow, or be snuffed out like a candle before a forest fire.
The light continued to grow, shining up through the lower parts of my skull. A second nexus opened, between my eyes, just above my brow line, an intense whiteness that flooded my mind, and then my vision, and then my entire awareness until it seemed far vaster than the mind that had spawned it, bigger than the room, the house, and still growing, all-encompassing, all-touching, vast and unknowable as the sky.
It stopped, hard as if it had hit a solid membrane, some barrier that was part of me, and the pain came, merciless, yellow-orange-red pain in angles and shapes behind my screwed-up eyes, like shattered glass stabbing down through my head. I think I cried out, but I didn't pass out, and I remember wishing that I could, the pain was so bad. On the heels of the pain came a shocking, involuntary tremor down my right-hand side, my hand jigging so hard it was just a blur, the convulsions of my chest and shoulder and diaphragm choking the air from my lung, my leg and hip trying to hammer themselves into the futon.
The fit began to die down. I had to get up from lying down, I had to get out of this darkness. If it happened again when I was lying on my bed, I would injure myself. I asked Damian to turn on the light, and hauled myself into a sitting position, still shaking with shock and the after-pains of the tremor. I wanted more light. I could feel it coming again. I pulled my cushions into a sort of support behind me. I relaxed my mind, my shoulders, telling myself that it wouldn't be bad this time but in fact it didn't hurt at all. Only the tremor came, a violent, involuntary shaking down my right side that lasted for minutes. I tried to move my hand experimentally, and found I could still the tremor if I concentrated; but then a sensation in my head, like sparks popping in the darkness, little puffs of bang and light, stopped me. If it wants to shake, let it I said to myself, try to fight it and you'll do more harm than good.
After the tremors died down, I tried to get to my feet. I was worried that if I had another attack I'd lose control of my bladder. I was stopped by a thick, heavy, liquid nausea, like mercury rolling in my head. I tasted metal, and my vision darkened and I lurched forward. I was passing out, and it felt like head trauma, like somebody had smacked me over the head with something heavy. I caught myself on my hands and knees, and slowly eased myself back onto the cushions. Light, more light. I could feel another attack coming, like a ghost touch, a scribble of white wool on my mind's horizon. "Alright," I said to Damian, "You should call my Doctor."
After I stopped trying to move or stop them, the fits came easier but more violent. My teeth chattered, my head bashed against the cushions, my hand moved so fast I looked palsied. I talked Damian through getting me a Doctor and they talked us through how long she would take to get there, and then she phoned and asked a lot of questions. Slowly, over the next hour, whilke I waited for her to turn up, they became more ordinary, stuff to be joked about, talked about, coped with and worked around. I made it to the loo, eventually, as the fits got milder, and by the Doctor knocked on the door in time to see the last faint tremor; and then nothing.
She checked me for loss of function on my right hand side, looked at my eyeballs for signs of deformation, and pronounced me fit to sleep, and when I finally dared turn the light off, I slept an impossible black silent sleep, the sleep of the dead I dread and hate. I woke the next morning exhausted. In the worst of the fits I had pulled muscles between my ribs and in my shoulders, and my arm was sore from shaking. I called my GP to see him and lunchtime, and somehow got into work.
The world seemed white and overexposed, as if bleached by the light of the night before.
[ next episode : some thoughts about pain ]