HeadWise HeadWise: Volume 2, Issue 2 - Page 40

Excerpt from A Brain Wider Than the Sky “Migraines are powerful because they force one to contemplate the great mystery of the boundary between free will and fate, between the thing we choose to do and the thing we’re made to do. “Clichés of a migrained marriage: vacations are canceled; Saturdays are spent in bed while the spouse is taking care of the children, etc. If you have migraine, its fifty-fifty your kid will, too. If you and your spouse both have migraines, it’s three out of four. Should you have kids at all then? How many? And how much guilt should you feel about the ones you’ve already had? “Some diseases have a clear cause; others have a clear cure. The treatment of migraine, however, in any individual case amounts to a treatment about treatment itself—about how one wants to use drugs, about how one wants to change one’s life, and how one wants to sift through all this data that modernity produces. It is not just a clinical evaluation of the nature of headache, but a response to an overabundance of research and classifications. Patients are confused about what is and is not a migraine. Not sure whether they are migraining, patients ‘wait and see.’ “To understand migraine in modern terms means reading through the advice you receive, though, through what the doctors and other migraineurs tell you, to the truth within, which comes at you from crazy angels as if crazy angels were the norm: that the ‘generator’ of the pain should lie so far from the pain itself; that ‘hyper excitable’ nerves must compel retreat to silence and to darkness. But what kind of brain does these kinds of things, and how do we reach it, really reach it, and talk to it?” —Levy, Andrew. A Brain Wider Than the Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2009. on migraine, writing that the pain “compels you to eat better and sleep regularly…and can be seen as God’s early warning system.” How did you come to this conclusion? LEVY: I see migraine as a smoke alarm that goes off when your toast is burning a little bit. It is loud and blaring, but it is telling you something. It would be great if your brain sent you more subtle signals to eat better and drink less and have less stress in your life. It would be great if it just gave you a gentle poke, but instead it gives you this massive punch in the side of the face. The pain has forced me to improve my life, to eat fewer sweets and drink less, and those are good things. HW: In your book you attribute the onset of your migraines to the weather in the Midwest. Have you ever thought about moving to help your condition? LEVY: No. Whenever I go on vacation, I pay close attention to see if the weather is helping or hindering, but it turns out that barometric pressure in Ireland can be a trigger for me, as can a sunset in San Diego. HW: In your book, you run through the history of migraine. What made you want to explore that history? LEVY: I found a lot of comfort in learning that famous people from the past lived with migraine. Before researching for the book, I didn’t know Thomas Jefferson had them. I didn’t know Sigmund Freud had a lot of them and was going to become a started taking Topamax®, an anti-epileptic drug. I would take it every day, but it gave me awful side effects. So I stopped taking it, cut my intake of caffeine and alcohol, and started taking sumatriptan. HW: How do migraines affect your daily life? LEVY: They are a complete and total irritant; but the pain does make moments of productivity more precious. When it is 6 a.m. and I see weird 38 HEAD WISE | stuff forming in front of my eyes, it is completely frustrating. The best case scenario is I take a pill right away and I’m OK by 8 a.m. and feeling good by noon. If the migraine comes on for four or five days, I start to feel intense depression. After three or four days, I get acclimated to the feeling and that acclimation is pretty depressing. HW: In your book, you put somewhat of a positive spin Volume 2, Issue 2 • 2012