I have occasion somewhat regularly to sit in intense pain and attempt to think. The psychically-disruptive effects of a migraine are fascinating: I find my mental space collapsing in on itself, my present occupying shorter and shorter spans of time. Phrases –often from songs I don’t listen to- repeat in a kind of punching staccato in my head, the words rearranging themselves, portions disappearing and then reappearing, as though a lyric has become entangled in a crumbling part of my mind and my brain is performing incompetent matrix operations on it.
A line becomes four words, four words become two, and finally one word or one syllable will repeat in my head: a pellet of irreducibility, a single grain of sand worrying an oyster, hard and sharp in the straining softness of the throbs. Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch…child. One experiences one’s mind as a quantum –rather than classically continuous- machine: it exists from syllable to syllable, a single sound the quantum of awareness. Its moments last as long as the crunching of a bone.
But then, as the wave of pain recedes, the moments have more space between them. The words extend, become lyrics again, and sometimes, writhing, I’ll speak more of the permuted line through my teeth: obvious child…why deny, why deny, why deny. And as the space returns to my mind –as it recovers from this fantastic singularity in which only pain and an utterance exist- I can again observe my thoughts.
I like to do so. A migraine produces amazing phenomena: the kaleidoscopic phosphenes that light the darkness, the schizoid synesthesia, the bricolage of perceptual fragments blended haphazardly, the disappearance of the self. It sometimes seems to me that in pain we come closest to experience the consciousness of animals: momentary, without significant recollection or imagination, an assembly of impulses ill-understood that drive behavior beyond interrogation.
Writhing, writhing, writhing in the dark: trying to decouple pain from suffering. It’s a good thing to try with emotional anguish, too: to observe it and record its details without prejudice, to remember that this is just another set of confused perceptions and reactions, nothing except your mind’s malfunction.