A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary by Andrew Levy

January 2019

“There is no line between the migraine and worrying about the migraine.” As someone who suffers from not-infrequent migraines, I started highlighting passages on the first page this book (including the sentence above) and continued doing so pretty much right to the end. There’s so much here that resonated with me: the descriptions of the debilitating pain of a migraine, but also of the feelings of dread, inevitability and despair that accompany the first vague pangs of a developing headache, the fragility and deep, deep relief you experience once the migraine has passed. The feeling that, as a “migraineur,” you are part of a sad club you never intended join. The understanding that one person can never really comprehend another’s pain, and the terrible suspicion sometimes harbored by the migraineur and the people around them that maybe the person with the headache is somehow responsible for their own misery. In the parlance of the day, I felt very “seen” reading this book. But there’s another aspect of the book that did not resonate with me at all, and that is the concept of migraine as a force for creativity. The author began to suffer from chronic daily migraine in his 40s, which prompted him to explore the (cultural) history and science behind these pernicious headaches. What he found and held on to (as a way of coming to terms with his own misery) was that artistic and intellectual migraineurs of the past, particularly those with aura, were sometimes able to harness the strange mental states that accompany a migraine and use them for creative purposes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never experienced aura, but I personally have never found any productive force or source of creativity in my migraines. The “mild” ones just make me feel sick and sort of absent, the bad ones are completely incapacitating, and the feeling they leave in their wake is nothing but tentative, exhausted relief. But everyone’s migraine is different (while also kind of the same), and everyone’s approach to their migraine is different (while also kind of the same), so if someone can - or needs to - find some “good” in the agony they regularly experience, then more power to them. I’m just not quite there yet.

Further reading…