The Pathology Of Nerve Storms

I stumbled upon the title of this blogpost, an arcane description of the class of headache known as migraine, in a recent New York Review Of Books review of Hallucinations, the new book from contemporary neuroscientist Oliver Sacks. The phrase comes from a rare, Victorian Era (1873) medical book, which inspired Sacks early thinking on migraines.

Do Migraines Reveal Beauty?

As a long term migraine sufferer the review caught my attention. I’m familiar with the tricks migraines can play on our sight, the patterns and spots we see before the peak of a migraine’s pain. These are called migraine aura. Until reading this review it had never occurred to me these are actually a form of waking hallucination.

And, more tellingly, it seems these patterns are not random at all. They emerge from deep in the brain and share geometric ancestry with other natural patterns, based on the Fibonacci equation, like the shape of shells, snowflakes and the patterns of turbulent water and some chemical reactions.

This idea is quite provocative really. Does the emergence of these patterns in migraine-induced hallucination suggest we are hardwired to see such shapes ? Are we born with a code for beauty, with some basic rules of composition written into our brains?

Migraines And Lightning

Living in Singapore I’ve had a lot of migraines, more than I can remember having anywhere since I left Australia. In my teens I tended to assume migraines were at least partly connected to summer. In fact, I first started to discover what migraines were while reading up on heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

However, the heat in Delhi dwarves much of what I experienced in Singapore. The late monsoon equals the muggiest of Singapore days and the height of summer, when the temperatures soar into the mid-40s is really something else. And, I’ve seen plenty of other hot days on my travels over the years without experiencing pain.

It transpires there may be a connection between migraines and electrical storms (Lightning May Cause Headaches and Lightning Increases Migraine Likelihood, New Study Claims or at least a connection to sudden changes in barometric pressure (When Weather Makes Migraines Worse).

I’ve certainly noticed a correlation here, where thunder and lightening is commonplace. My most vivid experience was an afternoon of searing pain as a storm approached, then a sudden burst of clarity and peace just as huge peals of thunder burst overhead and passed. It seems to me the build up to the storm, rather than the storm itself is the culprit.

But, of course, I’m not a scientist. Maybe this is just auto-suggestion. However, I’d be fascinated to know if anyone else feels a connection between actual storms and mind storms and even more interested to learn if migraines do reveal templates for artistic and visual beauty that exist deep within our minds.

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  • Paul Fox - 2nd May 2013

    I’ve had migraines for over 20 years. Usually at least one per month on average. My mother gets them really bad and used to have to take prescription medicine. Mine have not been quite as intense but their regularity and resistance to allot of over the counter meds back when I first started having them, gave me my fair share of trouble.

    As I have gotten older they have grown in slight intensity and duration. Today I have found that some specialized over-the-counter meds are effective. Advil and Excedrin Migraine both work on occasion, but sometimes not. Since neither of these are available in Hong Kong pharmacies, I usually stock up on big bottles from Wal-mart whenever I head over to the states.

    Trips to the doctor have really revealed little insight other than that there seems to be an aspect of heredity that applies (my mother has them, I have them, but out intensities are quite different). I have tried to notice correlations to storms, heat, humidity, work, stress, and even diet, but nothing really adds up.

    When they hit I can usually feel them coming and attempt to intervene with some quick med application, but this doesn’t always work. Once it is going full out, all I want is an ice-pack and a cool dark room to try to sleep in. If I am lucky, it will be gone when I awaken. If not then I may have to deal through two or even three days of the intensity levels going back and forth.

    • Fernando Gros - 10th May 2013

      Hey Paul – thanks for sharing your experience. I find, if taken early enough, Ibuprofen Lysine (i.e., Nurofen Migraine) often helps me. Though often the only effective treatment is hours in a dark, quiet room.

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In his Tokyo studio Fernando combines his life-long passions for art and technology. On the road, he is always looking to take the next wrong turn, just to see what kind of images and stories might unfold. A photographer and writer, with a background in music, Fernando has lived in Chile, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Read More.


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