I miss the Buddhists. I did not mean to become a hermit but that, in relative terms, is what I have become.
I find my efforts to ‘go forth’ as the Buddhists frame it rather thwarted, due to chronic migraine and fibromyalgia. Conditions, if they are not of a piece are certainly well matched in that they wait like toads knowing flies will come along, for triggers which may be mild or fierce but will certainly be many, if we do not live in a petri dish free of stimuli, and in, say, a 48 hour period before show time, pile up coyly and become a certainty for pain and disposition. With migraine, say, a single migraine, though mine are rarely so, there is a period known as the prodrome where the discerning migraineur may pick up hints of what is to come. A sudden brief high for no reason, a twinkling of lights or a ‘snow’ effect, and cravings. It used to be thought that chocolate was a trigger for migraine, and foods certainly can be, but the craving itself is now thought to be the issue, it is a trigger, a clue, a portent. With fibro that two day window can also be at play, and while laid up with a pain, a flare up, in any area of the body one can look back and say, well perhaps the yoga was too much, or perhaps that crusty bread, and maybe the delicious and rare time spent with friends, even though I cut it short and behaved like a good servant, the master nevertheless sees fit to punish.
If caught early enough the pain of the migraine can be averted, though for myself, that has taken some time to get any kind of a handle on, and I have spent years isolated crawling up walls, metaphorically, in reality I cannot crawl, merely hide and writhe around on a bed waiting it out. Knowing full well that if I do not get up and eat at regular intervals I will be inviting another hot on the heels of this, and have stared glumly even into quite full fridges with total incomprehension. After this comes the postdrome. A time of exhaustion, and after the pain you’d think the soul would be happy or at least relieved, and although the pain can be severe the short period afterwards can herald a deep and plummeting depression, a state so bad that if the migraines are chronic it is often treated with antidepressants.
I sleep walked my way into this or these conditions. I know that this was some time ago and many doctors were dubious about the very existence of fibro and the necessary treatment of migraines to forestall their becoming chronic was only in it’s infancy. Reader, I was blinkered. I had been prey to headaches, I’d had back problems, phoned in sick for cystitis or diarrhoea quite often, but it was only when I became simply unable to assess work or teach a class that it became evident that this was no cluster of unfortunate unrelated ailments but a kind of a siege waged by my body against my mind. In the battle between the mind and the body, the mind may win over initially, but if it doesn’t pay attention to what the body is telling it then the body will prevail, quite often in dramatic fashion. For me, there was no stretchering out, there was no walking in front of a bus, I simply went to the dentist one day and was asked to put something inside my mouth for the duration of an X-ray. I said I wasn’t happy to do it since my jaw was rather tight, but the technician chivvied me into it. I let her slide a shield into my mouth, the X-ray machine, as promised, briefly moved back and forth a bit like a Xerox machine, and it was done. After the rest of the exam I went home and the next day could not open my mouth. I phoned in sick, and was asked did I want a laptop couriered over so I could work from home, and I said no and went back to sleep. I spent the next six weeks or so rarely leaving my bed. I had the radio or television on, but just for company, I couldn’t follow a programme. I have no idea how I shopped or ate, the time is something of a blur to me. It was, of course, the beginning of the end of my ordinary life. It was fortuitous indeed that I had already asked for a transfer from the flat I was living in and that a likely contender came up before the full horror of the summer, where in John Fisher Street, my entirely south facing flat became an oven, and the playground outside a wall of noise for the duration every year. I landed, as it happens, in Bethnal Green, within crawling distance of London Buddhist Centre.