A tea towel on my face and a starburst in my eyes

I am currently reading A Brain Wider Than The Sky: A Migraine Diary by Andrew Levy. He talks alot about aura, which is understandable given that he has aura.

I don’t have aura. Or at least I never thought I did. I just have pain. Blind pain. Dull pain. Burning pain. Permeating pain. Pain that I wouldn’t describe as throbbing, thumping, pulsating like most people describe  theirs. Just grabbing, clutching pain. There is also nausea, confusion, anger and depressive thoughts. But never aura.

But then again maybe there always has been and it’s just not the usual aura. The only time I ever thought I might actually have had an aura experience was less than a year ago. I was driving (I. Know. Excellent timing.), and all of a sudden there was this weird blur, or silvery shimmer, in my vision. It was in my right eye, listing to the right, and covered maybe a 3rd of my vision in that eye. It had a distinct shape, kind of like a stretched out South America on a map. It was gone in a few blinks.

A few weeks later I asked my doctor if she thought it might be a side affect of the Topomax I was trying (That’s a whole other post. Long story short, I’m no longer on it). She said “Well maybe, but do you realise you just described an aura?” No, no I did not. I couldn’t recall if my little vision event preceded a migraine, but it doesn’t really matter. Aura doesn’t really work that simply after all. I am now fairly certain it was an aura, and there are probably more to come. I’ll just add that to the list of symptoms that have changed or appeared since I turned 30 (another post on that soon too).

Any way, all this is to say that I have since been thinking a lot about the past 30 years and what might have constituted an aura that I have missed. This is somewhat complicated by my strong symptoms of having a sleep disorder (such as narcolepsy…a sleep study sort of ruled it out but didn’t). There are lots of questions to consider. What if something might have been an aura, but was actually a hypnagogic hallucination? Or a sleep deprived “ordinary” hallucination? Or just my overactive imagination? Or the epilepsy my sister displays but which was also ruled out for me? Co-morbidity is a complex beast.

Anyway, the only other strong example I can think of is from when I was very, very young. Maybe 5 years old. Maybe even younger. I remember being fascinated with dreams and thinking that if I tried hard enough I could give myself a dream. I laid in an armchair with my Dad and my brother nearby, they were preoccupied with the TV. I laid a tea towel over my face to stimulate the night. I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes shut really tight and concentrated. After a little bit, the black of my inner eyelids turned to a blue black and bursts of starlight came into my eyes. I concentrated harder and I started to hear the tinkling of Miss Kim’s magic mirror music on our local children’s TV show, Romper Room (and Dad had been watching the news! Was this success?). Then my brother Tommy’s tiny hand touched my knee and started me awake from my concentrated dream-state and I recall a feeling of bitter disappointment…the same one I feel to this day if I wake as I’m about to bite a cheeseburger in my dreams.

Those star bursts speak strongly of aura to me…but they could have been a dream. Or maybe I just held my breath in concentration and damn near passed out.

Regardless, aura remains a mystery to me. The only symptom that tells me a migraine might be coming is tension in my shoulders. But I also get that from hunching at my work desk, sleeping in a tight ball and just generally moving around in the world. A warning system like aura could be useful, but then again the ability to drive without a silver South America blocking your vision is also quite handy.


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