The Variable Pace of Time

I’ve been forced into reflecting on the variability of time this last couple of days.

I’m a basically healthy person, but one who suffers from headaches; some migraine, some linked to an injured neck and some entirely self induced.  The final category are the easiest to deal with: by not having that extra glass of wine; the middle type respond to massage and manipulation, but the migraine are impossible to predict and have always been equally difficult to treat; they must simply be endured.

Over the years I’ve consulted a number of doctors, but they merely confirm how little the headache is understood.  Broadly the medics rely on how the patient describes the experience: is it throbbing or piercing?  Is it fixed or does it move? A tight band around the forehead or a hoop from neck to brow?  Associated with disturbed vision or nausea?

I’m relatively fortunate in that the migraines occur only once or twice a year, and after a surreal and alarming experience of attempted medical treatment at a polyclinic in Moscow when I was living there, I have avoided any kind of pharmaceutical intervention ever since, and accept the disabling effects of the condition and retire to bed on the days when it hits.

I had one such attack a few days ago and had to spend 24 hours completely out of action, lying with the curtains closed, trying to relax.  It is in the half life of being neither awake nor asleep that time becomes infinitely elastic.  Total silence seemed to stretch interminably, so Radio 4 was my sole companion, and as always it lulled me to a sort of doziness that didn’t feel like sleep, but which must have been because whole hours passed between one moment of concious listening and the next.

I dipped in and out, simply letting those smooth Radio voices wash over me: the news, bits of a James Bond dramatisation, weather, a quiz: little bits stuck, but not much, as Radio 4 yielded to the World Service after the short burst of National Anthem.

I wonder what other circumstances would make me still for such a long period of time, while being so little aware of it?  When would I go without food or drink for more than 36 hours without missing either, when, in fact, the contemplation of both is equally impossible?

I do wonder where my brain ‘goes’ during these periods.  It’s almost as if everything shuts down apart from the most basic minimum, and no thinking is possible; everything is focussed on endurance.

On a normal day, I am always doing something, and although I have a great affinity for day dreaming and staring out of the window generally, I am always broadly aware of the time and how long I have been doing something; I’m aware of the hours passing, mealtimes and appointments.  Even when I am concentrating deeply and experience that ‘where did the time go?’ feeling, it is nothing like the complete disassociation of a migraine.

So my awareness of time isn’t as robust as perhaps I’d like to think.  But it’s planted a tiny seed in the corner of my mind for a little short story….. so maybe it is true what they say about clouds and silver linings.

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