I’ve been suffering from a tension headache over the last few days. Headaches are not something I usually get, so it’s been a little unusual to have one.
In searching out some of the causes of headache pain, I discovered that human beings seems to take great pleasure in representing headaches visually. There is a whole sub-genre of visual art produced by migraine sufferers that is some of the most harrowing and despair filled imagery you will see anywhere.
How headaches are represented is fascinating. Headache art and graphics combine a number of elements to give one the sense of what having a headache is all about. These include:
- People holding their heads, or touching their fingertips to their temples
- Cracks in the skull
- Dark colours
- Subject alone in a dark room, perhaps surrounded by light
- Teeth clenched together
- Eyes shut, half shut or covered
When we describe problems as “a headache” several of these images come into play. Sitting in a meeting, with a seemingly unresolvable problem at your feet, described as a headache, people take on these stances; hands rub eyes, eyes close, fingers touching head, frustration captured in clenched teeth, a feeling that we are alone at this moment, unable to see a way out. The problem is focussed in the moment, and the world has collapsed into a small universe, exploding within the cranium. Darkness moves in, hope leaves. Attention shifts to sensations, to coping with the immediate pain of the problem, with no focus on the way out.
Painful as it is, the headache takes the sufferer into an immediate place of total connection with one’s interior. Out of that comes such eloquent expressions or art as migrane paintings, and poems, perhaps the best known of which was Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which was composed on opium with a raging headache.
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