Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I have cluster headaches. I guess I may have inherited them from my father, though it was only later, after his death, that I learned about that from my sister. The headaches typically come in series. When a series starts, the headaches come regularly--you can almost set your clock by the time of their daily arrival. They are incredibly intense, like someone driving an axe through your head, and they attack one full side of the head--brain, temples, eyes and nose (they both get clogged and runny), teeth, mouth, jaw. Typically, again, they are of identical duration: I'm fortunate in that mine have usually been of short duration--an hour or so--and this series even shorter than before, from onset to the end of the actual headache, about thirty minutes. But then there's the "aura", a kind of pre- and post-headache echo, where the shadow lurks between times, leaving you in a state where the memory of the pain--and its anticipation--are almost as bad as the pain itself.

What's curious--and frankly a bit worrisome--about this current series is that the attacks have been irregular. It started about ten days ago, with a couple of violent hits. Then nothing for a couple more days, but more hits at the weekend. Since Saturday, the aura has been with me in attenuated form, but not a single headache, until this morning, when I woke just after six with the awareness that one was coming on. Again, the acute part lasted barely more than thirty minutes. Again, I sit with the aura and the anxiety. Why, this time, are the attacks less regular than usual? I've had them at nine at night, at three in the morning, and now at six. (Is there something about multiples of three's?)

If you're anything like me, when something like this strikes your mind grabs a hold of it and starts imagining the worst. I try to stay in touch with the teachings of the Buddha and remind myself that the mind is capable of creating wonderful delusions. This morning, I sat and watched the headache in action as I meditated, and I think that helped--though the pain was of course a powerful distraction. It's hard to watch that pain and simply tell myself that it is what it is, just pain, just another experience that the mind can either capitulate to or observe with a measure of equanimity, without getting attached. I understand that the attachment itself will simply add to the experience of the pain, but the mind does so badly want to get its hooks into everything it can!

Anyway, I'm relieved that this current headache is on the wane. I'd be interested to hear from other cluster sufferers, if you're out there, especially from those who have experienced the irregularity I have described. Meantime, I'll be spending the full day teaching for the next couple of days, so I may find it hard to find time for The Buddha Diaries. We'll see...


John Torcello said...


Can't say I have the experience; but,wishing you the best in regards to your painful malady.


Pete Hoge said...

I am eternally frustrated by
the Minds own obstinacy, having
a "mind" of it's own.


mandt said...

pain is an incredibly astute 'lesson' for Buddhist practitioners, because it robs us of control over our sanity. We realize that letting go is not an act of will. It is so difficult to let go of pain, my heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

I've suffered from migraines starting with eye floaters than the headache, usually occurring in the area just behind the forehead. It was suggested to give the pain a shape than a color and then see the pain as an object. Picture the object moving from side to side in your head until you place it on the surface of your body than step back leaving the pain outside of your body and gone from you.

robin andrea said...

Peter, my twin brother used to suffer from cluster headaches, but many years ago they simply stopped. My mom worked for the California Medical Clinic for Headaches for fifteen years. The doctor at the clinic had suffered from cluster headaches, which was what spurred him to specialize. He has since retired, but his son has taken over the practice. If you are interested, you might want to contact Dr. David Kudrow. He's in the Los Angeles area. There might be some interventions you can try that will stop the headaches, mitigate the pain, and/or minimize the after-affects.

Good luck with it. I hope you are feeling better.

Gary said...

No pain is welcome but the seasons are sometimes
triggers when combined with Vodka and travel. I got this from a brain Doc friend I've known for 30 years who works at Mayo.

He says it's hypothalamus and barometric pressure/humidity related. This is the only kind of headache that is related to these factors. He has them too and eliminates his occasional double martini when the seasons change. When he fly's
then goes to the steam room each day or when in dry LA to get moisture in his lungs.

We all experience the dry mouth thing on flights. I once got an martini and dry mouth headache on a flight to China that caused me more pain than a bullet wound.

The good old south west "where the desert meets the sea" and Santa Ana winds loft with force the complex pollens in the great American deserts that may not have been inhaled for years.

I sure hope you can break the cycle and find peace.

Cliff Ageloff said...

I am in the middle of a nasty cycle myself and have had some relief with Zomig aerosol spray, 5 MG. Without aborting, mine hit around 11 PM during a sound sleep and last 3 - 4 hours, leaving me exhausted. The Zomig aerosol (6 hits, about $200 - ouch but so WORTH it!)a 'scrip works in 8 - 10 mins inhaled nasally. I started on the oral Zomig but the 90 minute response time was too long ans I was losing to much sleep. After the aero, I rolled over in bed and fell right back to sleep. For what its worth...good luck to you and get into a new healthy cycle soon.

Robin said...

If we can change pain, reduce it, that's the best.

If not, do try this method.

If we cannot change pain, how about changing our perception of pain. After all human being is make up of the 5 skandas.

Pain need not be viewed as suffering. If pain is viewed neither pleasant nor unpleasant, it would make so much difference.

By changing our perception of pain, we can make it more tolerable.

Try it!