It's not uncommon for a person suffering from a migraine to complain of a headache lasting for weeks with only occasional relief. It's also not uncommon for a migraine sufferer to say that no treatment works perfectly every time. Either way, a person suffering from a migraine isn't treated the same way as someone with a more outwardly noticeable illness.
In A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary
, Andrew Levy explores the migraine headache from numerous aspects, blending observations of migraine-inspired art and music, while in the same book discussing how migraine fits the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and biblical parables. Included within the pages of the 214-page book (not including 75 pages for notes and the bibliography) are information about famous migraineurs, possible forms of treatment and why some of them don't exactly work, and how Levy himself coped with his chronic migraines despite the responsibilities of marriage, work and fatherhood.
Levy says that his book was about wanting to "change the cultural profile of headaches." What he is saying is that there is a disconnection between those who suffer from migraines and those who don't. In his book, Levy challenges those who don't suffer from migraines to understand that a migraine can be as debilitating as any other chronic disease, yet doesn't receive the same amount of treatment, compassion or crusading for social awareness. Levy says he wrote this book as an attempt to change that.
As Levy says, "It's a cultural problem more than a medical one."
Through this book, Levy attempts to explore how his migraines make him the man that he is, while also hypothesizing about how chronic migraines affected the work, personalities and the creative minds of individuals such as Sigmund Freud, Alexander Pope and Joan Didion. Levy even includes many authors' quotes on headaches as the epigraphs of his chapters, often setting up his own story and migraine research with a witty statement from Mark Twain or Virginia Woolf.
One of the most fascinating chapters includes a reframing of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
. Much has been said about the possible hallucinogen references in that book, but Levy instead decides to reframe it as Carroll writing subconsciously about the migraine symptoms he suffered.
This book is fascinating for those who don't experience debilitating, life-altering headaches because it offers a glimpse into the life and history of the migraine through the eyes of a man who has experienced them. For those who do experience migraines, Levy offers a deeper understanding of how a migraine works, while also connecting sufferers with those in history who likely endured the torments of a relentless migraine. In doing this, Levy assures his readers that they are not alone in their pain.
This book offers something for everyone, even those who have never experienced a migraine and all that comes with it. Levy manages to sound almost conversational throughout, even when describing potentially boring topics such as treatment possibilities. His work often reads like some friend or family member telling you all about the effects of his nasty migraine.
At the same time, his literary attention to detail is something to be admired, often attempting to bring his readers into the center of the migraine nerve storm.