How to Use Fantasy to Get Through the Pain

I have been dealing with a migraine for the past three days. In the hopes of avoiding three-day migraine attacks in the future, I’ve been tracking the ups and downs of my pain over the past few days. I hope by doing so I can see the patterns and shorten my attacks in the future.

At the same time, I’ve been working on a photo book of my trip to Portugal. One of the places we visited, the Quinta da Regaleira, has become the new metaphor for my migraine.

This castle, outside of Lisbon in Sintra, is truly remarkable. I don’t have time to unpack all the stories that surround this place and its landscape of underground tunnels, gothic architecture, and symbols put there by the eccentric millionaire owner. I will say that the rumor that J.K. Rowling got her inspiration for Harry Potter here is definitely believable.

The experience of visiting the initiation well had me thinking about my migraine this week. The well is an inverted tower, open in the middle with a spiral of stairs around the outside. At the bottom is a star with alternating light and dark points. Our guide told us that it was meant to show the balance between light and dark, though others say it’s a Masonic symbol.


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At the bottom, we continued on — not back up the stairs as we had come — but out through the tunnels beneath the gardens above. We easily found our way through the darkness with her leading by the light of her cell phone, but reading other’s accounts there is actually a labyrinth below the earth that leads to false exits and locked gates. This especially reminded me of my migraine, as I thought I was done with it numerous times over the past few days, only to find the familiar pain starting again as I was left trying to find a new way past it.

In the end, we came through the darkness to a waterfall opening to a small green pond. On the other side, there were smaller stairs leading us to a bridge and then back up to the main path. To get across we had to walk across a line of stones.

As our guide explained, we had proceeded from the light into the darkness and back out into the light again through different stages. Metaphorically, we had to go through the darkness to get to Paradise. Supposedly this does have something to do with the Masons and an initiation ceremony, but she didn’t mention that. I imagine the history has been revised a bit for tourists.

In any case, it was a really cool experience. I felt like a kid again, circling around the stairs, looking up from the bottom, and walking through the darkness of the tunnel out into that watery open clearing. Thinking about it as I proceeded through the stages of my migraine from first twinge to full attack and then slowly coming to the surface again, it has helped me see the journey of my migraine attack in a new way.

How about you? Do you ever use metaphor to find your way through pain or a tough experience? Have you ever heard of Quinta da Regaleira or visited it? Where have you been that sticks with you?

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  1. Jayne SMABL

    What a fab way to distract yourself from the pain. I used to suffer with terrible migraines when I was younger. I knew as soon as the flashing zigzags (aura) were visible, I was in for a rough time!

    Thanks ever so much for sharing with #MMBC.

  2. RaisieBay

    This reminds me of something I learnt many years ago and use for my migraines. It’s called the medicine room and I close my eyes and imagine climbing down some stairs to a room, with a beautiful view, which leads out on to beautiful gardens and a pool with lovely warm water to soak in and admire the view. It’s completely imaginary (oh my if it only did exist, you’d never take me away) but the vision helps me to take my mind of the pain and feel better and I’ve been doing it for so long I have no trouble summoning up the vision.. I hope you are feeling better now.

    • Catherine Lanser

      That reminds me of a meditation recording I used to do listen to too. I don’t remember what exactly it was, but I imagined going down stairs and into a place to similar to what you mention. Then I walked outside and I always imagined a beautiful cliff. I haven’t thought about that in a long time!

    • Catherine Lanser

      Thank you. It makes it a little bit more about the journey and puts a little less focus on any one moment in time, no matter what it feels like.

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