I think that when we are children our brains must be flexible. Then, as we grow older, we lose the ability to mould and manipulate them at will.
New Age gurus tell us all the time that we create our own reality with our thinking, but we look at our intractable environments and circumstances, and we know better. Even when we crave enlightenment and wish to believe, even when we pay lip service, something deep down inside us goes: 'Oh yeah?' as we regard the physical world, which shows no immediate sign of shifting according to our desires. Our bodies seem almost as intractable as the rest of the physical world. We believe we can change them by what we put in them or how much we exercise them, but that's likely to be a long, hard road.
When I was seven, though, I could create illness on purpose, not by faking it, not by doing something physical like eating green plums or deliberately falling over, but with my mind. I did it only once that I remember, but maybe it happened more often and I just suppressed it. Maybe, really, we are all doing it unconsciously all the time, just as the gurus say.
Hang on, why would people make themselves sick? Who would want to?
When I was seven, there was a lot to be gained. It could get me off school and bring me lovely, welcome attention. My Mum would go all soft and kind, and she'd run around trying to get me things I wanted and feed me food I liked. It was a good lurk.
I suffered from migraines as a child. It was the most excruciating pain. I would scream with it, and writhe. Mum would phone the doctor at once. They made house calls then. I had to lie in a darkened room with a wet washcloth over my eyes, while everyone tiptoed around me — because at those times I couldn't stand noise; it reverberated through my head. The pain was real; I didn't set out consciously to create it, not as a rule. But I did like the feeling when finally the pain wore itself out and subsided. There was blissful calm then; I was rag doll relaxed.
So there came this morning when I woke with only a sliver of headache. I don't remember what gave me the idea — perhaps my Mum saying something like, 'Oh, it doesn't seem to be such a bad one today. Maybe you could go to school after all.' I did NOT want to go to school. I was the bookworm, the dreamer, with poor coordination and no puff. I was good at lessons and bad at sport, a recipe for unpopularity. Play times were miserable for me. I was either teased or ostracised. I'd much rather stay home — in my parents' bed, which is where she put me in the daytime if I was sick. It was a big bed, with fat, soft pillows. It felt luxurious. I could snooze and dream, or daydream, and if I felt a little better as the day wore on, I could read. Reading and dreaming (both kinds) were favourite pastimes. Sometimes they would shade into each other.
I don't know how it occurred to me to try, and I don't even know how to describe the mechanics of it now, but I did a thing with my brain, on purpose, to make the pain worse. I intensified it with my will: not pretending, but really. If I just pretended, I might fool the doctor but I was sure I wouldn't fool my mother.
All I can say is that I did it with willpower and concentration, and with visualisation. I didn't, of course, know the word 'visualisation' when I was only seven, and not for many years after that, but it's what I did. I made a picture in my mind of the side of my brain — not an anatomically correct picture, but something I imagined. I pictured it sort of shrinking in at that spot, tightening, and then exploding outwards in a blaze of light. This was what migraines felt like to me. Sure enough, by my own efforts I soon had the intense pain and the swirling, psychedelic colours. That's another word none of us knew back then, psychedelic, but the visual effects that accompany migraines are like that — in a dizzying, nauseous, horrible way that fractures your thinking. Impossible to have a coherent thought when you've got that combination of agony and wild, gyrating colours going on in your head. If I concentrated to create the migraine, I certainly couldn't concentrate after I'd got it! (I remember one time when I was older, I got one at school, and when the teacher asked me where I lived I couldn't even focus my thoughts enough to be able to tell her.)
Magick, I learned much later in life, is done with willpower and intention. Visualisation is often involved, too. I suppose it was a kind of magick that I did — even, perhaps, a kind of black magick, as it created pain and served a selfish purpose for me.
Both my mother and the doctor were completely fooled. Well, why wouldn't they be? I had created a real migraine, a full throttle, no-holds-barred, hum-dinger of a migraine. It was so severe that at first the doctor thought it might be meningitis. There was talk of tests, and of taking me to hospital. I was dimly aware of that conversation, behind my wall of pain. In the end, the young doctor decided to wait and come back in the evening to see if the pain had subsided at all.
I can still remember that young doctor, with his very black hair, his long nose and his navy blue suit. I didn't like him, for the excellent reason that he was not dear old Dr MacDonald, whom I loved. Dr Mac had a crinkled face, kind, rheumy eyes, and wore an old brown jacket with leather patches at the elbows. His voice was gentle and he thought I was a dear little girl. He was almost like family. But he was busy and old, and so he'd taken a second doctor into the practice.
Dr Turnbull had a brisk, business-like voice and manner. He sounded a trifle nasal. My parents thought he was excellent, and very kind, but I compared him with Dr Mac and could see no good in him. We judge differently at seven.
Later he went into politics. His full name, Wikipedia tells me now, was Reginald John David Turnbull, but he was always known by his nickname of Spot. Did it refer to some mark on his face? I used to think so, but I'm not sure now. Between 1946 and 1974, he served first in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and then as a Federal Senator. He started with Labour and became an Independent. He also served as Mayor of Launceston from 1964 to 1965. He was born in 1908 and died in 2006.
I can remember my Dad calling him 'Spot'. He became a friend of my Dad's, though not a close mate. He sometimes came to my parents' parties. Older then, I realised that he was in fact a nice, kind man. But I wasn't impressed at seven.
He was mightily impressed with me. I did such a good job with my self-created migraine that he really did fear it might be meningitis. I think it was only Mum telling him that I was prone to migraines which made him wait to be certain. It's a dangerous condition. I think nowadays a child would be rushed to hospital straight away, no messing about. But it was not of course meningitis, and that was evident when he came back that night to check on me.
I gave myself a fright at how convincing I'd been. It's one thing to create a condition in your body, another to keep control of it afterwards. For all I knew, I might indeed have produced meningitis. Not that I had ever heard of that before, but I knew from the adults' hushed voices and grave expressions that it was a very serious thing. And it might mean going to hospital! No thanks. Staying home and being pampered for a day was good; going off to hospital to be looked after by nurses I didn't even know instead of my Mum, that held no appeal.
Did I try to scale down my symptoms? I don't know. It seems likely, but I only remember creating the condition, not modifying it later. I never did it again, not consciously. The successful exercise of power is a scary thing.