There are a lot of fucked-up medical and psychological conditions out there. You don’t even have to stray outside the commonplace to find unenviable afflictions like PTSD, testicular cancer and male-pattern baldness. But when you get to the really wacky shit–like people who hiccough for years on end or have whatever it was that the Elephant Man had–it can be downright horrible. And then there are the maladies that nobody sees–the crazy phobias, crippling personality disorders and ultra-weirdo shit like exploding head syndrome.
Yes, exploding head syndrome. It’s not nearly as spectacular as it sounds, and most likely won’t stain your upholstery with skull fragments, blood and grey matter. According to Wikipedia:
Exploding head syndrome is a form of hypnagogic auditory hallucination in which the sufferer sometimes experiences a sudden loud noise coming from within their own head. The noise is brief and is usually likened to an explosion, roar, gunshot, door slamming, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of electrical arcing (buzzing).
This noise usually happens at the onset of sleep or within an hour or two of falling asleep, but is not necessarily the result of a dream. Although the sound is perceived as extremely loud, it is usually not accompanied by pain
This more-than-slightly-fucked-up affliction was once virtually unknown, but recently has begun receiving media attention, not least for its ridiculousness. Seriously, exploding head syndrome? Sounds fake.
At least, that’s what I would have said if I hadn’t suffered from exploding head syndrome myself. It came and went over a period of several months in 2001-2002. EHS is thought to result from stress, and a reader, noting that this period dates roughly from 9/11, might be forgiven for thinking that the greatest American tragedy in my lifetime might play a part in the onset of this disorder. I don’t believe it did; I had quite enough stress in my life during those days to do the trick.
The first time it happened, it was terrifying. I was lying in bed on the edge of sleep when I was brought fully awake by a tiny sensation in my head. This is the hardest thing to articulate, because although I could not see or hear this sensation, it possessed both color and sound. It began as a tight, tiny white ball that roared like the ocean and then quickly began to grow, becoming louder and brighter (still without me being able to hear or see it) until the whole of my world was that roaring white nothingness, and then suddenly it was gone. The closest comparable experience I can cite is orgasm, but without all the fun.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Was I having a stroke? Was I dying? While I was quickly able to eliminate those two possibilities, I could never determine what was happening to me. For several months the strange sensation would strike just as I was falling asleep. I never saw a doctor about the problem–it didn’t occur to me that anyone else would have this bizarre issue, and I sensed even then that the problem was (pun very much intended) “all in my head.”
After a few months the problem went away, and I didn’t think about it for several years, until I first heard mention of exploding head syndrome. Since then, I’ve heard it mentioned with some frequency, but this is marks first time I’ve mentioned my experience to anyone other than my wife. You want to know the crazy thing? I’ve never had a headache in my life.