Friday, May 13, 2011


Here's my story, painted within the lines of a typical High School afternoon; these were the secrets I was too afraid to share because I thought no one would understand. But, if other people hadn't shared their stories, I would still think that I am alone.

I forced out a short laugh and pulled my lips back into a convincing smile as I waved goodbye to my friends from across the parking lot. I had already made up an excuse for missing practice and they all thought I was headed off to do something important. I brought my head around and as soon as I was facing my car door, I dropped my act. Once inside I let out a long sigh, and crushed my palm into the side of my head. I took those first few long-awaited seconds to acknowledge the pain and then I switched my grip from my head to my steering wheel. My hands wanted to tremble as I turned my keys in the ignition. The multitude of key chains bumped into my hand, steadied it and I watched the attached lanyard fall to the floor of the car.

Once I had given in, it took every ounce of conscious thought I had to perform these tasks. I took a deep breath in and looked up. Releasing the brake and turning my head, I slowly backed out of my parking spot. I struggled to keep my breathing steady. I wasn’t out of the parking lot yet and I told myself it wasn’t quite time to give in completely. My nostrils searched for the air freshener I had hanging from my rearview mirror. So sensitive to even the slightest distasteful scent, an unpleasant smell would cause my stomach to churn even more. And for some reason my stomach had the ability to send unconsoling throbs through my brain. Or was it the other way around? Was it the sick brainwaves that sent the stirring and brewing of nausea? The midsummer night yankee candle scent was definitely neutral enough to not add to the equation. To be spared from my sports bag, wet cleats or this morning’s lunch made the drive all that much easier.

It was days like this when I was grateful my mom had moved five miles from school. With my hands gripped tight on the steering wheel and my life passing by in slow motion, I pushed the speed-limit to get home faster. I let the hum of the engine be the only sound to penetrate my blissful silence and didn’t turn on the radio. I’m not sure if it was more my want of silence or the inability to release my grip and fumble with the buttons that kept me from turning on music. I kept my stare ahead; every few seconds I told my eyes to blink my vision back into focus from behind my dark sunglasses. The sun was always so bright at three in the afternoon. Of course it was. It was never an overcast day the afternoon I needed it to be

When I reached home I was snapped back into action by the gentle jolt of a complete stop. I pushed my shifter into park and twisted the engine off. I didn’t remember to pull the keys out of the ignition; I was out of the door and slowly climbing the stairs to my porch. I could hear my dog’s nails clicking across the kitchen as he trotted to the other side of the front door. He had obviously heard my car pull up and was eager to greet me. I opened the door, and he back-stepped to make room in our tiny kitchen. He looked up at me with his cliché brown puppy dog eyes and opened his mouth. The familiar greeting was the only thing that afternoon that provoked a real but still strained smile from me, and I reached down to rub his head. The sudden movement made me dizzy, and I fell the rest of the way to the floor. This was the greatest moment of the day. I had made it home. My dog bent his head down and stuck his nose into my side. He wormed his snout under my open hand and nudged it upward; reminding me that it had been on its way to pet him. I feebly tried to reach up to him but I couldn’t find where he was with my eyes shut so tightly. My fingers grazed his leg before hitting the floor again. “I’m so sorry” I tried to whisper.

Accepting the fact that I wasn’t going to move, he too sat down with a thud and then slowly slid his front paws forward. He watched me for a few minutes and then delicately placed his head on his crossed paws without releasing his un-judging stare. I was ready to bask in the gloom of our ill-lit kitchen. I let my face press against the cool smooth linoleum. The stiff cold felt good, the pressure from the solid floor counteracted the pressure coming from inside my skull. I reach one hand up and applied pressure to the other side. It was as if I were trying to squeeze the pain out. I was treating it as something tangible, but I couldn’t quite wrap my fingers around it and get a solid grip. My other arm reached around my stomach and gently wished away the nausea. Maybe its presence would keep my lunch down.

My knees, hips and shoulders were uncomfortable digging into the hard floor but I didn’t move. I laid like that in a daze, as tears started to leak out of the corners of my eyes. The heat stung the side of my face and splashed onto the floor. I pulled my fingers back through my disheveled hair as I caught a sob in my throat. I thought back longingly to the memories I no longer had, memories from over six years ago when this wasn’t my typical afternoon routine. When nothing came to me, I pulled all my thoughts back to the center of the pain. The sharp piercing throbs made every muscle in my body twinge and contract. The center of the pain was easy to pinpoint but the radiation that expanded encompassed my whole head. It seared around and through; it cuts like a blade through the center, dividing my left hemisphere from my right, destroying their communication and the unity of my cognitive mind set. My thoughts become fragmented and lost in the chaos. When it became too much I let the pain overtake me. I drifted off into a hazy semi-consciousness. I don’t know if I was asleep or awake, aware or completely cut off from reality.

The sudden movements of my dog, as he clamors to his feet and slips on the floor, brought me back to my surroundings. He didn’t vocally make any noise. Unable to get past my disconnected body sprawled across the floor, he perked his ears towards the door to announce my mother standing outside the door watching the scene through the window. I still hadn’t moved my head, but I could picture the scene perfectly. I knew the pause was her deep breath before she opened the door. It was the breath that released her frustration and stress from work and the breath that prepared her to walk into the house and deal with her daughter who looked unconscious on the kitchen floor. She already knew what was wrong but it didn’t make it any easier for her. A twang of guilt coursed through my body as I wondered if she ever wished I wouldn’t land in such an inconvenient place. Did she wish she didn’t have to come home to this? “I’m so sorry” I tried to whisper.

I struggled with these debilitating headaches for over 7 years. The neurologist called them "chronic daily headaches" but that title just makes them sound tame. To be honest with you, I don't think they really had a name for them. I've done my research; there is a whole extended family of headaches, each fourth-cousin with a unique origins and different symptoms. I never found any descriptions matching my case. Call it chronic daily headaches or call me a medical mystery, it doesn't matter.
They are a prominent part of my past and still a piece of my life. Every once in a while I feel that aching, then piercing, disorienting nausea that sweeps through my entire consciousness. I am still haunted by the memory of what they used to be. Every muscle in my body tenses when I catch a glimpse of the past and what seemed to be my probable future. It would be lying to say that I'm not scared, of course I'm scared. But, on a greater level I have learned to let go of my fear. I've learned to not let my fear dictate my life. And when the pain comes, I only allow myself to focus on the pain and the end of the pain; I don't let myself get lost in that hopeless thought that the pain might not go away. There is an end to pain.

I share my story as a testimony of hope. Maybe not hope for a cure, but hope for a better life; for the alleviation of suffering, not the elimination of the cause.
Maybe all of our symptoms lead to a conclusion other than a diagnosis. The idea that something needs to change, and maybe that something is us. We need to have a little more faith, a little more patience, a little more caution but a little less fear.

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