“Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly. And if left unresolved for very long, you can almost forget that you were ever created to fly in the first place.” ~William P. Young, The Shack
I believe that my threshold for pain is high and strong. Being female, I think that automatically gives me an extra boost of pain tolerance, but I know that stereotype is not always accurate. Most of the time. I have been keeping a journal of sorts for my chiropractor for quite some time now, chronicling the ongoing saga that involves my hip, my toe, my pinky, and now my headaches. Recently I have begun to think about how accurate my journal actually is, because I suspect that I temper the severity of any physical complaint much of the time. I might say that the toe has been great for days, but if I am 100% honest then I would have to say that it has been mostly great but with brief periods of numbness. I could say all that, but I usually don’t. It isn’t that I set out to lie to my chiropractor…I suppose I am just conditioned to downplay my own aches and pains, although I am getting better at acknowledging the truth. Sometimes.
I have been plagued with headaches for a few weeks now. There are certainly people who suffer more with headaches than I do, even in my most recent state. My head, on most days recently, is not too terribly bad. It is rare that my head is actually pounding, but the ache is persistent, steady, and exhausting. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being my head has exploded and 1 being virtually pain-free, I would rate my headache, on most days, around a 3 or 4. That doesn’t seem too bad, right? But even an extra strength ibuprofen can’t get rid of the headache.
But this blog post really isn’t about my headaches, although the headaches are certainly the catalyst behind it. On Thursday, the headache was almost debilitating. It was stronger, maybe a 6, and it left me exhausted and in a mess of a mental meltdown. The meltdown is what this post is actually about.
Even as my head hurt and I felt too exhausted to do anything on Thursday, I also felt as if my very existence was in chaos. It seemed as if my life was wasted. I was in despair over my perceived bleak prospects and the obstacles in life that would forever be in my way. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, and I suddenly had no idea who I wanted to be or how I would ever be able to get to the me that I might want to be. I may have been completely exhausted, but I was restless, driven to do something with my life before it passed me by, even though I couldn’t figure out what that something might be. I wasn’t joking when I said that I was in a mess of a mental meltdown! It was not a pretty sight!
I woke up Friday morning, early for work, and my head was down to a 1 or 2. I went to work, stressed a little bit, applied peppermint oil to the base of my skull like a madwoman in a desperate attempt to keep the headache from climbing beyond the 3 it had already risen to, and wound up having an okay day. I went to the gym, talked a fair bit with my coach about my knee, did some box squats before deciding that the knee wasn’t feeling quite right, finished my session and left feeling okay. The headache kicked it up a couple of notches before I went to bed last night, but my sanity was back in place where it belonged.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between those two days. The headache was slightly stronger on Thursday, but it still wasn’t the typical pounding, throbbing sort of headache that inspires fear and trembling and a run on pain killers. This might not make sense to anyone but me when I say that Thursday’s headache reminded me of my headaches in the many months after I was rear-ended and when I was diagnosed as being mildly depressed. Immediately after and for several weeks following being rear-ended, the headache was intense and sharp; however, beyond that I had a headache that would not stop for months and months, like I am talking a year of one never-ending headache. That headache was very much like background noise, static inside my head. It wasn’t high on the pain scale, but it never went away and it was exhausting. After a year of trying to resolve the problem (massage, physio, bad chiro, and dreaded visits with my doctor), my doctor finally suggested that I was depressed and put me on a mild anti-depressant. I didn’t like the diagnosis, but I accepted it. Within a few days of starting the medication, my headache vanished. The diagnosis was also the catalyst for starting this journey, although I really didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going back then.
This blog post isn’t about the depression either, although it came to mind as I thought about how I felt on Thursday, because my headache that day was so very much like my headache back then. I’m not sure what to make of that, because I don’t think I am actually depressed anymore. However, the similarity has turned my thoughts towards the effect that pain has on our perspective and our internal thoughts. I can tolerate a lot of pain and physical discomfort. I can even think that what I am experiencing isn’t significant enough to depict with complete honesty and accuracy, even when instructed to do so for my own benefit, but pain left unresolved can apparently do much deeper harm. For one day pain not only clipped my wings, it also set me inside of a cage so restrictive and secure that I panicked, thinking that I was going to live and die in that cage. Even if I thought that I still had wings, there was no way that I could have believed that flight was ever going to be possible. I was the dodo bird. I couldn’t fly. I was extinct.
My mental panic was short-lived, but the headaches continue. It is exhausting, even if the pain really isn’t too bad. I can fake being fine like you wouldn’t believe. I am the expert at hiding behind masks. Right now, I am generally okay. I will be okay. Despite the headaches, the current knee issues, the occasional numb pinky and toe (don’t I sound healthy!), I am well! Except that I woke up with my neck feeling a little out of sorts this morning…for which I am exceptionally glad to have a good chiropractor now!