I hate headaches. 

It’s not the pain itself as much as the surprise attack. You’re going along, having a great day, minding your own business, & then BAM!!!  Headache.

It’s poor form if you ask me.

Most other maladies build gradually giving you time to think a little about what might be coming, try a few home remedies, get some extra rest and so on before you’re full on down with the sickness.

Not headaches. 

No sooner have you said “I think I’m getting a” than it hits & you already have one. Granted, they don’t usually last as long as other ailments, but still, the sudden assault is the pits.

They’re also so much more frequent than other things. In the aftermath of a stomach virus you hear people say stuff like, “I can’t remember the last time I was sick like that.” People never say that about headaches.

Lots of us, myself included, who are plagued by the allergy & sinus junk that’s part of life in the Ohio Valley, never get much of a break either. In fact, at certain times of the year we have them more days that not. It calls for full on celebration when you get a whole 24 hours with no thumping behind your eyes.

Now, I’m no whiner. I’ve been called “Pollyanna” more times than I can count. But, it takes just about everything in me to muster enough positivity to not be bothered by a headache.

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, “Seriously? It’s a headache. Get over it. Buy a bigger bottle of Tylenol & shut up.”

I would, if headaches just meant I didn’t get enough sleep, am a little extra stressed, or forgot to take my Zyrtec…or Flonase…or Mucinex. But that’s not the case. 

Not anymore.

Now, headaches spark a fear that births paranoia, & the longer the headache lasts the more I’m convinced the worst is happening. 

Recurrence.

This time it’ll be chemo. Well, more cutting. Always cutting. But, then chemo. They said it was too rare to play all the cards on round one, so we needed to hold the chemo card for round two if it ever came. Headaches mean the bell could be sounding, summoning me to another dance in the ring. 

Every time I get a headache I coach myself through that scenario. 

The first thought is usually a curse word. Followed swiftly by a flash of images. A girl in her favorite nightgown shaking in front of the mirror. A pile of gauze in the sink. A trail of dried blood on her temple. And a hole in her face where the flesh should be.

Then anger begins to boil, bringing to the surface old questions that will never have an answer. “Why didn’t I push them to look harder the first time? How did four doctors not think it could be more? How the hell did a radiologist not see it on the CT-Scan after that concussion? Why did I doubt my gut?”

Then defiance. “Not this time. This time I’ll push. This time they won’t convince me it’s nothing until they’ve done the tests to prove it. I will not be dismissed.”

Finally, the rally. “You can do this. You can do anything. Screw cancer. Bring it. You won last time. You’ll win again.”

Two and a half years ago when I had headaches, I did also occasionally have too little sleep & lots of stress & sinus junk & every other common cause. But then a doctor told me that the acute headache I was having near that “harmless” bump on my forehead was not any of those things, but the pain of mutated cells burrowing through the soft tissue toward my skull.

So now, even though they tell me cancer is over, & I still have all those common causes in play, & I’ve been told that the nine surgeries have left me with a little pain forever, I still cannot have a headache & not fly through those worse case thoughts like a bullet from the chamber.

From the outside you’d never be able to see that a headache does that to me. You might catch the physical pain in a wince or moan, but you’d never know about the small war that’s waged in my mind. 

I could keep that to myself. I used to. 

But the anxiety almost broke me. Silently.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Sit in the things that we need to share, when the most fundamental desire of every human is to be known. 

Seen. Accepted. Connected. Encouraged. Supported. Challenged. Championed. Touched.

KNOWN.

We hide ourselves rather than embracing the imperfection of our journey & opening up to the pure community we crave.

We could be enjoying the relief of feeling understood in the company of others navigating this life in less than perfect ways. 

We can. 

If we will.

The first time I told someone I could hardly breathe over a headache I was a mess. Crying, embarrassed, feeling stupid & waiting for a response like, “Good grief, Lori, don’t be so dramatic.” 

But that’s not what happened. 

Instead, they said, “I guess that’s fair since you could see your own skull for the better part of a year. I’d freak the hell out, too.” I laughed. They hugged me. It was okay.

I didn’t stop struggling after one moment of transparency, but my anxiety/cancer PTSD had a little less power over me.

That’s what happens when we connect & let ourselves be known. We stop shaming ourselves for the things we feel & begin to take control of them with people to help us along the way.

I’ll always flash through those thoughts when headaches happen, but they don’t get to me now. I can breathe through them & if it does get bad I can call the ones who know me, because I let them, & be reminded that no matter what happens, I don’t have to go it alone.

Whatever your “headaches” may be, choose to share them with someone who will listen & not run. You were made for more than hiding. Go be free.

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