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An Open Letter to My Chronic Headaches

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Dear headache,

I hate you. Hate is a strong word. I love life and most things in it. But I hate you with everything in me. Every bone. Every muscle. Every tiny, little cell in my body. Why can’t I wish you away? Why can’t I just close my eyes and have you magically disappear? Or wake up one day and poof, you’re gone! Why me? Why have I struggled with chronic pain more days in the last four years than most people will in their entire lifetime? Why, why, why…

I’m currently fighting through your powerful grip on my temples as I sit here and write this. What’s new? If only you had feelings like I did. If only you knew just how much pain you cause me…

You make me angry. You make me sad. You make me discouraged. You scare me, make me feel helpless and negative. You make me feel jealous of the people around me who don’t have to deal with chronic pain. Bitter. It’s not fair that you have been able to bring this darkness into my life. I love living. I love exploring the world around me, spending time with the people I love, being in nature, being active. Countless times you have taken these things away from me.

No, you’re not “just a headache.” Don’t be modest. You’re way more than that. Sometimes I actually think you’re a vice. Pulling tighter and tighter against my head. The pain you cause on my temples is unreal. Lasting for days. Even weeks. 24/7. Bruised to the touch. I push my fingers against my head with all my strength to take away the pain for even a split second. And you’re even kind enough to bring a range of accompanying friends with you. The nausea, vertigo, food sensitivities, brain fog, chronic fatigue, dry eyes…these really make you a diamond in the rough!

Relief from pain? What a fantastic feeling that would be. The best feeling in the world in my mind. Everyone has goals and wants and dreams and desires. Mine? To be free from you. Can’t we just break up and get this over with? Please, I’m begging you to not stay with me for my entire life. That is one of my biggest fears – that you will always stick around. As soon as I get my hopes up that you’re going away, there you are again! Lucky me, I found myself a stage-five clinger.

How can you make me feel so many negative emotions? I feel sad when I miss out on fun things because of you. When I can’t enjoy life in a carefree, spontaneous way or when I push myself to go out and do things even with your pain: pretending I’m OK, wishing I could just enjoy the moment. I feel angry when it’s a busy day at work and you make it extremely difficult to even get through the day. I feel discouraged when I try a new medication and the side effects make me feel even worse. I feel anxious when I sit in the ER for four hours and it does nothing. I feel helpless when medication won’t even take the edge off of your pain. I feel pathetic when I sit in the doctor’s office for over an hour, just for them to tell me that my “migraine is just a migraine.” Over and over again, you bring out my negative side.

I hate that I make the people around me feel sad and helpless. I hate that I am causing others to feel pain due to my own. I try not to drown the people around me in complaints and stories about you but sometimes it’s hard not to since you’re such a big part of my life. You have become part of my family – just you, me and my two cats! I hate that I get so down on myself, not wanting others to have to “deal” with me. Not wanting to be someone’s “baggage.”

I can picture you now if you could talk. Windy out? “Grab a hat and cover those ears or I’ll slap you with an instant headache!” Beach day? “Sure, but make sure you don’t get too much sun or you’ll really be feeling me tonight!” Chocolate? Alcohol? “Only if you want to stay in bed all day tomorrow.” Weather changes? Storms? High humidity? “Yup, I’ll try my best to make all of those miserable for you too.” I have to admit, you’re definitely on your A-game – you never miss a beat!

I look around at my friends and family. Going out and doing fun things without worrying about pain, not having to worry about constant triggers. Not having to walk around on egg shells, hoping they can get through the day without sparking a trigger. Hoping they can have a pain-free weekend. Hoping they can get through this next meeting without sounding like a complete idiot because their head feels like it’s about to explode and all their thoughts seemed to have disappeared. Hoping they don’t have to cancel the plans they’ve had for the last month with their best friends. Hoping people don’t see that they’re actually feeling extremely miserable as they’re pretending to enjoy themselves. What would it be like to not have to think about all of those things? To feel pain-free, motivated and energized? To have an open mind that’s not filled with fuzziness, spaciness or head pain? Can I just get a little taste of that feeling? I crave it.

Well, I guess lucky for me, my spiritual side truly does believe everything in life happens for a reason. That’s a mantra I always go by – something I consistently say. But…what about you? What reason are you in my life for? How can years of chronic pain be my plan? I’ve thought about this quite a lot.

Well, I guess I have a few things I can thank you for. Yes, I just said thank you. Bizarre, right? Although you’ve made me angry, discouraged, negative, helpless and fearful, you’ve also made me strong, brave, fearless, spiritual and empathetic. Although you’ve ruined a handful of my days, you haven’t stopped me from living. Because of that fact, I can look back at these last four years and feel proud of myself. Proud of myself that I haven’t just let you win. Proud of myself that I fought through your pain to enjoy life as best I could, work multiple jobs, finish graduate school, move to a new city, develop new friendships and try new things. I’ve gained a lot of strength in my life because of you. You’ve made me brave. Knowing that over and over again I have pushed through hard times reminds me I am capable of anything I put my mind to. When I’m nervous about something, I can look back and remind myself that I have made it through much tougher situations while in chronic pain. So yes, you’ve made me fearful on many occasions, but also fearless. If I can deal with you, I can deal with anything. I believe in myself more than I ever have. You have shown me that I am stronger than I would have ever imagined I could be. You have also taught me the gift of empathy. I have learned to not judge a book by its cover – you never know what is going on inside a person’s life. Whether it be physical, emotional or mental pain they’re feeling, we can all relate to one another.

My headaches have also brought me wonderful support. It’s made me realize who’s truly there for me in my life. I am beyond fortunate to have some of the most loving, selfless people in my life. I don’t know how a person would get through this kind of pain without a support system like I have. Thank you for showing me that. Thank you for shining a light on “the good ones.” The ones who understand when I cancel plans, want to go to bed early or don’t order drinks when we go out. The ones who don’t laugh when I wear my headache prevention device that looks like something straight out of an episode of Star Wars. The ones who try to help me in any way they can, offering encouragement, kindness, support and a sympathetic ear. I’m lucky to have found those special humans. You’ve helped me see the kind of people I want in my life. You’ve also taught me about the type of person I want to be for others: empathetic, nonjudgmental, caring and thoughtful.

There’s something else I suppose I can thank you for. Thank you for giving me breaks. Thank you for giving me days where I can really enjoy myself and not worry about you. Those are amazing days. Those days are little glimpses of hope. They let me know that even after the darkest of days, the sun will rise. They allow me to enjoy the simple things in life that many people take for granted. They remind me of all the beauty I have in my life. Thank you for that.

So yes, I have things to thank you for. You have taught me many valuable lessons, and I will continue to better myself and my health. I suppose that’s all I can do, right? Keep fighting. Stay hopeful. Continue being optimistic and convince myself that everything’s going to be OK. A positive mind brings positive outcomes, right? I keep telling myself that one day you’ll just decide to ditch me. Maybe you’ll finally get sick of me. Wouldn’t that be a miracle! But I suppose if I don’t keep on believing that, then what else am I supposed to do? Give up? No way. I’m pushing forward. I stayed in school, worked hard and have become more independent than ever. You’re not stopping me. Things are only going up from here! Sure, you get me down in the dumps more often than I’d like. I know I still have bad days ahead, but I’ve fought through those days before and I’ll do it again. I still hate you. I want you gone more than anything. I pray and I hope and I wish and I pray again that you will leave me. And I’ll keep doing that until you do.

Until next time,

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Thinkstock photo via twinsterphoto.

Originally published: April 3, 2017
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