I had to serve an eviction notice recently.
There was an elephant sitting on my head for the last few weeks of April and all the way through May.
Not literally, of course. And not even hallucinatorily. But there might as well have been.
A medicine adjustment shortly after Easter left me with splitting headaches that felt as if a pachyderm had taken up residence in my skull. And since the thought of said pachyderm being a hippo or a rhino terrifies me, I’m just going to assume the headaches were in the form of an elephant. (Although I’m not entirely sure that’s actually much better come to think of it… ) They started as a dull ache behind my forehead but soon became sharp and shooting and of the type that made it hard to see or think or do anything much other than the bare minimum that my daily life requires.
At first I couldn’t figure out if they were caused by the new meds or if they were run-of-the-mill tension headaches. I figured they might go away if I could relax a bit more. And then I thought maybe my body just needed a couple of weeks to adjust. But as the days ticked on and I wasn’t getting any better despite all the obvious solutions (Advil, naps, meditation, massage, more Advil, more naps), I started to grow simultaneously desperate to be rid of the pain and also resigned to the idea that it would never get better.
It didn’t occur to me to go in to the Health Unit to see if there was something that could be done. And, even when Joe suggested it, I thought perhaps I was being dramatic and that things weren’t really that bad. I didn’t want to be a bother. So I kept making excuses for not calling.
The truth is that the pain was only a part of the problem. My anxiety had ratcheted itself up in those few weeks to levels I haven’t seen in a while. I could make it through my daily life and even a couple of social obligations but the amount of mental energy it took to stay even-keeled was at least double what it normally takes. And then there were the symptoms that felt just a little too close to depression — I stopped being able to write and struggled with anything more than pretty basic thoughts. (And even those only til about 8pm when I’d be absolutely done for the day.) I worried that I was, quite literally, losing my mind. But I still didn’t want to get help. I wanted to keep powering through because I thought somehow I should be able to just deal with it.
It took sleeping through most of Memorial Day and Joe telling me I no longer had a choice in the matter — either I would call the Health Unit or he would — for me to realize just how bad it had gotten.
I called on Tuesday and got a Wednesday morning appointment last week. I found out that there were good chemical reasons I had been feeling like absolute shit. That maybe the pain caused the anxiety or maybe the meds themselves caused it. That chronic pain can lead to despair and even depression. That I wasn’t just imagining things. We tweaked my meds. I got a scrip for a rescue migraine drug. (Praise God for triptans.) And I finally started to rejoin the world of the living.
On Thursday, the headaches had quieted themselves down to a dull roar. By Saturday, I was pain free but still exhausted. On Sunday, I was laughing again (and feeling entirely too guilty about taking a long afternoon nap after sunbathing and wading in the kiddie pool on an 80 degree day). On Monday, shortly before 3pm, I felt my brain come back “online.” And today I woke up feeling refreshed and excited to bang out my to-do list. (Oh please, please let that productivity train keep moving!)
The whole process has been a lot like a condensed version of the last time I got really depressed. Two years ago May, I ended up in the E.R. one night with sky high blood pressure and no idea how to keep moving forward in the pain I was in. Whether the depression or burnout came first, I’ll probably never know. What I do know is that it took me getting to a point of total desperation to finally get some help. And that I promised myself I’d never let it get that bad again.
And it didn’t this go around. But it might have had I not had Joe nearby to tell me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get out of my own way and have a professional weigh in on the situation.
I’d sure love to learn how to accept or even ask for help much sooner next time.
In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating the departure of my unwelcome houseguest and the return of my words.