People who don’t regularly get headaches describe them as someone drilling inside your head. Or beating against your brain. But those descriptions are short sighted. They’re the fumbling description of someone who, lucky for them, doesn’t deal with this phenomena often. Well-intentioned, these sufferers are giving words to a temporary feeling. They will be unable to describe the headache with any real accuracy because they are not intimately acquainted with it. The next day they will exaggerate its severity and misconstrue its real sensation. They cannot do the headache justice.
How do I know?
I am a chronic headache sufferer. I hesitate to say migraine, since I often do not have the traditional symptoms of a “migraine.” I have only gotten the aura once, and and not usually nauseous. I don’t get migraines. I get headaches. Often.
I can tell the moment I wake up whether it will be a headache day or not. Usually (maybe 10 out of the 30 days of the month), it is a headache day. Some mornings I’ll wake up with the whisper of a headache. I know it’s coming. I can feel the headache on these mornings like a surfer anticipating a big wave. I can feel the gentle receding of the tide, the increased pressure of the coming onslaught. I can see the wave, I can feel the pressure build, but I’m powerless to stop it from coming. I eat a hasty breakfast and hope the Excedrin kicks in before the wave breaks.
The worst mornings are ones like this morning (and yesterday morning, unfortunately) when I wake up in the middle of the wave. There is nothing I can do then–no amount of Excedrin I can take–to escape I have to ride it out until I land on the shore, exhausted and anxiously looking over my shoulder for the next attack.
Because my headaches do not involve little men banging against my skull. My headaches are a series of waves crashing over and over again. If you’ve ever been caught in the tide off of Rockaway Beach in August, you know the feeling. You can’t get your bearings, can’t get your feet to grip the ground. The pounding of my headache is like the pounding of waves against the shore. There is no relief, escape, or end in sight.
If I’m lucky, like I am today, I can take some medicine to alleviate the pain. It never quite goes away, not until it’s done with me, but it becomes less forceful. When I take medication (Excedrin works best, but today I was stuck with a DayQuil I found in the bottom of my bag and the last two Naproxen in my desk) it’s like I’ve shut a door. I can still hear the waves, still feel them raging against the wall, but I can walk about now. I can get my bearings. In these moments of respite I’m able to function, but I’m also constantly fearing the moment the medication wears off and the waves come rushing back around me.
I can feel the medicine wearing off now. A long day of teaching, advising, grading has tired me out. I have an appointment with myself at the gym, but all I want is to climb into bed and let the water take me away. I’d love to have a headache where little men bang on my brain. You can fight little men. You can beat them. But you cannot stop the ocean. I cannot stop this wave.