On Headaches and Not Being Fixable
I’ve had headaches since I was 10. Debilitating, eye-crushing, every-bone-in-my-face-feels-like-it’s-been-smashed-with-a-baseball-bat headaches. Depending on what doctor you ask, they either can or cannot be classified as migraines. (Well, depending on what doctor you ask, there’s really no difference between headaches and migraines in the first place, but that’s another conversation.) The point is, I’ve been in pain for a while, and no one seems to know why.
My neurologist asks me how much coffee I drink, chocolate I eat, and sleep I get. My answers are all healthy and normal, because you KNOW I stay on that #WellnessGrind. There are no identifiable patterns indicating easy things I could do (or stop doing) to avoid getting these eye-crushing headaches.
“Yeah, these don’t look like migraines to me. I’d go get your sinuses checked.”
My otolaryngologist peers into my nostrils, Zeus bless him, to see how I’m healing from my previous sinus surgery — whenever it was; I’ve had several — and confirms that there are no polyps, infections, or blockages to blame for the pressure around my eyes.
“Your sinuses look beautiful, Hannah. I think your migraines are just acting up. I get ’em too. You’ll be all right.”
And so, like my dog, I circle. Chasing my own tail, hoping to catch a bite at my body.
The cognitive dissonance that fires through me after these appointments is exhausting. Being healthy is, with few exceptions, what I want more than anything else in this life. And like most of America, I am susceptible to the belief that health equates the absence of disease. No migraines, no sinusitis? Frick yeah! Finally, there are diseases I don’t have!
So … why do I feel disappointed?
And why do I feel so guilty for feeling disappointed?
I go by the pseudonym of “A Healthy Han” on the Internet to show people that they have a chance at wellness even when they’re considered unwell by traditional (read: problematic and exclusive) medical definitions. Through digital engagement, I try to encourage others to remain confident in their health agency, and to use that agency to make daily choices that best serve them and narrow the remaining distance to the quality of life they wish to have. So why do I wish, at these appointments, that something was wrong with me? Well, it’s not so much because I want to be sick. It’s because I want to be fixable.
Now, I have a YouTube video in the works about how having a chronic illness can exacerbate feelings of brokenness and sub-humanity and other gross crap, so I’ll save you that novel. But if you asked me for the footnotes, I’d tell you that it’s easy to believe you’re worse than other people when you’re sick and can’t get better. And then I’d tell you to stop cheating and go read the book, lazy, we have a test on Friday and I’m not putting my GPA at risk for a hooligan like you!
The over-medicalization of my existence, the attitude that everything I feel on a daily basis is wrong and needs to be numbed with pills or surgically removed, is not a belief I subscribe to. But often, daydreams of a brilliant young doctor with an inviting voice and shiny hair whispering, “We got it, Hannah. We figured it out. Your headaches will be gone, forever. All you have to do is eat more raspberries” are irresistible. Actually … maybe those are my nightdreams. Awkward. Anyway, I just want to be figured out. To be fixed. I just want to stop hurting.
Sometimes, though, our hurts will keep on hurting for a long time. Sometimes, a long time means the rest of time. Believe it or not — this is OK.
A good life needn’t be a painless life, and a good person needn’t be a painless person. This is true, yes, in the vomit-worthy, “you can’t appreciate the sunshine until you’ve seen the rain” kind of way. But also in the “prove yourself wrong” kind of way. I am in regular awe of what I manage to do while having headaches. I go to class, walk my dog, clean my apartment — even exercise at the gym! Not every day, but lots of days. And when I manage to remember this, I am content, at least for now, with not being fixable.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.