Life felt like it was going so well: a new year, hope on the horizon for COVID-19 and the world returning as close to “normal” as what any of us can recall, my 29th birthday looming, and a fun addition to the family (welcome Forrest, our newest puppy!).
While I don’t have any SUPER bad news to report (no deaths, no loss, nothing severe really), I HAVE been struggling with some mental health issues. Back in late January, I began having headaches that were consistent, not throbbing, and straight up WOULD NOT quit. The first time I noticed it, I took a day off work thinking maybe I was stressed and burning out. I slept in super late that day, took it as easy as I could, stayed away from electronics, and continued trying to live healthy per my last blog post with my yoga practice and clean eating.
After a few days with no reprieve, I began to panic (because obviously, why would I not consider the best case scenarios first?). I tried my best to remain calm, made doctors appointments, and kept trying to pretend everything was fine. Usually with my health anxiety if I make a doctor appointment, my symptom(s) miraculously disappear before my appointment even occurs. This is how I really determine whether or not it’s just my anxiety. After a couple of doctor appointments and increasing my dose of ibuprofen, I saw absolutely no change in the headache pattern or severity. I was dismayed.
I made an appointment with a neurologist, but the soonest I could get was April 1st, so here I am waiting anxiously for that first appointment, which I know is just going to be a consultation.
To say the least, I have been on edge for months now. The headaches began January 22nd, and other than a one and a half or so week span of relief I have been suffering ever since. If I had to describe the pain I would say it feels like a pinch or a knot in the back left of my head. Sometimes it’s the top left, sometimes it’s behind my ear. But always on the left, and and always there. Sometimes I feel like I can’t hear as well from my left ear. Sometimes I feel like I can’t see as well. Sometimes I feel like I keep dropping things. But most of the time I believe those extra symptoms are just my anxiety. The only symptom that is consistent is the pain.
For some brief medical history: I do have family history of migraines and I do also have an arachnoid cyst in the front left of my brain. However, the symptoms I have now don’t mimic my normal seasonal migraine symptoms, which are normally throbbing and painful to my eyes. And my cyst has never caused issues before – it’s something I’ve had since I was child. So these headaches are new and unwarranted and causing some pretty severe anxiety and depression in my life.
Anyway, I didn’t come here just to talk about my headaches (as stressful as they are, and also thank you for listening).
I have been reading so much this year already, and have stumbled across the book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb. A few chapters in and I was already gripped with crippling anxiety, and yet I couldn’t put it down. This book opened my eyes to emotional pain of others, but also caused me so much emotional pain myself.
If you know me personally, you know I have CRIPPLING health and death anxiety. I am at any given moment thinking about this or that ache, this or that way to die. In my mind, death looms at every corner and with every decision. If I sit too long, I’m convinced I have blood clots in my legs. If I smoke a cigarette, I’m convinced I have lung cancer. If I exercise too hard, I’m convinced I’m going to have a heart attack or pop a blood vessel in my brain and have a stroke. Listen, the list of things is long and embarrassing. I AM NOT PROUD OF IT. But it’s who I am, and it’s something I’ve always struggled with.
Back to Lori’s book.
Some of the chapters focus on a patient named Jessica, a 33 year old who just returned from her honeymoon and ready to begin a family, yet is faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Given anywhere from 1-10 years to live, Jessica struggles with her perspective of life and how to handle what she has left.
Jessica’s story is one of tragedy, hope, and dismay. I really struggled to read it. Each time we came back to Jessica in the book my heart would ache. But it also tore open the pit of fear in me regarding death and my own anxiety surrounding it. What would I do if I was diagnosed with cancer or a brain tumor? What if it was terminal? What if this pain is what I will feel for the rest of what could turn out to be a short life? What if I can never be the positive, happy person for my boyfriend and friends and family that I used to pride myself on being?
Even now the thoughts are SPINNING through my brain.
The past few days things have become so much worse. I wake up and feel the knot of pain in my head and cry. I look at my boyfriend or my dogs and cry. I feel like I’m buried under this weight of the “what ifs” and I don’t know how to live through it. The hobbies I used to enjoy bring me no joy. Today I buried myself in chores and cooking and drinking wine and it helped a little, but as soon as I sat down to relax I felt the pain again and reeled. Work is a temporary reprieve, and walking the dogs on my lunch break in some rare warm Ohio spring weather has helped tremendously. But it seems as if I’m struggling to live just in the moment. I’m always thinking of what’s coming next, and whether I’ll even get to EXPERIENCE what’s coming next.
So, I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m scared to. Maybe things get better, but I doubt it.
From reading it, however, I’ve learned one very important thing: maybe I SHOULD talk to someone. Maybe it really is time to seek help.
And so I reached out to my old therapist yesterday. We haven’t spoken since 2018, but she miraculously had space and was able to schedule me in. AND she takes my new insurance! I feel like this is such a big step toward self improvement. Now I feel confident that no matter what the diagnosis for my headaches, I’ll have the support system to get through anything. Not that I don’t with my boyfriend and family and friends, but those of you who have experienced therapy probably know what I mean.
I’m looking forward to the next steps. I truly hope that it only gets better from here.
(PS. I am posting this blog post late, it is currently April 13th and this draft was saved March 23rd. There are updates to come!)