I woke this morning with a headache, a seemingly innocuous event in itself except I have not woken with pain in my head for nearly two weeks now. The first few days without pain as the first thing to register in my early morning grogginess, were treated with a wary suspicion, “Will it last?” I’d ask myself. But the glorious pain-free awakenings continued and soon became the welcomed next stage of recovery. Oh the relief of waking, stretching and sighing as no pain haunted my skull first thing. After close to four months of constant headaches, this was a much-appreciated respite.
This morning though, I woke with pain in my head but I still took a moment to stretch and give the darn thing a chance to leave. Propped on the edge of the bed the pain increased and extended into the bones around my right eye. As soon as this happened, I realised I haven’t had bad pain around my eye for a little while either. It still aches some days and I cannot tolerate any pressure in the area, but it has been improving. In order to recognise this subtle improvement though, I needed perspective and this is what this morning’s strong pain gave me.
I medicate myself appropriately and begin attending to the important activities of the morning namely opening up the house to capture the beautiful desert morning air and making coffee. As I move about these tasks, I ponder the pain. I am no stranger to pain particularly after my spinal injuries and rehab where I was treated by a pain specialist and undertook pain management lessons to learn how to live with debilitating nerve pain. The pain I have had post brain surgery has persisted for longer than I thought it would and at an intensity that has surprised me. A bad headache debilitates my capacity to think as well as move, prevents me from reading, watching television or even listening to music and can with persistence leave me lying upon the bed with ice packs fore and aft. I recall reading that it takes most people up to a year to feel they are returned to their pre-op ‘normal’ and that many people continue to have headaches well up to six months. I had forgotten this and listened when my surgeon told me the headaches would last only days or weeks. Surgeons! I know better than to listen to surgeons about recovery! They are about as reliable as used cars sales people when it comes to recovery time.
As I think about this morning’s pain, I use the mindfulness approach to tune into and distinguish differences in sensation. In using this approach to pain the goal is to observe it, take a breath when it strikes but not react emotionally nor even physically. The goal is to distance oneself from the pain and what we tell ourselves about it and to recognise pain simply as sensation. Through this we also acknowledge that pain is there for a reason and it is important when recovering from serious surgery or injury, that we learn when to heed the call for rest and when it is ok to work through it. This is an exceptionally fine line and in order to navigate it, we must be tuned in to our bodies and understand the message the pain in sending. This helps prevent one becoming distressed by and merely reacting to pain. It takes practice but it helps enormously, when you remember to do it. I have been reconnecting with this practice (thanks to a reminder from a friend) so this morning whilst I took the appropriated pain medication; I also explored the sensations and refrained from telling myself negative things about it.
I have over the past weeks clearly identified the variety of headaches I get and learnt some of the triggers for them, enabling me to better manage or even delay them. I still have the pain and it still causes me to modify my behavior when it strikes hard but I don’t worry about what it might mean, don’t feel sad or down about it. I’ll admit to occasionally still feeling frustrated that I can’t just do what I wish to without planning around this companion but largely, I accept that it is a part of this journey and for the time being, me.