Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Exhaustion & Headache

The main struggle I have with chronic headache is exhaustion: physical fatigue, spiritual fatigue, emotional fatigue, a deep soul-tiredness that never goes away.

Headaches themselves are no picnic. They hurt. Day after day my head hurts - incomparable daily pain from the inside out, pain that never ever leaves. My neck and shoulders ache all the time, the muscles tight and sore, stiff, as though I just walked out of a car crash without leaving the house.

But the biggest impact is exhaustion. Living a normal life, working for a living, participating in relationships, doing routine chores is exhausting when you live with chronic pain. It takes so much effort to do what normal people do. I come home from work totally drained and never seem to have the energy to complete my "To Do" lists. There is even less energy for non-critical tasks like hobbies, or planning projects. Even thinking about what to cook for dinner seems like too much work. Any non-critical thinking is deferred.

The constant fatigue leads to a life half-lived. Headaches assail my intellect and destroy my passion for anything and everything. I think the lack of passion comes simply from the exhaustion. When you are tired all the time, and in pain, the brain is pre-occupied and has little time to get excited about anything. Excitement, desire, happiness, dreams...all those hopeful, forward-thinking things aren't part of your life.

You get accustomed to this life, accustomed to poor sleep, to waking up with a bad headache, tired and spent before you even get out of bed. You get accustomed to living a shadow life, a shadow of what you could be living.

The lack of passion and lack of interest in life becomes normal. If I manage to have a couple of days in a row of low-grade headaches, there is almost a *euphoria* feeling that comes when you wake up with a 1 or a 2. In that euphoric state, I realize that this is what normal people feel like every day. It is a luxury to have a day spent feeling well. I always use the word *euphoria* to describe what normal feels like to me. It's like the weight is suddenly lifted and you are 200% yourself again, on over-drive, ready to catch up on the life you msised.

On these days, I get excited about everything. I want to clean the house, look up courses I could take, call everyone and talk, go out for a run, DO THINGS. On those days, although it sounds trite, I am suddenly interested in going clothes shopping or home decor shopping. I want to look good, and be surrounded by pretty things. I care again.

But the next day, the headache is back and I have no energy for how I look, how clean my home is, what clothes I wear, whether I am excelling at anything. I just want to get through the day. You go from bliss to exhaustion in a few short hours.

The tiredness accumulates. Even if you get a "good" day, the headaches return and within minutes, you feel as bad as you did the day before. I guess it's like that with pain. When you feel good, you forget what pain feels like, and when you are in pain, you forget what good feels like. You can't even remember it intellectually, other than remembering that for a few fleeting hours or a day, you actually felt alive again.

I rarely feel happy any more, and if I do it's fleeting. That makes me feel guilty because I have so many things to love about my life. I'm in a great relationship, earn a good living, and have people around who love me. I am blessed with many gifts: an education, a loving family, a wonderful Mom, a loving boyfriend, generous friends, financial security, a warm place to live, a nice car, an otherwise healthy body, a first world cornucopia of wealth.

I appreciate those gifts. I always recall a quote I read which said something to the effect of "if you feel like you have nothing to be happy about, think about all the things you possess that, if you didn't have them, you would long for." It makes you realize how much you have and how little you lack.

But all that blessed life loses its lustre when you hurt every day, when your body is soul-tired. You live life, but you don't live it. You function at a rudimentary level, but you don't live in celebration. Your pain and your fatigue is all-encompassing. It occupies all your thought, and all your emotion.

All you can do is hope that tomorrow will be different. That you will get the euphoria again, that you will get a chance to come alive, to live the life you were given.


  1. I completely understand. I've been blessed to have 3 pain free days this week, and today my head pain is starting again, and I'm already forgetting what it felt like to not have pain. I hate that....

    I know all words of advice sound hollow, so I will just wish you a Happy Easter weekend, may you be blessed with pain reduced enough that you can truely enjoy it!

  2. Oh wow, you've just described what I've been feeling like lately.

    I've had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome for 10 years--and having chronic headaches feels SO much more draining.

    Thank you for being so honest.

  3. Hi Angel!

    From what I'm hearing from fellow h/a sufferers, I'm beginning to think that we all experience this witch's brew of chronic pain, exhaustion, sleep problems, etc.

    Do you ever search medical journals on Pub Med ( You can search topics and read abstracts from medical journals (apparently, one can get full copies of the articles from university libraries, and sometimes public librairies).

    I recently came across several abstracts regarding the linkage of fibromyalgia and tension-type headache. I am sure there are studies regarding chronic fatigue,headache, etc. but I haven't searched yet. I am just getting into all this stuff!

    Here is one journal example:

    Neuro.Sci. 2004, Oct

    Tension-type headache and fibromyalgia: what's common, what's different?

    Schoenen J.

    Headache Research Unit, Departments of Neuroanatomy and Neurology, University of Liege CHR Citadelle, B-4000 Belgium.

    Chronic tension-type headache and fibromyalgia have striking clinical and pathophysiologic similarities. They can be associated in patients. In both conditions there is evidence of altered processing of peripheral nociceptive information. Peripheral sensitisation of musculotendinous nociceptors may play a role and, at least in chronic tension-type headache, there are indications of central sensitisation. As for the clinical presentation, there also pathophysiological differences between the two disorders. A better understanding of both these differences and similarities may hopefully help in the future management of patients.

    PMID: 15549528 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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