I am terrified now. Of a future where I am unable to move. Unable to smile. Unable to sleep. I do not wish it upon anyone whom I know. Nor in fact, anyone I do not know.
Every so often I experience severe pain along one side of the back of my head and neck. It would last up to a few hours during which time I would not move my upper body, not make much of any facial expression and where almost every position had me in intense pain. I would sit upright trying not to move and with specific shallow breathing to ensure I did not worsen it. All my symptoms suggested pain of a network of nerves. After discussions with a medical specialist friend, I would conservatively treat it with rest and medication until it subsided but the medication would leave me groggy for another day.
It appeared when I least expected it and often during the late night when I’d awaken with intense pain or when I was just lounging on a couch editing my Insta pictures. I even experienced it whilst casually walking along the Umhlanga Beach promenade on a sunny Durban day. I remember once missing my brother’s 40th birthday celebration and Christmas because I could not move so I stayed home alone that afternoon until the pain eventually ceased.
Go to the hospital, you say? Immediately see a medical specialist, you suggest? It is easy to say that when you can as a start brush your teeth without a semi-clenched jaw, pop into the shower, towel dry your entire body without moving your upper body, dress yourself, brush your long hair without feeling as though each strand is linked to a traumatized pain receptor, bend down somehow without dropping your head slightly to select and then put on your shoes. With ease you have a quick bite to eat because your jaw isn’t reeling with pain each time you open it, much less than when you begin to actually chew your food. Now imagine not having to maintain an unmoving ‘locked’ upper torso as you close up the apartment, walk down the common stairway without worrying about the precise angle of your head tilt which invokes pain and you smoothly slide into the driver’s side of your car. That’s right… you drive yourself knowing that you are not a potential hazard if you decide overtake another vehicle because you (unlike me) can actually check your blindspot without experiencing debilitating pain. Fortunately you are without nerve pain so you drive well over the minimum speed limit on a main road to your doctor’s office because you do not want to be a further hazard to anyone else. As my ‘luck’ would have it though, I previously experienced these episodes of pain for ‘only’ a few hours at a time.
Last night however, was night 3 since the pain had begun without stopping or easing up. My usual optimism fell to shreds and just looking up this condition on the internet makes me feel dismay as there is no definitive treatment and no conclusive diagnosis for occipital neuralgia. I am not one to usually fear what may come but reading up on this allegedly worsening condition gives me cause for concern.
Disease or dis-ease as I like to pronounce it, brings up emotions and thoughts that only add to the intensity of the current health state in which I find myself. I spiral downwards feeling alone and in despair. I have not shed this many agonizing tears in years nor sat this physically still whilst having quite negative mental images play in my mind. Factors I never worry about float to the surface. I worry I cannot afford extensive private healthcare nor the continuous cost of medicinal relaxants to ease up my nerve pain. Neither should I expect full-time support for when I experience this pain. Being in Covid-19 times really does not help either as it is a lingering thought constantly in the background with it’s own consequences of life and death.
Life is so fleeting and fragile… flitted with mostly good times and mostly good health yet riddled as well with pain in different forms. Sometimes I wish for better times. Sometimes I hope for affection in the form of a warm hand to hold. Sometimes I wish to see a loved one’s face or hope one wants to see mine. I hope for a chat or to see a friendly smile.
The trouble for me, I now realise, is that 3 nights ago I fell victim to a negative mindset and as dominoes topple so too did I give way to imagining worst case scenarios instead of being present in the actual moment. Eckhart Tolle says: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”.
Sure, I could do without nerve pain right now and definitely without being alarmed by another Covid-19 fatality whom I actually know. However, I can do BEST without a lamenting mind that removes my sense of gratitude for what I currently have… and what I have amongst all the pain is peace and ofcourse, my own inner smile.