It’s All in My Head


Today, I made quiche.

Today I fried bacon, shredded Jarlsberg cheese that I tossed with a little flour, and chopped green onions. I mixed those ingredients with eggs and milk and a dash of nutmeg, plus a little salt and pepper. Then I poured the mixture into two warm piecrusts and baked them for 45 minutes, until the quiche was firm and the crusts were just a little bit brown.

I made two quiches – one for dinner tonight and one for the freezer, for after I come home from the hospital. I’m going to the hospital soon to have surgery on my neck.

Making those two quiches was a big effort for me. What was, just a few years ago, simply a part of my day – making dinner – is now a task that takes effort, because I am always in pain. From the time I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night, my head hurts. It hurts from my neck up, because my cervical spine is a mess of arthritis, stenosis, degenerated discs and bone spurs. It hurts on the sides, in the front, in the back, over my ears and at the base of my skull. It hurts too much.

I’ve tried everything to stop the pain. I’ve tried yoga and walking, food restriction and vitamin supplements. I’ve tried painkillers and muscle relaxers, ice and heat. I’ve tried physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and nerve blocks. I’ve had two epidurals – which eliminated the radiating pain down my arms and in my hands – but when that pain went away, the headaches got worse. I’ve even tried Botox – 40 injections all over my head and neck – and for two weeks after each treatment, I felt better. Not all better, but better. But two weeks every 3 months isn’t really enough, is it?

Today, before I made quiche, I spent time scrolling through Instagram, looking at pictures of friends and acquaintances doing things that look like fun – going to concerts, painting their bathrooms, out to dinner with friends, riding bikes with their husbands – but that I know, if I tried to do, I couldn’t. Because there’s nothing that ruins your fun – and the fun of those around you – like being in pain.

Living in Los Angeles, battling traffic is a given. The idea of being stuck on the freeway with a painful headache makes me so nervous that I rarely drive anywhere past my neighborhood anymore. This has affected my quality of life more than just about anything else.

The thing about pain like mine is that people can’t see it. If your leg is broken or you have a bruise on your arm, it’s obvious that there’s something wrong. Sometimes I want to wear a sign around my neck that says, “I have a bad headache, that’s why I look so annoyed.” I try to be upbeat and friendly, but there are days when I cannot. There are days when it’s better to just stay home.

And there are moments when I think it’s (no pun intended) all in my head. I think, “If I could just have a more positive attitude/push through the discomfort/be stronger/stop whining, the pain would go away.” Those are the worst thoughts because that’s when I blame myself for the hurt I feel.

I know there are reasons why this happened to me. I know when I injured my neck, 23 years ago, that it started a degeneration of my spine. I know that years of working on a computer, reading with my head bent over a book, less-than-excellent posture, twisting to look behind me when I’m in my car, and a million other little micro-movements have led to this point, but what was I supposed to do?

My Neurosurgeon waited 3 years to say, “let’s do this surgery,” because there is no guarantee it will fix the headaches. He’s a very cautious doctor, so I know he’s reached the conclusion that there’s nothing else to try. He says it’s about a 50/50 chance. I’ll take those odds.

In a few days, I’ll have surgery, and I hope it works. I hope it will make my headaches go away – even if it’s only some of the time – so I can stop always thinking about pain and how to live with it, and instead, most of the time, think about living while occasionally having pain.

headaches, midlife, middle age, spine surgery, chronic pain
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  • Oh Sharon, i’m So sorry. I understand the excruciating pain. I’ve been there. Been there in years. Good luck with your surgery. Your in my thoughts.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Thank you Sandy. I know you have been through a lot recently – but you look like you’re feeling much better!

  • Best wishes on your surgery! I am a recovery room nurse in a big hospital which does a whole lot of spine surgery. I think you will find at least some relief, but keep in mind-you will have surgical pain directly after the procedure. This will improve each hour of each day post-op. Anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxers will be your friend for a while!
    Keep a positive outlook and keep us up to date!! ????

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I am prepared for the post op pain…I am looking past that to when I am feeling better day to day. Muscle relaxers are my friend now! 🙂

  • Oh Sharon, this is a poignant post that rings so true with me. I can relate to your pain and how it robs your life of joy. I, too, live with chronic head/neck pain from an accident 35 years ago. I hope that your surgery will bring you the relief you so deserve. I will keep you in my thoughts. As we say in France, “Bon courage” for the journey ahead.

  • Wishing you a speedy and complete recovery.

  • Sharon….I am so sorry to learn that you have been dealing with pain for such a long time. I don’t think most of us can even imagine how difficult and soul-sucking that that kind of chronic might be. All most of us can do is tell you we care and that we hope (and pray) that your upcoming surgery and other paths to relief are effective. ~Kathy

  • Wishing you the best outcome post surgery, healing, peace, and days filled with fun again.

  • Sharon,

    Good luck with the surgery. Hope it provides relief. I’ve had my share of occipital neuralgia and am tried so many things too. Trying acupuncture now and massage. Plus yoga. Agree that being on the computer makes it worse. Getting old isn’t fun!

  • Sharon, I didn’t know you were in so much pain. You’re correct about how a broken leg signifies there has been physical trauma, but we didn’t know about the neck pain. I’ll be thinking of you and sending positive cyber thoughts. I want to hug your neck – but I’ll wait until it’s all better. I admire your candor and excellent writing.

  • I walk in your shoes so I completely understand what you mean. Your surgery will help you get to the other side, and that is where you keep your eyes on the prize of getting back to your wonderful life. Healing prayers and virtual girlfriend hugs.

  • Sharon, I’m so sorry you are living in this amount of pain, and I will be sending prayers and crossing fingers and toes for you for a successful surgery.

  • I just spent a year and a half unable to reach for things, to scratch my back, or to easily put in my coat. It was from a bilateral shoulder injury (too proud to ask for helping hoisting my suitcase onto a luggage rack). Chronic pain is debilitating and enervating. I’m impressed by all you accomplish while in pain. I tried PT and injections. My sister, an Occupational Therapist told me that itbwoukd take a year and a half to recover no matter what. She was right. I can understand why you are willing to resort to surgery. Sending positive Philly vibes your way.

  • wendy iversen

    I’m so sorry to hear this, Sharon, and hope surgery will give you relief from your pain.

  • Sharon – I am so sorry you are suffering. I pray that the surgery relieves your pain!

  • beth grossman

    Sharon, best of luck. So sorry to hear you have been going through this. I hope you at least have moved into your home by now. Keep us posted

  • I am pain free after 6 months of a frozen shoulder. I feel like a newborn. I wake up to the sound of birds and I can hear them. It is miraculous. I wish you freedom. Strength. Courage. And anything else that allows you to continue putting pen to paper. We need you.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Thank you so much, Mithra. I am so glad you are better! I am optimistic and hopeful.

  • Meddie

    Wow- I understand what you are going through. I will hold you close in my heart and prayers this week. It will work. Believe that.

    Sending you lots of love and light.

  • Peggy McCloskey

    Good luck!

  • I’m so sorry you’re in so much pain. It’s the worst. I have herniated disks in my lower back that were finally feeling better until I had bronchitis and re-injured my back from coughing. Getting older isn’t easy. Wishing you a easy and full recovery!

  • Marilyn

    I’m so sorry you’ve been in pain Sharon. I know we don’t know each other but I’ve enjoyed reading your posts very much. Best wishes that your surgery goes well and provides great relief!

  • I will be thinking of you and praying. My spirit surrounds you.

  • Sharon, best wishes for a speedy recovery from your procedure and a return to a pain free life. I will be thinking of you.

  • Chris

    I wish you well.

  • Oh my God, Sharon. You’re so strong, I could cry for you.

    It’s terrifying to have pain you can’t control. You say you should handle it better? I say if you had panic attacks and crying jags every day you’d still be handling it better than most.

    Keeping positive thoughts in my head for you today and, asking for a special conference with the Big Guy later to talk prayers.

  • I am hopeful that this surgery will relieve your pain. So many diseases and illnesses leave people captive in their bodies and unable to live their best life. I will be thinking about you as you have surgery. Hugs.

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