Every morning for the past month, I’ve woken up with a headache. It’s awful. Take your normal “I don’t wanna get outta bed” and add the physical sensation of being nailed to your pillows through your forehead. Is it any wonder that I’m always late for work?! The first 10 days of waking up with a marching band in my skull were scary. I became convinced I had brain cancer, because what other explanation could there be? It wasn’t dehydration, because I was drinking enough water to fill a bathtub. Obviously, it must be cancer. I’ve always felt I was destined to die young.
At a girls night with DD two weeks ago, I was bitching about work, and this huge project I’m leading, and I mentioned my impending death from brain cancer headaches. DD, who knows me inside out, and is extremely well versed in my anxiety and depression struggles, stared at me. “Vanilla, I’ll come to your funeral if you die from brain cancer, but have you considered that *maybe* these are stress headaches? You don’t exactly manage your stress well in the best of circumstances, so now that your work has levelled up and you’ve quit boxing, avoid being a drama queen and explore plausible causes for your headaches, why don’t ya?”
Lesson learned: DD cures cancer with her wisdom and sarcasm.
So yeah. Stress headaches. Knowing that’s what I am dealing with doesn’t make them any more pleasant. I am under a lot of stress. I am the lead on some big deal high-profile projects at work, and am scared shitless. I do breathing exercises at my desk at least once a day, to stop myself from having a panic attack. If I fail, the consequences for my company and my career are… unpleasant (how’s that for not being a drama-queen, hmmm? Such tempered, moderate vocabulary! Go me!) There’s a permanent vice grip around my heart, relentlessly reminding me of the stakes at hand. It will only disappear once the projects come to term before the holidays.
But here’s the thing: deep down, I’m elated. Because, you see, I haven’t felt this level of work-stress and terrifying fear of failure in 2 years. It has been almost 26 months since I last took on a challenge at work, the kind where there is a solid 40-50% chance I might not be able to pull through and deliver, where there is no safety net because I am putting everything on the line. I hadn’t taken anything on, frankly, because I couldn’t – I was just dialing it in, professionally. I hadn’t adequately recovered from my last depression: I ran away from any pressure because I felt like a fragile glass pane – I was technically keeping it together, but if the load got too heavy to bear, I would shatter. The fact that I am even capable of handling what I am handling is the ultimate proof that I’m back. I’ve missed this version of myself: the smart, ballsy, efficient professional. I’ve missed feeling deep pride in my work. I’ve missed the gnawing fear – because that fear is proof that I am stepping up, and making a real tangible difference. I’ve missed knowing that my work was of a sufficient quality that I can be trusted by senior leadership to plan, develop, implement and successfully roll out a project with no supervision. I’ve missed having my brain as my ally.
Sure, these headaches are a nuissance. I didn’t have them pre-depression. They are a reminder and a warning that I need to manage my mental health seriously: my brain is like an elastic band. Every depression has a cost – I might recover, but my brain loses some of its elasticity. But goddamn, am I ever grateful to be healthy enough to have these headaches.