Monday, September 3, 2007


So Saturday I'm in the shower, multitasking. I'm conditioning my hair and scrubbing away mildew between the wall tiles with an old toothbrush. I hate cleaning the tub, and I try to do as much as I can while I'm actually in it. What I really hate is cleaning the tub while fully dressed, especially the part where I'm rinsing away Ajax with the shower head. The water always goes up my sleeves. Brushing away mildew while I'm showering is a stroke of housewifely genius, as far as I'm concerned. I can hardly stand how brilliant it is.

I finish the job. I put the toothbrush down in its little corner of the tub. Then I turn and straighten up--and whack my head against the side of the hold-steady bar on my shower wall. My head must have been going forty miles per hour, because it is a serious whack. I've hit my head close to my right eye. Later, I will wait to see if a shiner surfaces, it was that close. But I can't even find a bruise.

I have a little bit of a headache for the rest of the day, about what you'd expect. But Sunday when I wake up, my head really hurts. The spot where I hit my head is tender to the touch. I feel vaguely ill.

Nothing touches the headache, not ibuprofin, not napping, not ice packs, not wine. I clean some and write some, but mostly I just lie on my bed and read and rub my head near the crown. That seems to help a little.

I'd planned on going to church and the grocery store. I'd planned to spend the afternoon at the sewing machine. None of this comes to pass. I read the middle grade novels I checked out of the library last week to get me motivated as I start a draft of a new book. I finish Easter Everywhere by Darcey Steinke. I read Letter to a Young Teacher by Jonathon Kozol. I read and read and my head aches and aches.

When I finally go to bed, I worry that I'll wake up to another day of my head hurting. So when I wake up Monday morning and my head feels fine, just a little sore at the spot where I whacked it, it's like getting a gift.

The best part is, I'm so happy about being back in a good head that my usual morning anxiety stays undercover. I have always had free-floating anxiety in the mornings, from the time I was little. When I was a kid, the anxiety manifested itself as a general nervous feeling that gave me butterflies in my stomach and made eating breakfast difficult. Nowadays it comes in the form of worry, mostly about things that are far off in the future--my parents are coming to visit in November and the house is a mess!--or things that in reality I know will be fine, including author visits to schools and school field trips when I'm the volunteer driver.

I don't have anxiety every morning; in fact, I go for long stretches without it. Interestingly enough, I never get it at the beach. And when I do get morning anxiety, it's easy enough to disperse. A brisk walk usually takes care of it (too much coffee, on the other hand, is a big mistake--with enough caffeine, I'll feel anxious until lunch).

Nonetheless, it's a real bummer. Negative thoughts come at me and I bat them away. I tell myself that in thirty minutes it will all be over. But there's always the fear that the anxiety won't go away, that today is the day it will finally make itself at home, set up shop, sit a spell. So there's anxiety on top of the anxiety. Great.

I'd had one of those anxiety weeks last week, where every day I woke up and thought, "Oh, no, there's so much I'm not getting done and I need a new bra and new clothes and I haven't done anything for Start-up Sunday and I have to get my teeth cleaned in two weeks ..." So when I woke up Monday, my head clear, my heart light, no worries, it was so lovely that I walked three miles and smiled at everybody, and when I came home I took the boys to the pool for two hours, even though I had lots to do at the house.

Although I hate that sometimes it takes a whack on my head to set me straight, it does seem to be the case that having a real problem--in this case, a deabilitating headache--cuts through a lot of noise. It gives you perspective. The things I get anxious about aren't problems at all. And while staying in bed all day because you have a headache is pretty minor league stuff (though it did make me feel awfully sympathetic to my friends who get migraines), it's real enough to kick the make-believe problems out the door.

At least for a day or two.

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