The Ocean in my Head

Queensland; summer of 2011

I haven’t turned on my computer for 9 days. Nor have I listened to music, watched a show or picked up any print media. I’ve been too focused on the sounds of the ocean to even notice the absence of those everyday sources of distraction. Have I been on a relaxing beach-side holiday? No, the ocean is all in my head.

This ocean materialised 11 days ago. However, I had been feeling a bit run down days before I noticed the ocean’s presence. At first it was nothing, just a minor headache. Then a few days later – bam – I found myself at the mercy of the ocean’s whims. Not that I knew then it was an interior ocean that I was dealing with, not at first. I thought the origin of the constant sounds in my ears was the ocean down the road. After a while, I realised that the sound of waves was actually in my head, not outside. In addition to the waves of brain pain, that is when I knew I was dealing with an ocean in my head.

Like many writers, I don’t need movies, books or computers to pass the time. Instead, I just switch on my imagination and out pours stories, images, dialogue, happy-ever-afters. And like most writers, any spare time is spent coming up with stories or trying to untangle messy plots in my works-in-progress. Unfortunately, the ocean in my head didn’t allow such simple pleasures. As soon as I let my mind roam, it would tumble me under crashing waves of pain, tossing me on the rocky ocean floor.

On day 4, I went to see a doctor. I live in an area where getting an appointment is not always easy, so I went to the after hours clinic that specialises in prescriptions and sick certificates. Having hardly settled in the chair, I was handed a prescription and a certificate, and sent on my way. With a puzzled look, I left. Not because he also gave me a referral for some tests, but because he didn’t do an examination. Didn’t even approach me. How can a healer heal if they don’t touch the patient?

Back at home, I soon discovered that if I lay very still and try to silence my mind, then the waves would soften, allowing me to float in the ocean. And, for fleeting moments, I could emerge from the ocean and sit on the shore. That wasn’t easy to do or maintain; so if it became too tiring, then popping some tablets and/or sleep brought moments of calm.

On day 6, I went to the hospital. After 8 hours of being prodded, jabbed and scanned, I met the doctor who could not/would not speak to patients. He handed me an envelope addressed to ‘Doctor’, said I could go and went to walk away. I asked him what the envelope contained and he replied that a doctor could explain it to me. When I opened the letter, he insisted that I wouldn’t understand it. I did; it simply said that they didn’t know what was causing the headache. As I sat outside waiting for a friend to pick me up, watching the tail-end of a thunder-storm, I wondered why would someone want to be a doctor if they couldn’t/wouldn’t speak to people; just as I had wondered about the doctor who didn’t use his healing power of touch.

A few days later, I decided that I couldn’t just lie around waiting for the ocean in my head to go away. I had to get back to work; to ensure an ongoing income. And I wanted to get back to writing. Having wasted so much time procrastinating lately, mucking around on social media instead of actually writing, I had finally found the cure: not being able to write.

A plan was needed. The idea was to build a boat so that I could sail across that ocean, from island to island: work, family, writing, domestic chores, friends. Easier said than done. It took a few more days of riding that ocean to be strong enough. And a couple of occasions where I didn’t want to close my eyes and go to sleep, afraid that I would drown in the ocean if I didn’t stay alert. Fear is often the hardest obstacle to overcome when putting a plan in place or setting out.

Day 11 is now coming to an end, and I feel that I have made some progress. Sleeping less each day, I have finally managed to build a rickety ship. And I managed to sail to a couple of islets today. Including turning on my computer and writing this blog post. It’s not much, but its progress. I also checked my social media accounts, which I have been neglecting since the brain pain descended; not only because of light sensitivity, but because I might do something silly in my hazy state (like posting something negative on G+ or ‘unfollow’ people because all that twitting hurts my head).

The next journey will be outside, into the sunshine again. As the ocean sounds have started to diminish, I’m confident that I can manage the sun’s light tomorrow. And then later this week, its back to work: both the day-job and the passion-job (writing).

Why am I sharing this not-so-happy details of my personal life? Well, not to get sympathy or hints on dealing with persistent headaches. It’s because I am a writer, and I must write what I know. For the past 2 weeks, this is what I have known; this ocean in my head. Also, to become more accountable to myself: no more procrastination. I will write, I will edit, I will publish. No more excuses, no more delays. I am grateful that my headache appears to be flowing away; many others are not so fortunate as I am; and for that, I shouldn’t squander my time or talents any longer. I can’t afford to wait any longer to realise my dreams; not when the thundering sounds and crashing waves of oceans can pick me up and dump me on shores far from those dreams.

5 thoughts on “The Ocean in my Head

  1. You portray this so beautifully, Karen, despite the pain. It is inspiring to read and I hope you feel better soon. I’m gluten intolerant and had a horrible time with the medical establishment, so I get it, although I never had headaches like you describe. Best wishes!


    • Thanks for your concern, Yvonne. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I had moments of worry, but I’m confident that I am on the mend. There is always a positive – little health scares are reminders to pay more attention to our health, and to value things we often take for granted.
      The writer in me found the CT scan interesting: hmmmm….wonder how I can incorporate that experience in a novel/short story?


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