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.


  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!


    1. 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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