I have never made the mistake of having exceptionally high expectations for my birthday but, despite my best efforts, other people always anticipate that it’s going to be this magical moment for me. It is widely held belief that a birthday is supposed to be filled with favorite things and good times. This year mine began with me waking up with a slight headache. I had not slept well the previous night, attributed the pain to that and left for work. However, while there, my headache went from a Three Mile Island to a full on Chernobyl. By noon, I found it impossible to keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time. Looking at my computer screen, it might as well have been the sun because staring into it felt exactly the same. I began to adjust the levels of natural and fluorescent light in the office and quickly realized that anything other than complete darkness was still going to be a problem. I had been getting rather serious headaches fairly routinely but this one felt different. This one felt special.
By one my capability to do work had completely and utterly dissolved and I was amazed that I could even still hold a conversation. However some of my responses were not entirely effective at conveying complete thoughts. The rate at which my brain could process external stimuli had dropped off dramatically so I routinely found myself talking in circles while still trying to assess what had been said to me. On several occasions I had to use random filler words to give myself the extra time needed to retrieve information that the headache simply wouldn’t let go of. A sentence would often begin and then sort of meander until it wasn’t quite what I had originally intended to say. For example, if someone had asked me if I had planned on grabbing lunch, my response might be:
“Yeah, I uh… was probably going to be…with… my… uh, computer… working on it all day today.”
Honestly I thought it was pretty impressive that I didn’t just start crying, but I’m a master at keeping my cool. Still, things kept getting worse and I was starting to feel ill and little bit worried. I concluded that if I ventured out to get some caffeine and a small amount of food, there might be a way to turn this all around. I had already decided that there was no way I was going home because nothing is more suspicious than going home sick on your birthday. Saying you’re too sick to work on your birthday is the social equivalent of cracking open a beer, pulling down your pants and skateboarding all the way out of the building to Smash Mouth. While every single person probably should have the right to take the day off for any reason, that’s not the way our culture works. We are supposed to lie and then feel really guilty about it. That way we never know if we can trust each other.
So I shambled to the elevator and, once inside, proceeded to hate every person on it for making normal human sounds. Breathing and soft coughing all sounded like explosions and the pressure behind my temples intensified. By the time we had reached the first floor, my stomach had soured and I felt like I might pass out. My sense of balance was off pretty dramatically and it made me stumble around like a drunk. As I made my way to the café, I began to become convinced that I had somehow managed to poison myself by accident. By the time I made it back upstairs and into work it was pointed out to me that I looked terrible. After examining myself in a mirror, I had decided that terrible was an understatement. I was pale and sweaty with dark circles under my eyes. I also looked like someone had just given me the worst news that I had ever heard. It was also becoming painfully clear that, at some point, I was going to need to throw up… a lot.
I made it back to my office and attempted to craft some kind of plan. Once I began involuntarily shivering, grimacing every few seconds, I figured that the best case scenario was that everyone would assume I was a drug addict going through severe withdrawals. There was absolutely no way I was going to make it through my upcoming meeting, let alone the remainder of my day. I didn’t care that it was my birthday or whether or not people thought I was faking it, I needed to get out of there. I gave a sweaty rambling rundown on how I felt and made a few confusing phone calls to postpone any birthday plans before running down into the city streets. I was half-convinced that I had contracted malaria so I immediately made for the most crowded public place I could think of: the subway. If I was patient zero for some new doomsday virus, I was going to make damn sure I was going to be the most famous sick person in history.
The ride home was nothing short of a nightmare. After five minutes, it became abundantly clear that the odds of me vomiting on a stranger were incredibly high. I started to look around and decide who would receive the brunt of my fury when the time came to unleash it. Time was running out and every bump and clack brought me that much closer to oblivion. I was so zeroed in on how awful I felt that I would lose track of short spans of time. I kept lying to myself that I would make it home but continued to plan for the contingency. I had finally narrowed it down to throwing-up on a business man or this attractive young woman who refused to give up her seat to an elderly person three stops earlier. But, somehow, I made it to my stop and walked all the way back to my apartment without looking up from the sidewalk once. All sounds had vanished and my peripheral vision turned into this creeping gray haze. I fumbled with the locks, collapsed onto the bathroom floor and screamed out my internal organs. If there is a god, it was pretty obvious that he was punishing me, probably for sentences like this one.
When I regained consciousness, I was pretty unhappy. Whatever energy I had left was used to crawl into bed and will myself to sleep. Historically, this was not my favorite birthday, but it was a memorable one. These migraines are among the worst things I have ever experienced physically (and I’ve been hit in the crotch with a pipe before) but they are only growing in frequency and intensity. Normally they vanish after a string of debilitating attacks but I have begun to wonder what would happen to me if they continued to remain a prevalent part of my life. Would I become a stronger willed person? We can’t let life’s inconveniences, no matter how invasive or terrible, keep us from doing the things we love to do. It’s too easy to make up an excuse not to do something, let alone actually have a legitimate one. It’s important to reach for that brass ring, no matter how broken down the marry-go-round might be. So, despite a rather serious headache, I still managed to draw this really great comic: