My head hurts. I’m not awake yet, not really. I fight to stay asleep, my throbbing head a harbinger of the day ahead; no deeds will be done today. Not with a jackhammer drilling the top of my head.

It doesn’t work, of course. I know that but hope does die last.

I go about my business in slow motion. I know better than to try to do something important. Years of excruciating headaches taught me that there weren’t many things I could do. Low priority tasks on my to-do-list such as website maintenance (but nothing major), cleaning up the photo library (a Herculean task), or vacuum cleaning (now you know why my house is spotlessly clean). Note to self: never, EVER, upgrade the operating system of your computer if you have a headache!

A distorted tree image to illustrate a headache. Photo by Mihaela Limberea

I’m thankful that this is only the mild variant when I can still do something. The other one I don’t argue with; I just go lay down in the dark, earplugs in, sleep mask on. And pray that it’ll only last a few hours.

My worse headache moments involve the other one, of course.

  • Holding an online demo for over a hundred participants. I had scheduled the demo early in the morning when I’m at my best; training sessions are taxing. I woke up with the other one and it was too late to cancel, not with so many people, not on such an important matter (controls and compliance stuff, how could I ever think it was so important??).
  • Presenting to a senior executive. You don’t cancel on them. Unless you’re dead, or almost. If I could talk, I would walk.
  • Traveling, especially on long intercontinental flights. I still have nightmares, walking zombie-like in a busy airport, running late, being at the wrong gate, not being able to think clearly, etc.; you get the idea.
  • Holding a workshop with participants from the whole world after traveling on that long intercontinental flight. We usually had two to four days workshops, and the agenda was down to 15 minutes points. I couldn’t take the day off.

I have to admit that this doesn’t happen as often as before, i.e., since I left the corporate worldHindsight is a great adviser, “the cruelest and most astute” (R.J. Ellory). I can see now that a whole lot of it was stress. It was high tempo, aggressive commitments, unrealistic expectations, and perfectionism. It’s a wonder it didn’t get worse. Well, actually, it did, but that’s a different story for another post. 

I’m grateful that a headache is just a mild annoyance nowadays. Mild enough, apparently, to write a blog post about it.

Here’s a poem I wrote over ten years ago when my head had almost exploded with pain. It was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column. The poem appears in my first poetry book in Swedish, this is a quick translation I made for this post. A complete translation of all poems is on the way.

The Broken Column

(Frida Kahlo, 1944) 

Pain arrows 

piercing the body,

swirling in the blood,

hammering in the temples, 

sawing the ankles.

The wrists,


by glowing knives.


Never stops.

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