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  • Colleen Foye Bollen

A Rude Comment Changed My Life

I did not know it, but in three minutes my life would change.

I was listening for my name to be called. Surrounded by the classic institutional-beige walls and a pharmacy full of people sitting in rows of uncomfortable chairs, the minutes ticked by slowly.

A sense of guilt gnawed at me as I sat waiting. I had errands to run, kids to pick up from school and dinner to make. It wasn’t like I had a serious disease or life-threatening illness, only headaches. I was waiting for a prescription refill. I hate needing medicine, but I hated the debilitating headaches more.

Apparently, my 40th birthday gift to myself was chronic headaches. First, they were every now and then. Then, three years later, my headaches came several times a week and knocked the stuffing out of me. Extra-strength Excedrin became my best friend. I started with the recommended dosage. As my headaches increased, I started exceeding that recommendation by a lot. The warnings about liver damage and stomach bleeding finally pushed me to look for another solution.

I should have gone to my doctor sooner, but I tended to live my life focused more on the needs of other people. My roles as mom, wife, volunteer and writer kept me busy. I volunteered multiple times each week at my kids’ school, helped with political campaigns, took care of the house and yard, cooked dinners and worked as a freelance writer. Focusing on others usually kept my thoughts and feelings in check and off of myself. Not putting myself on my to-do list made it easy to ignore self-care. But the headaches demanded attention.

When I finally saw my doctor, he gave me a prescription for Motrin, a medication often given to women for menstrual cramps and inflammation. Instead of exceeding the recommended dosage of Excedrin, I got by with four to six Motrin. Until I couldn’t. Soon my headaches were requiring more Motrin and I was getting my prescription filled more often. Which is why I was sitting at the pharmacy, waiting for my number to be called.

Hearing my number announced over the loud speaker, I headed to counter four. A new male pharmacist greeted me and checked my medical ID card. Then he turned towards the shelves of filled prescriptions, rummaged around and retrieved my refill of Motrin. As he handed me my bottle, he looked at the kind of medication I was getting, then at me, and said, “I love women who take Motrin. They take their anger out on themselves.”

I stood still. I didn’t know which shocked me more, that a pharmacist would say such an incredibly sexist thing to me or that I immediately recognized a kernel of truth in what he said. I was surprised I didn’t feel angry at him. But I was too alarmed that I resonated with his declaration. I wondered, had I really become a woman who took her frustrations out on herself.

Before leaving the parking lot, I made a vow, a promise to myself: I would find a way to deal with my headaches that did not require me to take bottles of Motrin.

Being honest with myself, I recognized that my headaches were a symptom of a bigger issue. In my quest to care for other people’s needs, I squashed my desires and forgot to care for my own well-being. I was the perfect candidate for codependents anonymous. If I had checked off a list of my codependent, people pleasing behaviors with red ink, the paper looked bloodied, like it needed triage.

My next step was making an appointment with Carole, an acupuncturist a friend recommended.

It turned out she was a good match for me. Carole was naturally interested in my whole being, not just my head. Using metaphysical techniques, in addition to needles, she worked with me on a physical, mental and spiritual level.

As months passed, weekly sessions helped reduce the level and frequency of my headaches. Carole taught me techniques to calm my thinking, so I could hear my wise inner voice (the one I was drowning out with busyness) and figure out what made me happy.

It was a challenge. I had put other people’s wants before my own for so long, I needed to re-remember my wants and desires. I started simply. When my family decided to go out for dinner, instead of saying I didn’t care where we went, I stopped to think about the kind of food I wanted. Then I suggested a restaurant.

Next, I tried something new-to-me called boundaries. I set limits on how much I was willing to do for others. My resolve immediately got tested when my kids’ school needed last minute help on the same day I planned on hiking with friends. I fought off waves of guilt and discomfort and, in the end, I chose myself. With inner resolve, I said, “Sorry, I am busy.”

Over time, I learned how to occasionally bypass volunteering or helping my kids with homework, in order to take a night to hang out with friends or go see a movie by myself. With practice, it got easier to say, “no,” to requests for my time. As I built up my self-confidence, I even took solo vacations. My new behavior felt selfish and decadent and I loved it.

As my journey of self-care and self-discovery continues, I am grateful for the pharmacist whose uncensored words changed my life.

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