Talking to people about migraine can be nerve-wracking. You never know for sure how they’re going to react, but you have a pretty good hunch it’s not going to be helpful or supportive—even when that’s exactly what the person is trying to be. Every once in a while, though, people will surprise you.
Here’s my take on five types of people you meet when you have migraine. Do you have any to add to the list?
1. People who think a painkiller will put you right back to normal. OTC painkillers take care of their headaches in no time and, to them, a migraine attack is just a bad headache. The logic follows that a painkiller is all you need to end your migraine attack. As a concession to the perceived severity of your pain, they might suggest you take four Advil instead of the normal two. If you refuse the painkiller or say you’ve already taken one and it didn’t work, it is usually assumed that you’re using migraine as an excuse to shirk your responsibilities or, worse, are trying to get attention.
2. People who have All The Answers. This person knows someone who has migraine or knows someone who knows someone with migraine. Or maybe they’ve just read an article about someone who has migraine. In any case, they’re sure that whatever worked for that person is going to work for you. If you protest, there’s always another solution. And another.
3. People who think that you just need to try harder and/or have a more positive attitude. These folks are sure that your migraine attacks will cease if you took that medication they heard about or try harder to avoid your triggers or think happy thoughts. They live by the sayings, “hard work always prevails” and “mind over matter.” I presume they get most of their information about migraine from drug advertisements and happy-go-lucky success stories in the news.
4. People who believe you bring your migraine attacks on yourself. Lung cancer is the classic example of this, but migraineurs are subject to plenty of patient-blaming. It usually takes the form of assuming that you’re stressed out and need to relax. If the person has read an article about migraine in Woman’s Day, they might think you’re to blame because you drank a glass of red wine or ate a square of chocolate.
5. People who see how hard you work and believe that you are strong. It can feel like these people are few and far between, but they do exist. They recognize migraine for what it is—a chronic illness characterized by disabling attacks—and see you for who you really are regardless of migraine. These people know you’re not to blame for your attacks and that there may not be a simple fix for you. They admire your strength for enduring and your courage for trying new treatments even after one has failed. They don’t see you as complaining or malingering, they just wish they could do something to help. If you have one (or more!) of these invaluable people in your life, thank them for their support. They make living with migraine so much easier.
Now in her late 30s, Kerrie has had chronic migraine since she was 11. She’s been writing about migraine and headache disorders on her blog, The Daily Headache, since 2005. Kerrie is also the cofounder of TheraSpecs, which makes eyewear for migraine and photophobia relief.