Explaining Migraine Symptoms to Friends- Other people have difficulty understanding chronic migraine illness; here are some communication tips to improve your relationship with friends and family.
Invisible illness, unmistakable pain.
How many times have people said to you, “How was I supposed to know you had a headache? You look fine to me.” Haven’t you ever wished that you had a “not now, I have a headache,” sign that you could paste to your forehead? Although migraine isn’t officially an “invisible illness,” it ought to be. Admit it- sometimes, when you see somebody hobbling along with a crutch, or wearing a cast, you’re a bit jealous. You think, “Hey! I’m suffering, too…the only reason nobody notices is because I don’t show it externally.”
Get it all out into the open
You might not have any observable handicaps, but you do have a tool that you can use to communicate your illness to others: your voice. It might not get you a spot in the handicapped parking zone, but communicating verbally with others to help them understand your condition will go a long way towards improving your relationships, relieving stress, and removing migraine stigma.
There are no psychics, mind readers, or empaths here
Friends and family won’t know that you’re suffering a migraine attack unless you tell them each time. Don’t expect people to sense that you often feel depressed, anxious, alone, helpless, angry, or weak. They can’t understand what you go through without some help on your part.
Here are some excellent tips for breaking the ice about migraines:
1- Talk about your migraines when you’re not in pain. Don’t wait until you’re writhing in pain to explain that the noise from the television feels like a drill boring through your skull. Take your husband, son, daughter, or friend aside on a good day. Make a lunch date, or just pick a quiet moment before bedtime. Explain to them all about all the ins and outs of migraine attacks- the aura that sometimes occurs before the attack, symptoms such as nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to lights, scents, and sounds. See Migraine Sufferer to World: It’s not just a Headache, People!
2- Introduce them to migraine art. A picture is worth a thousand words, so why waste your breath? Sometimes, video imagery, artistic renderings, or even poetry by fellow migraine sufferers explains migraine symptoms in ways that mere words cannot express. See here for some examples of Migraine Pain, Portrayed through Art and Poetry.
3- Share links. Email your friends links to various migraine advocacy groups, or other organizations that help people with chronic pain. Some good ones are Migraine.com, Magnum, and the Invisible Disabilities Association. See our list of the Top 20 Websites for Migraine Headache Patients.
4- “Like” migraines. Share relevant information on Facebook. Join migraine pages, and suggest them to your friends. Here are some great blogs for migraine awareness. Tell them about Invisible Illness Week, which takes place on September 12-18, 2011.
5- Say it in a letter. Read to them “A Letter to People Without Chronic Pain.”
6- Encourage questions. Your family might not realize that it’s okay to ask you how you’re feeling, or what they can do to help. Make it clear to them that you welcome their comments, as long as they respect your feelings. Read 35 Things you should never tell a Chronic Migraine Sufferer.
7- Educate your friends and family. Have any good books on migraines, chronic pain, or other invisible illnesses? Offer to lend them a copy, or send them a link to a good migraine book on Amazon. See our list of Gotta Have Books for Migraineurs- 5 that Stand Out.
8- Keep your workmates in the know. If migraine triggers at work are an issue, then explain your situation to your boss and coworkers. Does somebody at work wear overpoweringly strong perfume every day? Talk to her openly about it. Explain that it’s not personal, but that you are, in a sense, allergic to perfumes, the reaction being severe migraine pain. If your employers are unable to provide you with a migraine-free environment, then you might have the right to disability benefits.
When Migraines Endanger Our Friendships
Helping Others Understand Your Migraine
Helping Others Understand: A Letter to People Without Chronic Pain