5 Reasons People With Migraine End Friendships

5 Reasons People With Migraine End Friendships

Many of us know what it’s like to be abandoned by friends because of migraine. Few of us talk about why migraine leads us to leave friendships ourselves. It can be just as painful to walk away from a friend as it is to be dropped, but sometimes it’s the only way we can take care of ourselves.

1. We don’t feel believed or understood. Migraine has the double-whammy of being invisible (although the trained eye can usually spot it) and also thought to be nothing more than a measly headache. Even if a friend has empathy for someone with an illness that has no visible signs, that compassion may not be extended to something that seems so minor as a headache. The invalidation that comes when someone cannot believe we are sick even though we say we are and/or that migraine is much more than a headache can bring about the death of friendships.


2. We don’t have the energy. In many friendships, there’s an imbalance of give-and-take. Some people we spend time with leave us feeling energized and others leave us feeling drained. The people who drain our energy aren’t necessarily at fault—there can be a long-established dynamic where one takes more than they give, but it can also be that your personalities are such that while you enjoy each other, the relationship is still exhausting. I had a friend I laughed with harder than anyone else I’ve ever known. She also angered me more than pretty much any friend I’ve ever had. If she and I had dated, we’d be the kind of couple that fought viciously and had great makeup sex the rest of the time. For a long time, the fun made the fights worthwhile. When migraine monopolized my energy, I could no longer handle the drama. I do miss the good times we had, but ending our friendship was an act of radical self-care.

3. We’re sick. When you’re so sick that you can barely get yourself to the bathroom, maintaining relationships can be nearly impossible. If someone has infrequent migraine attacks, this isn’t an issue. For someone with frequent migraine attacks or other health issues, we spend everything we have to just get through the day. Making a phone call or sending an email may not seem like a big deal to a healthy person, but it can take more energy than you can spare when you’re not.

4. We’re ashamed. Migraine can make being a good friend difficult. That’s due to cancellations and isolation, but it can also change how you interact with others. There’s a period in my life that was full of cringe-worthy encounters. I’d been subsumed by migraine and was deeply ashamed of this fact. I constantly tried to hide migraine and it’s impact on my life. This turned me into someone I didn’t recognize, someone I didn’t want to be. I was artificial and insincere. I’m grateful for the people who befriended me during that time and could see the good in me that I could not. Still, the lingering shame keeps me from reigniting those relationships.

5. It’s time to move on. With our without migraine, not all relationships are meant to last. I have enjoyed many friends who no longer seem like a good fit because of the turns our lives have taken. This doesn’t change how important they were to me. It also doesn’t mean that I need to keep trying to save a relationship that no longer feels right.

Has migraine led you to leave a friendship for a different reason than I’ve listed? Please share!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (18)
  • flowers009
    2 years ago

    I have lost a lot of friends due to migraines. I suffer from hemiplegic migraines which has also caused me to have anxiety about going out. Because they come on so fast it’s easier just to not arrange things. It can be such a lonely place.
    I’m 32 now and have been suffering since I was 13. I am waiting on an appointment with my neurologist as I ended up in hospital last week. I do work as it is manageable when I’m ok. People don’t understand the severity or the stroke like symptoms I get. It gets me so down. 🙁

  • 23r1c5h
    3 years ago

    I’ve always held the belief that people come into our lives in three different ways – a reason, a season and a lifetime.

    People entering for a reason are there specifically to help you in whatever capacity they are meant to be there for and once that reason has been revealed, they move on.

    People entering for a season are usually there for many years, either through childhood, teenage years, young adult years, etc. These are the friends that seem to suddenly fade into the background over time and we don’t realize they’ve left until much later and we’re left thinking “whatever happened to so-and-so – we used to hang out all the time’.

    People entering for a lifetime – usually those are the most stringent friends – they are there for you and you for them through thick and thin, come what may, good times and bad, marriages, divorces, kids and death.

    Since my hemiplegics began and I have been forced to quit working and shelter within the confines of my home, my original beliefs have been tested. Friends that I thought that were going to be there for a while have dropped off and even the ones I knew weren’t going to be in it for the long haul dropped off so fast I was left with whiplash. My constant, however, has been my best friend – we’ve been together now for almost twenty years and there is no sign of that letting up – we’re going to grow old together and I catch myself daily appreciating our friendship more and more.

    I’ve only walked away from two friends after it became clear there was no way for us to continue and I didn’t grieve for their loss – I felt they were holding me down and the stress and pressure it took to attempt to keep them in my life was getting to be too much to handle. It’s been a better situation as a result because I can concentrate on me and not what they’re thinking/doing.

    We shouldn’t measure our lives by how many friends we have, rather that we have one or two that truly makes a difference in their lives and they with ours.

  • Diane1010
    3 years ago

    Wonderful wisdom. Thank you.

  • Judy H
    3 years ago

    I apologize right here if I sound too strident on this issue. Friends are not true friends if they are not understanding of your migraines. I have had chronic migraines for fully 40 years of my life. “Friends” who are unwilling to understand are not your friends.

    There are people in our lives who we have to deal with:
    1) Work people – bosses, supervisors, co-workers. We do not choose these people, they are part of our circumstances of needing a job to pay the bills. Sometimes work people can be a true pleasure, sometimes they can be toxic. We muddle through as best we can. The worst boss I ever had was a fellow migraine sufferer. He had no empathy whatsoever.
    2) Relatives – you can’t pick your relatives, they are part of the cards that life deals you. We navigate their good and bad points as well as we can manage. If they can’t come to terms with your health issues, their opinion doesn’t matter.

    We have very little control over people that we have not selected to be part of our lives.
    We DO however, have a say in who we spend our free time with. If your “friends” provide a hassle instead of understanding, they are not your friends. True friends do not disappoint you on a regular basis. People who suck the life out of you are toxic. Avoid them.

    I believe part of the problem lies in the fact that we fail to get past our high school persona when and where we sorely felt the need to belong to the “in” crowd. I long ago detached myself from accepting Aunt Mary’s guilt over not eating her special triple chocolate cake. If people have a problem with you not being able to take part in every iota of their gratification, they are the one with the problem, not you.

    You have the right to engage with people who provide positive energy. Shunning bad vibrations is healthy and necessary.

  • Chip&Dale
    2 years ago

    Omg Judy! I totally had the same experience with a fellow migraine suffering boss X2. On 2 seperate jobs both of my immediate managers had also suffered from migraines and they were the WORST people to work for! Their 6-10/year somehow cancelled out my 12-15/month (sometimes more) average and gave them cause to judge me as lazy, unwilling to work, and lable me as unwilling to comply with company policy even though I had FMLA, short-term disability, and accommodations made by the company under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    The eye-rolls, the “Just take some Exedrine Migraine, it works great for me!”, the constantly being pulled into the office for a “chat” in front of my peers…. all that added stress on top of an already mentally exhausting job made my life hell and the migraines even worse.
    I miss working and I really hate that I feel trapped in my home, trapped in my own body, and always on edge wondering if this 2 day hiatus is going to end soon and if it does how bad will the next one be?

  • Glory
    3 years ago

    Unfortunately, I can agree with this from both sides. As a woman with migraines (episodic, not chronic), friendships tend to be difficult to maintain due to many reasons. Apparently, severe migraines don’t count for most. I actually understand this, as constantly being forced to cancel or be a “no show” does get interpreted as “here is my convenient excuse” instead of reality.

    In my family’s experience there are few people willing to deal with any type of chronic illness. In my husband’s case it is early onset dementia (cause unknown). My son had a TBI induced incident apparently caused by a drug sensitivity (neurologist prescribed meds for the chronic migraines). Pretty much, most of his contemporaries have abandoned him since he is no longer the person they knew. Heck, he is no longer the son I knew. But, it is what it is and you deal with what is on your plate.

    I have been very fortunate in my friends. I have two “life sentences”, as both are now close to golden anniversaries (50+ years). Doesn’t matter what happens anymore; we just deal with whatever (including offspring and their offspring). But frankly, many worthy friendships have died simply due to the migraine issue vs the perception of not caring.

  • Sarah
    3 years ago

    This. This has been my life in a nutshell the last year, when my migraine attacks went from infrequent to chronic for the majority of the year. I’m so thankful to the friends who stepped up and understood (and took care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself).

  • Nonster
    3 years ago

    This is something I’ve struggled with since I’ve had chronic migraine and also had to go on disability . The closest friends at work turned their back on me ab were even mad at me. I had a very high stress , high workload job and they felt I left them high and dry. Giving up my job is one of the hardest repercussions of migraines and then to have friends-or those I thought were friends-actually be mad at me and drop me like a hot potato was too much. I finally had to give up on them and be thankful for the 18 years we made memories together. Now the friends I have I can count on one hand and they are the Best. They understand, encouragie, empathize and love me , headaches and all. I’ve found out its quality not quantity when it comes to no being that shiny penny any longer.

  • Kari Froelicher
    3 years ago

    I find that friends don’t call me anymore. If I want to do anything with someone I have to call around and find someone. It is sort of annoying that no one calls me anymore. I really haven’t canceled plans much. I have always tried to do as much as I can no matter how I am feeling because I don’t want to miss out on life. But now I feel isolated and alone, reaching out to others who aren’t there. I’m not sure what happened.

  • mstori68
    3 years ago

    Sometimes something hits home which makes you realize that others really don’t understand and/or they really aren’t as good a friend to you as you thought they were, or they didn’t care about you as much as you thought they did. This past weekend my sister and her boyfriend used “Tori’s migraines” as an excuse to not go over to another friend’s house (even though I was feeling fine that evening). This clued me into the fact that my previous migraine-related absences had been noted and discussed across a broad group of people on other occasions, and that a measure of understanding and compassion about the situation was clearly missing. Going forward, I won’t feel a single iota of guilt should I have to bow out of plans if I am not feeling well. They’ve made it clear to me that I am the only one looking out for my own best interests… and it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s never fun to feel like you’re the unwitting butt of someone’s jokes, especially when you’re powerless to change the cause. Goodness knows I’m doing everything in my power to limit the effect migraines have on my life… I certainly didn’t choose this condition.

  • Glory
    3 years ago

    All I can say is that I do feel your pain. I certainly do get the whole migraine/chronic pain issues.

    I do understand it really is what it is. You hurt. Your pain is very real. However, the likelihood you appear to others to be living in this pain reality is probably much less real. We all have developed strategies to either hide or compensate for the impact migraines have had on us.

    Unfortunately, these strategies have a tendency to blow up on us. There is always a tendency to suggest another migraine/chronic pain sufferer is using their situation to manipulate social/life events as a convenient excuse.

    Oddly enough, my migraine husband and migraine son with very similar symptoms both tend to accuse the other of exaggerating their pain. One would think they would be sympathetic and compassionate to each other since they both have similar incapacitating pain, but this is not the case.

    Take care of yourself. Maybe be very clear with your loved ones when you are in pain all bets are off. Dump the whole guilt thing, both for yourself and for them.

  • Mandy Swain
    3 years ago

    This is certainly true for me and your article hit the nail on the head. The energy it takes to keep explaining the same thing over and over again is exhausting. In the end, it’s easier to stay at home and not keep letting people down. The guilt you feel is horrendous and doesn’t help feeling ill. If someone has never had a migraine it must be very difficult to understand how debilitating it is. Thanks for publishing this article….it’s been a bit of a light bulb moment for me!

  • Jenny
    3 years ago

    #4 is hitting home very hard right now.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    3 years ago

    Jenny, I’m right there with you. I’ve had a year of discovery regarding shame and migraine. You might find this article helpful: https://migraine.com/blog/guilt/. The title says guilt, but it’s about finding that what I called guilt was actually shame. Best wishes in your search for relief and peace.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  • Paulajane
    3 years ago

    I find people drop me more than I drop them. However, if a friendship or acquaintanceship requires a lot of energy to survive, worth it or not, I don’t have it. However, I would like to add that migraines are not the only invisible condition. I think this applies to all conditions. I have had migraines for over 28 years and now a lot of other “unseen” conditions. People need to be more empathetic in general, but I doubt this will happen.

  • Panda2015
    3 years ago

    Thanks for writing this, Kerrie. It’s a sad reality that’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge! #4 was a standout for me – when I was getting frequent migraines, I felt so bad that I couldn’t see friends as often as I wanted to. Luckily, I have very understanding friends that called or texted when I couldn’t show up. In my experience, I felt that explaining what happened when I got migraines was helpful. And also – checking in on friends when I couldn’t see them (via text or email) reminded them that I still care. 🙂

  • Douglas
    3 years ago

    Kerrie, #2 & #3 hit home for me. We have friends that we used to socialize with 2 or 3 times a month, due to my migraines we sometimes go 2 months without being able to get together. They have been very good about things, but it still makes me feel ashamed.

  • MigraMom1
    2 years ago

    My heart goes out to everyone here who suffers from migraines. Almost every comment (plus the article) rings true for me as well. Even people I thought knew me – close family and friends – look at me askance when I say I’ve had or have a migraine. Yes – they still think “it’s only a headache” even though I’ve had them more than 30 years… full blown “want to die” migraines … not sure how I’m still here. It’s very distressing that some are so dismissive. I especially am unable to control the morning migraines… completely unpredictable and debilitating since I cannot take meds to prevent them (Botox won’t work for me, nor other preventive meds) and when they hit hard, I can NOT function. I am unable to work both from migraines and chronic back pain issues (injury related) and left arm nerve issues that feel like a knife stabbing my shoulder and arm. I know I’m not the only one who’s suffering – I’m sure we each have our version of migraines and comorbid problems.
    But We who suffer migraines should be each other’s supports – and just have a very loose and understanding no time constraints kind of friendship – just to know we are from the same migraine “planet” for lack of a better word… (maybe island)… is all we need – that we are speaking the same language and furthermore, can understand that language… and can occasionally get a virtual hug… from each other – just knowing there are others with a similar situation, is weirdly comforting….

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