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!