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Compassion for a Friend Far Exceeds Compassion for Myself

A friend has had severe, constant back pain for several months. She’s doing at least four hours of physical therapy each week, as well as faithfully doing her exercises at home, resting, applying ice, and using a TENS unit. She felt better enough to take a vacation until her back flared up and she had to cut the visit short to return home for diagnostic tests and more treatment. My first thought? “That’s so unfair! She’s working so hard and is doing everything right.”

“You know, kind of like the way you work yourself to the bone and follow the rules and still have chronic migraine,” was my next thought, followed by a pained chuckle at the irony.

I can see the work my friend does and be frustrated by the lack of reward she receives. With myself, I minimize my effort and think that not getting better must mean I’m not working hard enough. Maybe my friend slacked off a bit on her exercises and self-care while she was traveling; instead of judging her, I allowed that she can’t always follow her regimen strictly. When my migraine attacks worsen, I look for the mistakes I’ve made and beat myself up over any potential contributing factor.

When you’re getting down on yourself, How to Be Sick author Toni Bernhard recommends asking yourself “What would I say to a friend in this situation?” I practice befriending myself to quiet self-criticism frequently, but this spontaneous reversal of the situation really brought home the technique’s value. Knowing exactly what I would have said to my friend in a situation similar to my own made me see how much more compassionate I am toward her than toward myself.

My thoughts toward my friend are reminiscent of when I imagined my niece’s chronic daily headache and migraine progressing down the same path mine have. Instead of the oft recommended technique of putting myself in someone else’s shoes, putting someone else in my shoes made me see just how tough life is with chronic migraine. I was heartbroken for my niece’s imagined plight in a way I’ve never been for my own.

Why is it so difficult to see what I live with every single moment of every single day? Why do I not respect how incredibly hard I work? Where’s my compassion for myself? Having chronic migraine is hard enough; I could do without the guilt and blame I heap upon myself.

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


  • lara
    6 years ago

    For years I was hard on myself because I refused to accept that this disorder/disease was as serious and debilitating as it actually is. I told myself it was “mind over matter.” That if I refused to give into it that I could control it.

    Yeah. As everyone knows, that’s a bunch of bull. The disorder/disease wins out every time.

    While now I logically know that I have limitations? There is still a part of me that wants to get the better of the disease and I am so mad/upset/disappointed when it wins out.

    I don’t know if that’s what it is for you? But that’s what it is for me.

    The disease/disorder has taken so much from me. Sometimes? I just want to take something back and it pisses me off when I can’t. So, I get mad at myself.

  • Still Smiling
    6 years ago

    Hi Larissa,

    I read your comments and I actually understand where you’re coming from; I have a total unwillingness to let this thing beat me, but sometimes, as you found out, it has other plans. I was the same, determined to get myself through University only to find that I missed so many lectures that I was playing catch-up and got banned from Labs altogether, let alone trying to do the math required for a Science degree.

    You’re right when you say that it has taken so much from you; I find that I barely recognize the life I lead now compared to what it once was. To me, a good day is getting through it migraine free when it used to be a good day if I’d caught up with friends or spent the day doing something random and crazy…

    Keep fighting the good fight, and maybe one day we will win!

  • lara
    6 years ago

    Just as an example: I’ve gone back to school and I wanted to major in Computer Science and Engineering. THIS requires three quarters of Calculus. Okay. I’m on 400mg of Topamax a day, right? We know where this is going. I STILL tried to do it. I was able to pass all my classes with excellent grades but the math. I struggled through pre-calc and barely passed with a C. So, I had to change my major to an art/design engineering curriculum.

    Now, I should have KNOWN better but you see? I refused to accept it from the beginning because before chronic migraine? I was a math whiz.

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