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Coping with others’ concern

My family and friends are very loving and supportive when it comes to my chronic illness, but sometimes their concern can feel a little overwhelming. This is especially true for my immediate family—my parents and sister feel very sad when I report that I am in the midst of a migraine attack. Their love feels warm and cozy, but the concern can sometimes be hard to deal with. I don’t want them to worry about me, though surely if they stopped expressing concern I would feel miffed. I find myself not wanting to confess when I feel ill because I know I’ll feel self-created pressure to comfort them, to tell them that things are okay (which they always are). There’s a delicate balance when it comes to reacting to loved ones’ concern for my pain and illness, and I’ve never found where the line is drawn.

Of course it’s important to give your family and friends a heads-up if you’re under the weather. Oftentimes, a migraine attack makes me a little listless and antisocial even when my meds do work. I feel the desire to explain myself—I want people to know that I am not being my normal self for a good reason, that I’m enjoying myself despite the way I feel out of it from migraine and migraine meds. But confessing to the fact that the illness has played a major role in my day feels burdensome sometimes—I don’t want others to necessarily know how often migraines pop up.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who was dealing with a bad tension headache. At one point, she seemed more jovial and talkative. “Oh, does this mean your headache’s gone?” I asked, realizing only as I said it that I sounded just like any number of friends who’ve asked me the same thing over the years. I know for a fact that being in a good mood or feeling happy doesn’t mean the headache is gone. “It’s still here, but it’s a lot better,” she answered. I felt guilty for having brought up her headache after she’d seemed to forget about it for a bit.

So how do you handle it when loved ones express concern for your health? How do you strike a balance between keeping them justly informed and oversharing?

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.


  • Sharon
    8 years ago

    Janet, this is so spot on. My husband and I have discussed this exact issue in length. We have so many social functions that I dutifully attend medicated and unfocused. On one hand, I don’t want to be considered a walking migraine, but on the other hand I feel the need to explain why I seem so out of it. It becomes an instant issue, and then I wish there was a better way of broaching (or not) the issue– such a delicate balance, something we all deal with constantly.

    The other issue is a daily challenge – Most of our families live elsewhere, so the phone is our communication of choice. It’s always the first question, and their primary concern. If there is a way around this without alienating them and their precious support, I’d love to know what it is… I will be bringing this up at our support group and let you know if we come up with an appropriate response. Thank you for verbalizing this issue.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    This is a great topic.

    In my house, I’ve been dealing with this so long that they usually don’t bother asking anymore – they just smile, or give me a hug and we go on with life. They can tell how I’m feeling by the look on my face. We all learned a long time ago that it’s very possible to be happy and be in pain at the same time. We choose to concentrate on the happy. The smile is definitely there, it’s just got a certain ‘look’ to it when I’m hurting especially bad – sort of happiness without a the usual enthusiasm. Like you, I’ve found myself asking my kids if they’re still hurting when their Migraine seems to have let up a bit. It’s a definite *doh* moment. I try instead just to say “I’m so glad to see you smile/laugh” or “I’m so glad to see your beautiful eyes”. Hugs always speak volumes 🙂

    I can’t wait to see what others do/say…

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