Hope breaks the cycle of helplessness

It isn't unusual for migraine patients to feel out of control, especially in the middle of a prolonged and painful migraine attack. Multiply that by decades of unrelenting pain and you have a formula for feeling powerless to change. Even if there are ways to improve the situation, it can be nearly impossible to recognize them and even more difficult to implement those changes. After all, if nothing has worked so far, why should we expect anything new to work?

This situation is what mental health experts call "learned helplessness". It happens when a person continuously experiences negative, unpleasant situations which they are unable to change. Over time, the person comes to believe that there is no escape. It is quite understandable how this can happen. In terms of migraine, learned helplessness can occur when we encounter doctor after doctor who is unable to help or gives up on us. When several doctors tell us that there's nothing left to try, we start to believe this might really be true. The danger with learned helplessness is that it destroys hope.

Without hope, we stop looking for better ways to manage migraine. We give up. We may stop trying, but migraine continues to get stronger. The more attacks we experience, the more attacks we are likely to have in the future. This is one condition that can definitely get worse over time if not treated properly. The challenge we face is that so few health care providers even know how to accurately diagnose migraine, let alone treat it properly.

If you are one of the millions of migraine patients who have given up trying to get relief from migraine attacks, I want you to know how much my heart aches for the pain you must be feeling. I wish that I could magically transport you to one of the really great headache specialists. I wish that your insurance company would cover your needed treatments. And I wish that there was an unlimited scholarship fund to help you cover the costs of travel and missing work to see one of the best headache doctors in the country.

It is nice to dream, but wishing won't make these things come true. I won't pretend that there aren't huge obstacles keeping you from getting the care and treatment you need and deserve. Just thinking about the barriers to good care can trigger a migraine!

It takes a great deal of courage to start fighting again. In the beginning it can feel so useless, like you are wasting precious time and money searching for the one thing that doesn't really exist. You might get resistance from friends and loved ones, too. There are going to be days when you think it would be better to give up. You will need to remember that migraine isn't going to quit just because you surrender. It will keep coming, over and over, increasing its attacks. Your best hope is to keep searching.

Here are a few places to get started:

American Headache Society - Find a Healthcare Professional
Migraine Research Foundation Directory of Diplomates in Headache Medicine
Migraine Research Foundation Directory of Children's Headache Doctors
United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties - Diplomates in Headache Medicine

If you're stuck or need help brainstorming ideas, please reach out to me or one of our other Patient Advocates. We are all in various stages of migraine treatment, too. We understand how frustrating it can be when nothing seems to work. What's different about us is that we're still fighting. Most of us have developed working relationships with some great headache doctors. Even if we don't live near you, we might still be able to point you in the right direction. If nothing else, you will have a team of migraine friends to cheer you on and a several sets of shoulders to cry on.

We haven't given up on you. Please don't give up on yourself.

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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.

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