How to accept/handle people who don't understand...and don't care to

I am immensely lucky in that my friends and family are very patient and sympathetic when it comes to my migraine disease. They may not ever understand what it's like to live life as a frequent migraine sufferer, but they do try to be as supportive as they can.

Surely there are some acquaintances of mine who don't quite "buy" the seriousness of migraine or the immeasurably huge impact it has on my life, but I am fortunate enough to not have to hear their opinions.

Sadly, I am not in the majority here. Most migraineurs I talk with have at least one person--if not many, many more--in their lives who are what I think of as "migraine deniers." People who cannot fathom what it's like to endure migraine attacks and all their intricacies--or who don't even take the time to try to understand. From an outsider's perspective, it's easy to give flippant advice: "Just ignore the nay-sayers!" or "Don't let them get to you." Ah, if only it were that easy.

More often than not, the migraine deniers out there get through to us because their comments are not only hurtful but persistent. I have gotten extremely fed up hearing readers' stories about bosses, siblings, husbands, friends, and coworkers who roll their eyes when the subjet of migraine is brought up. As you probably know, I wish just one migraine on each of those eye-rollers. Apart from experiencing an attack themselves, it's not likely that we will ever be able to get any genuine sympathy from them.

Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when I am faced with denial or misunderstanding of migraine:

  1. These people are in the privileged position of not having had to learn as much about migraine as I have. I cannot expect them to automatically understand where I am coming from.
  2. I can give people a chance to listen to me, and I can offer a calm introduction to migraine disease either through quiet conversation or through a handy letter like the one contributor Teri Robert has shared in the past.
  3. It is likely that these people have personal or medical issues I myself would have trouble identifying with, even if they don't share those things with me.
  4. Getting worked up over their ignorance or lack of care does absolutely nothing positive for my mental or physical well-being.

Remembering these things, particularly #4. allows me to take a deep breath and realize what interactions are worth investing in and which are not. I do always want to let people know I am happy to share my migraine story and some medical information about the disease, but I don't push it on them. I do try to give them a chance to listen, and if they don't, it's not something worth investing time in at that point. photo: self-portrait with a migraine, 2012, feeling awful and looking not like myself.

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