I don’t know if this is the case with other chronic illnesses, but I’ve noticed that migraineurs tend to take personal ownership of their migraine experience. How many times do we say, “MY migraine always…” even when talking to other migraineurs? Perhaps it’s because there are infinite ways in which migraine can present. None of our stories are exactly the same. None of the available treatments produce the same response in every one of us. Yet I wonder if there is something more.
Migraine is heavily stigmatized. We face skepticism, criticism, ableism, and any number of other –isms. Being told to “take a pill” or hearing “I get headaches, too, but…” reminds us that most people really don’t believe us. The constant pressure (subtle or not) to prove the legitimacy of our illness is exhausting. In the darkest of times, migraine itself may become the only thing we can actually rely on. It may torment us, but at least it’s still around. Taking migraine personally is a given. So without even thinking about it, we start saying, “MY migraine.” It’s the only thing that is uniquely ours. Saying “MY migraine” challenges others to defy OUR perception of OUR reality.
I come from a CAM background, including the practices of meditation, mindfulness, and positive thinking. From that perspective, many patients are advised not to identify too closely with their health condition. The idea is that by owning the illness (i.e. “MY migraine”) we give it power over us and create mental and spiritual obstacles to healing. Some go so far as to say that people who own their illness don’t really want to get better. The suggestions include:
- Stop talking about your illness
- Stop others from talking about your illness
- If you must say something, avoid the word “my” at all costs
- Use temporary, positive language that expresses the expectation of healing
Hogwash! I don’t believe that for a minute. To speak in such terms about a chronic illness is delusional. Migraine can be a significant part of life even when well-managed…and it doesn’t have a cure. I’m all for having a good attitude and trying to improve quality of life, but that sort of advice trivializes the severity of migraine.
So, here’s to all those well-meaning souls who sincerely believe that I am not MY migraine. I have just one question for you. I’ve tried it your way – ignoring reality and pretending I’m perfectly healthy. I just got sicker. How can you possibly suggest that I deny the existence of something that has been a part of my entire life? No, thank you. It’s MY migraine and I’ll talk about it if I want to.