Migraine doulas wanted

Which one do you think migraineurs need most?

Empathy: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Sympathy: sharing the feelings of another, compassion

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering

Pity: sympathy evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy.

Even when we discover those rare human gems who are actually supportive, migraineurs still feel alone and misunderstood. Generally it’s because people feel sympathy, have compassion, or take pity on us. Not many of us experience true empathy.

Nowhere is this more blatant than in the popular statement,

“If you’ve never had a migraine, you just don’t get it.”

That simple statement tells us a lot about what migraineurs need and aren’t getting. It’s a polarizing statement that comes from an “us versus them” mindset.  Attachment theory teaches us that this mindset only happens after repeated attempts to connect, be understood, and accepted. Polarization is a last-ditch effort at self-protection after all attempts to connect have failed. It comes from a deep wound inside the spirit of almost every migraineur.

Many migraineurs have been subjected to years of not being taken seriously. We have been accused of faking it, having a mental illness, or just “seeking attention”. Over and over again we are told, “There is nothing more I can do for you.” We have lost jobs, friends, family, and so much more. Comedians use our suffering as the punch line of jokes, making us a target for ridicule. Certain drugs are advertised in such a way that makes us look like we are not trying hard enough if that drug doesn’t work for us. We are tired and the only fuel many of us have left is anger.

We build protective walls around us because we must avoid so much of the world in the hopes of just one less attack. We desperately crave connection with other people, yet find that few can tolerate our restrictive lifestyle long enough to stay connected. Friends and loved ones pity us from a distance. Occasionally we are asked how we are doing. When people learn that nothing has really changed, the uncomfortable silence grows. People “walk on eggshells” around us as if we might break. Yet few really stick around.

We are 36 million strong and most of us are lonely.

We don’t need your pity.

We don’t need your sympathy.

We don’t need you to fix us.

We just need you to be with us in our dark quiet world. Bring your smile, a joke, and pictures of your kids, pets, or grandkids. Give us updates on all the latest gossip. We want to stay connected. You can be our lifeline to the outside world.

It’s called empathy.

We desperately need people who will put themselves in our shoes, people who will say, “That really stinks. I can’t imagine what you are going through.  May I sit with you awhile?”

The difference between empathy and sympathy is like the difference between an obstetrician and a doula. When a woman is in labor, the obstetrician can feel sorry for the woman and give her an epidural to ease the pain.  He or she can give advice, make suggestions, or offer solutions. A doula, on the other hand, has no power to stop the pain. Her power comes from her connection with the laboring woman. She knows her, understands her, and empowers her to make choices for herself. She sits with the woman.

I have witnessed the power of this connection and it is unbelievable. Every migraineur deserves to have someone like a doula in his or her life. There is no judgment, no fixing, just belief. I watched it in action when my daughter’s doula gave her a gentle smile and said, “You’ve got this, Jenn,” as she prepared to push. Then she stood by her side without flinching for the three hours it took to deliver her baby. An obstetrician may have insisted on taking over with powerful drugs, forceps, or even surgery. That would have taken away any control she had over her own labor.

Migraineurs don’t need people to take away our power. We need people who will say,

“I believe in you.”
“You’ve got this.”
“I am not going anywhere, no matter how long it takes.”

Will you be a doula for the migraineur in your life?

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