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Migraines and “I can’t” – Necessity or Habit? Holding Us Back?

When we live with Migraine or chronic Migraine, there’s an abominable word that we’re forced to use all too often – the word “can’t.” That’s a word I loathe because it limits us, but the somber reality is that there are times when we must use it. One of my grade school teachers often said, “Can’t never accomplished anything.” Ugh! Maybe that’s why that word is so loathsome. This was a teacher I adored, so that stuck with me. It took a long time for me to consciously realize that her statement simply didn’t always apply.

Recently, it hit me smack between the eyes that using “can’t” has become a habit. There have been so many times when someone has asked me to go somewhere or do something, and my reply has needed to be, “Sorry, but I can’t.”

A friend suggested going on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, and my first response was, “Sorry, but I can’t. Things are too busy, and I’m afraid my Migraines would ruin the trip.” That might have been the end of it, but several people encouraged me to think about it. One of them informed me that, “No,” was not an acceptable response. They pushed and challenged, and they made me really think about it.

“Things are too busy?” When aren’t I busy? There’s never a not-busy time. Don’t we all owe it to ourselves to take some down-time for relaxation, renewal, and some playing around? Absolutely.

“I’m afraid my Migraines would ruin the trip.” The challenge to this part of my reply was, “What about the tips you’ve written about travel? Don’t you take your own advice?” Ouch! That hit home, so I took a good look at my Migraine diary and it showed an average of two Migraines a week AND that most of them responded well to a single dose of zolmitriptan (Zomig). It truly looked as if I could attempt this trip, and maybe Migraines wouldn’t be a bigger problem than I could manage.

In the end, I went on a nine-day vacation that was wonderful and breathtaking, and much-needed.

If you’re wishing I’d get to the point, here it is…

I’d responded with “can’t” more out of habit than current circumstances.

Wow. This was an astounding revelation for me. It revealed a habit that has held me back and limited me terribly. This is a habit I MUST break and WILL break.

This lead me to think about times when I’ve seen and heard Migraineurs say they can’t do something or go somewhere. Here are some examples:

  • “That specialist is two hours away. I can’t go there.”
  • “Between my Migraines and the distance they want to go, I can’t go on vacation with my family.”
  • “I just can’t go to anything that’s not here, where I live.”
  • “When you have an event where I live, let me know. Travel is out.”

Will you join me in a challenge?

What do you think? Is it possible that you’re like me, and you say, “I can’t,” as much out of habit as necessity?

When there’s something to be done, a special event, or a trip – if “can’t” pops into my head, I’m going to challenge myself and ask, “Why not?”

Will there be time when, “can’t” is appropriate and necessary. Certainly, there will be, but it would be great if we got to the point where we can distinguish between necessity and habit so we don’t limit ourselves more than our Migraines do.

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.


  • tucker
    7 years ago

    Last winter a couple coworkers wanted me to join their exercise class (an MXT class at 5:30am!) b/c they knew I’d love it. I used to be a gym rat so one really wanted me to try it. She has severe but only periodic migraines so she knew about that part of my medical history, but I do have some asthma and heart problems that are of recent onset so they hold me back more than I wish also.

    I finally said “I can” way back in Feb for a free week and joined for 6 months in March. I was one of the slowest runners, used my inhaler constantly, and rested when I needed to, but I felt good about getting strong. I really loved the small classes, the camaraderie and the fact that you were up and done with exercise by 7am, though since I do work PT, I was able to go to the 8:30 class some days (yeah!)

    But after several months of this, my body protested and my migraines got worse. I was exhausted and my sleep got worse instead of better. While others went 3-5 days per week, I was happy to make it 2-3 days a week. I slept for hours during the day if I was off or came home and collapsed on the couch immediately after work until I crawled into bed at some point and got up for work the next day. I had energy for 3-4 days then couldn’t function for 3-4 days. I was depressed, my work suffered and most of all, my family never saw me and if they did, I was usually cranky from being so tired. I hurt my back in late June and just never had the will in me to go back.

    It all came back around yesterday when I got my credit card bill and found I’d been billed for Sept and Oct, when my membership should have ended in Aug. I really do miss those classes but my body/mind/spirit just wasn’t ready for that level of exercise at this time. For now I’ve gone back to walking and yoga, with some occasional kayaking and canoeing thrown in for fun.

    So my thought is, always say “Maybe I can”. Like Terry, I put in a significant investment. But for me, exercise is an important part of the mind-body and healthy body aspect of our lives, so it was worth it. Yes, I did lose 2 months of my investment, but I felt I put up a good fight and it was time to let go when I did.

  • Writermom
    7 years ago

    Teri, thank you again for all you do for us. And, again, I learned so much from your book, Living Well With Migraine. I have also learned that I have the gene not only from my father and his side of the family, but my mother suffered for many years with this illness and was never diagnosed or treated properly. Thanks, Teri.

  • Writermom
    7 years ago

    Teri, this is a great item! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ALL get to the place where we could be so controlled, or even relieved of this illness, that we NEVER have to say, I CAN’T? Mine are doing much better in the last week or so. Here’s hoping there is hope in the future for all of us….

  • Dancing with Dogs
    7 years ago

    I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve had migraines since I was 6. When I was younger, I just pushed through the pain. I can remember going to dances, reaching a peak where I’d throw up in the bathroom and come back for more dancing. Same with work. Now…that seems harder. Looking for that balancing act between accepting limitations and not giving in too quickly. Recently, I’ve been pushing grad school. I’ve tried twice, and now I’m pretty convinced I need to do it part time and not full time. I would have progressed faster (I imagine) if I’d come to that conclusion sooner.

  • Writermom
    7 years ago

    Sherrie, I used to stay at work with my migraines. Attendance was most important, and my family needed me at work. The tears would be running down my face from the pain, when my pain med wasn’t working. Thankfully, I am retired now. I could not hold a job now as the migraines got much worse. When I was a senior in high school, I had to lay down for 2 hours after school everyday with a dark cloth over my eyes and sleep. Now, I cater to my headaches and I feel much better. If activity makes the headache worse, I stop until I feel better. When I was in college, part of the time was when I was working. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many migraines during this time. You know, they can be so erratic. Some Saturdays, though, I remember going to work on overtime, already having a migraine. I was very sick by the time I got home. Killing myself for the money. No more, but the money was important at that time.

  • lara
    7 years ago

    Hi Sherrie,

    I know exactly how you feel regarding grad school. I’m just now working on finishing my engineering degree and this is my third attempt. I’m 45. I dropped out of school twice before. This time online classes, regular classes and disability accommodations are making it easier.

  • Pamela L
    7 years ago

    This saddens me as I realize how much of life I’m missing because I’m holding myself back. I will, like Dee, try to push myself through a gathering only to winner later if everyone would have had more fun if I hasn’t been there. I don’t like who I am when I have a migraine, and don’t feel I have a right to subject anyone else to it.

  • lara
    7 years ago


    I’ve had experiences like that with family too. I’ve had family insist that all I needed to do was just “get out of bed” and “get on with my day” and I’d feel better. I’ve had my stepmother insist that I was spoiling things for everyone because I was “sick.” My ex-husband used to pout much in the same manner when I would have a migraine. My pain was inconsequential but the inconvenience I caused was monumental for them. The irony was that I would tell them to do things without me but they insisted on laying on guilt first and then proceeding with their day. I never understood it.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, they made me feel like an absolute drug addict for taking any sort of medication related to my migraines whether it was prophylactic, abortive or rescue.

  • Writermom
    7 years ago

    I know what you both mean. I miss a lot, too. What’s worse is when those around you have no idea what’s going on; those who are supposed to know and understand. Not too long ago, I awoke with a migraine, but we were visiting my daughter-in-law, who insisted we visit her church with her. She insisted we sit all the way down front, where she enjoyed sitting. Well, that was right beneath all the musical instruments, including horns. The sound system was such that the volume was very loud so all could hear, but I had to leave and go outside right away. I waited outside, in as cool a spot as I could find. My head was killing me. My daughter-in-law, wrongly, just assumed I left the service because I preferred to wander around. I had told her first thing in the morning that I had a bad migraine, but she didn’t listen. Well, I don’t do that any more. I am too old to suffer like that. I don’t have to answer to anyone. If I need to be in my bed with ice on my head and take my pain meds, that’s what I do. And, yes, I miss a lot of things. This same daughter-in-law could not believe I had a migraine that could last through the afternoon when my brother came to visit her. She thought I was just avoiding him! Just shows you how insensitive some family members can be!

  • lara
    7 years ago

    ” I don’t like who I am when I have a migraine, and don’t feel I have a right to subject anyone else to it.”

    Exactly. I have some migraines that hit extremely fast and can bring me to tears. The last thing I want is to be stuck at someone’s party and become the center of attention because I didn’t listen to my better judgement and stay home.

    Now, all these people will feel that they have to take care of me, get me home or to the ER and make sure I’m fine. SO not what I want. It’s even worse if you’re with a date!

    It’s one of the main reasons I don’t attend events if I suspect a migraine.

    I had one of these hit when I was on a camping trip with a large group of friends in Washington State and my triptans failed. Someone had to drive me back to an area where I could get treatment. Talk about being a pain in the …

    Sorry, but I’ll be staying home. I’m not putting anyone through something like that again. I learned my lesson.

  • Dee
    7 years ago

    One of the conundrum’s I have had recently is regarding how I am not fully myself when I defy the migraine and agree to going out with friends. It is something that I have experimented with and decided that it actually makes me feel worse when I defy it. Mostly due to the fact that I am not able to be myself and people get the impression that I’m being a downer or anti-social, which of course is not the case. I recently attended a friend’s birthday party with a migraine in tow, and I couldn’t help but notice later that I actually looked un-well in the photo’s. I was trying to appear to be having a good time, when in fact I wasn’t. It’s not the actual migraine that prompts me to say “I can’t”, it’s the effect that it has on my personality that bothers me the most.

  • Teri-Robert author
    7 years ago

    Hello, Dee,
    We all have times when “can’t” is true and appropriate. What I realized was that I had started doing it out of habit, not because I truly couldn’t do something. The situation you describe is fully understandable. You did, after all, describe a situation when you did have a Migraine. Here’s hoping that these times will become fewer so you can enjoy times when you can honestly say, “I can.”

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