Migraine pet peeve

The stigmatizing statement most likely to get a reaction out of me is the one I hear at every family gathering. It comes from a place of caring and is seriously misguided.

“Have they found out what’s causing those headaches yet?”

Hearing this question makes me want to scream. I don’t do it, of course. Most people genuinely mean well. They don’t understand how stigmatizing this statement really is. Asking if the doctors have found a cause assumes that one can be found. It also equates triggers with cause.  Many people still believe that by avoiding stress, certain foods, smells, or other stimuli, all migraineurs can “cure” themselves. This question implies that either I am working with incompetent doctors or I’m not motivated enough to find a solution. Either way, it assumes I am to blame.

Also, I view myself as type of ambassador for migraineurs. When people who know what I do ask this question, it is sometimes delivered with an unspoken accusation that I am a failure at my job because I still struggle with chronic migraine. Like many, part of my identity is wrapped up in the work I do so these types of comments hit me hard at my core.

For so long I would stumble on this question. I tried hard not to sound defensive even though I felt as though the legitimacy of my illness and my work were being judged by my response. I would carefully give a long explanation, struggling to find just the right words.  Finally I realized that the question is either sincere or it’s not. Either way, my response doesn’t change someone’s preconceived ideas about migraine. So over time I’ve learned to have some quick responses ready.

When I am feeling generous and I think the person really cares to know how I am doing, I respond truthfully.

  • “I’m doing great today.”
  • “Well, I don’t wake up with them anymore.  That’s progress.”
  • “According to the latest reports, a new treatment is coming soon.”
  • “I’m starting Botox in a few weeks. Hopefully that will make a difference.”
  • “My doctor and I are working on a plan. It’s too soon to tell if we will be successful.”
  • “There’s a new type of drug in research trials. I can’t wait to try it as soon as it’s available.”
  • “My doctor keeps tabs on the latest research.  As soon as there’s a cure, he will let me know.”

Sometimes the person asking doesn’t really want to know the truth. And sometimes it doesn’t matter what their motive because I am feeling snarky.

  • “Yep, I have a messed up brain. That’s the cause.”
  • “Two concussions certainly didn’t help the situation.”
  • “Gosh, why don’t you ask the ER staff? I’m on their frequent flyer program.”
  • “Sure, I’m drug-deficient.”
  • “I think I’m about ready to try drilling a hole in my head.”
  • “Oh, I’m not sure I want a cure. I kind of like being a guinea pig.”
  • “They better hurry up. I only have one good vein left to put the drugs in.”

Understanding friends accept my honesty or sarcasm. To the rest it doesn’t matter what I say. They’ve already decided I’m either crazy or lying. They will use whatever I say to support their own assumptions. I worry more about people misunderstanding the purpose of my attempts at trigger avoidance and get hung up over-explaining myself so I don’t appear rude.

Do you have a pet peeve?

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