Resisting the urge to be totally defensive

Resisting the urge to be totally defensive

This month I got a really upsetting note from an acquaintance who aired some grievances with me.  I appreciated him/her taking the time to try to establish a dialogue with me, but I knew from past experience that engaging in the conversation wouldn’t truly resolve anything.  One of this person’s frustrations with me was that I claim to care about things (especially community involvement opportunities) but that I don’t actually put my money where my mouth is by showing up.

Boy oh boy, that got my blood boiling.  I talked to my friend HT (someone who appears in my articles now and then), who is quite wise and who I knew would steer me in the right direction.  I ended up writing the person back to acknowledge his/her note and to say I respected his/her opinions.  I kept my answer succinct, saying that I wasn’t sure anything I could say would resolve things in a way that would make us both happy, so I was going to just be as polite and understanding as I could and close the conversation.

It was hard.  REALLY hard.  Do you know what I wanted to say, even though I know it would be pointless? I wanted to list all the things I am involved in.  I wanted to mention how many hours I work in an average week. I wanted to give counter-arguments for every point he/she made. Above all else, I wanted to say, “DO YOU KNOW THAT I AM A CHRONICALLY ILL PERSON WHOSE LIFE IS IMPEDED BY MIGRAINE EACH AND EVERY DAY? DO YOU KNOW HOW DIFFICULT IT IS FOR ME TO DO ALL THAT I DO? Don’t you know I already beat myself up sometimes for all the things I want to accomplish but simply can’t due to health and time constraints?”

Listen.  I know that this is an anomaly.  I am really fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community and people who are appreciative of what I do. I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel I and my business have a LOT of room for improvement—I’m not saying this person is the only one who feels that way, he/she was just the first to speak up so strongly.  I also know that it would’ve been an exercise in futility to take the time to argue with this person and explain that, in my heart and in my head, I have good responses for his/her many points.

One thing I learned from this hurtful and frustrating letter is just how defensive I still feel regarding my migraine.  I am (obviously) an outspoken health advocate who champions the cause of migraineurs and is no longer in the closet about my illness and the effects it has on my personal and professional lives.  But my instinct in this case was to defend myself by outlining all the ways in which I am impeded by my health, all the ways in which I am limited by the migraines that show up and interrupt my day with little or no warning.

Have you ever had a situation similar to mine, where someone has pointed out something that is all too obvious to us:  that we say we will do something and don’t, or that we claim to support something but then don’t show up 100% of the time?  I think even if I were a totally healthy person I shouldn’t feel forced to be involved with every single thing that is meaningful to me. But as a frequently sick person, I feel even more like a rock in a hard place.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (21)
  • Kelster
    3 years ago

    I view it as educating not defending. Plus I’m very descriptive in explaining what a migraine feels like – words like ice pick, flaming sword, slicing / stabbing your brain and skull, the feeling that your skin is sliding off your face and checking to ensure you’re not having a stroke. I explain how new research is showing there’s a genetic component to them (not my diet, hormones, lifestyle, etc), my great aunt who’s now in her 90’s still gets them and my dad had them since he was a little boy. And that I do everything in my power to reduce the frequency, intensity and impact to my life. And push through when they’re “mild” on the pain scale. But this is my life situation and I’ve had to learn to cope. I say it all in a matter-of-fact, yet positive, & upbeat way and express gratitude the migraines aren’t worse (I don’t vomit – yay!). All of this seems to help them understand, and be able to empathize. And when they say they don’t get migraines, or even headaches, I tell them I’m happy for them.

  • Krystolla
    4 years ago

    Even people who are trying to be supportive don’t realize how few fully functional hours I actually have — so while exercise or volunteer work or learning new skills might help me feel better I need those few good hours to do things like eat and shower.

    I also feel defensive about life style choices I’ve made — a lot of the supportive people in my life have theories on things that I should just try or just give up that could possibly ‘cure’ the headaches. I feel like I need to defend everything I do (or don’t do) as not being the cause of my migraines.

  • bluebird
    3 years ago

    Me too.

  • Theresa
    4 years ago

    I have spent way too much time trying to explain my pain to others. I no longer even try. I do not join organizations because I will get sick and have to bow out. I have endured many hurtful words from less than compassionate people. For example, my ex stated that if he knew how bad the headaches were, he would have never married me. My pain didn’t matter, his inconvenience did. He is an ex after all.
    I have suffered the indignities of doctors who have called me an addict, failed to realize the horrid side effects of their meds and were torturing me. I even suffered a doctor visit where I’m so ill and vomiting to have the so called doctor tell me I needed to have an orgasm. As a transient aphasic I could see his lips move but truly didn’t understand. Doesn’t he realize that I have spent my life seeking relief and if orgasms worked, I wouldn’t need a shot to stop the throwing up and pain. Really, why is it so difficult for anyone to understand pain.
    Frankly, I find most folks don’t want to know and don’t care. It’s about them and well my problems aren’t theirs. I get it, so I do what I need to do live my life. I often think, there but for the Grace of God go I. I feel sorry for them.
    Defensive, perhaps, living with a headache each and every day, probably makes me that way.

  • Shaylie
    4 years ago

    My two younger sisters complain a lot that I get out of doing a lot of things because I say I have a migraine. I like to be involved. I love serving other people, but there are some times when I just physically can’t. I get the whole “you just need to push through” lecture all the time, but they don’t understand that I pushed through yesterday and they day before and that I just need a break. I know what my limits are, but people just don’t understand that it’s hard for me to do what I do. My best friend gets angry at me when I leave school because of a migraine, but she doesn’t understand that it took all I had just to get out of bed that morning. I know she means well and doesn’t want me to get behind,but she just doesn’t understand that I have limits. I don’t know what to say to the people that don’t understand me because I don’t want them to think that I’m complaining or that I’m mean. I don’t want to come off as defensive, so I just say nothing. I deal with their frustration and anger. They don’t realize that the last thing I need is for them to say that I’m weak or that I’m faking having a migraine just to get out of something that I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s just too hard for me to try and talk to people that don’t understand what I’m going through.

  • Teresa
    4 years ago

    I have recently found a way to explain, somewhat, what kind of pain I go through to people who have never felt it. I tell them to think of the absolute worse brain freeze they have ever had, then, compound that with the absolute worst crick in the neck ever, multiply by ten, and imagine having that pain almost every day of their life. This is not completely accurate, and most people still can not truly imagine it, but it kind of gets my point across. Unless I happen to be talking to one of those Migraine Trolls who think that I am making it all up, lol.

  • Jackie
    4 years ago

    My husband travels a lot and all my friends can’t understand why I don’t join him. I would love to go to Japan and Germany and other places he travels to but where do you go if you need ER treatment for a migraine. I took a cruise to Alaska and it was a nightmare because I had massive migraines and all I wanted to do was be in a dark room. I felt blackmailed to go out because I was “missing out”. My friend accused me of being mean because I lost my temper at my husband when I just wanted to go back to the cabin. Now I just stay home and don’t worry about what they think anymore.

  • Holly H.
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, folks. After years of this intractable migraine, it still floors me how unpleasant, unteachable, and judgmental some people are to something outside their box. (I could hear a guy down in the common area “whisper” to others that I was crazy.) Thankfully, there are others… Just today a dear friend drove me to my doctor appointment, and we laughed so much. She could tell it was hurting my head (my eyes are very readable as to my pain). I told her it did hurt my head, but, boy, did it do my heart good!

  • Tracy Grant
    4 years ago

    I totally get it. This year I stopped doing all things that required me to turn up as it was getting harder and harder. It created more stress thinking about whether I would be well enough to go out, and that in turn, triggered migraines. So i just gave up. One of my close friends thinks I was wrong to do this as she said you just have to ‘push through’. Push through what? I am sick of trying to please other people. it’s hard enough just working from home and keeping the house tidy. My 2 kids and husband all get migraines, but not the extent or the frequency i do. They think I am a bit neurotic, and they get migraines! So how do we expect non migrainers to even begin to understand? They just don’t.

  • Jackie
    4 years ago

    Tracy my family have no medical issues and are rarely sick so it is hard for them to relate. I used to love going to BUNCO but I have quit because I never know if I will be migraine free that evening. I am so tired of saying I can’t do something because I have a migraine and they look at me as if to say sure right. My husband is my rock because he is there when I am vomiting and trying not to move but he is out of town a lot so I am mostly alone.

  • Jackie
    4 years ago

    A friend of mine gets “tired” of hearing I can’t do things because I have a migraine. I am waiting for approval for additional implants to stop my constant migraines. Even with preventative meds I am still having them. When I have to go to the ER the dr. thinks I am drug seeking and I have to tell him I don’t want the opioid I just need something for the nausea and vomiting. My rebound migraines are always worse than before I go to the ER. It is hard for my family because they are all fit and healthy so when I have to bow out because of my migraine they don’t quite get it. My oldest daughter has little to no sympathy and thinks going to the fitness center and working out will fix it.

  • laurel
    4 years ago

    I have chronic daily migraines that began 15 years ago as a result of viral meningitis. My cousin refuses to even acknowledge that I have migraines. She tells me that I’m not really that sick. When I have to cancel plans at the last minute, she believes it’s because I’ve decided that I just didn’t want to attend. She’s told me over and over how many times this has inconvenienced her. This is also the same woman who tried to arrange a drug intervention because I kept seeing one Migraine Doctor after another looking for help. She’s seen me go through hell, including adrenal failure and surgeries, and yet this is her conclusion. Some people will never understand and it is futile to try. After 15 years, I have decided it is best to stop communicating with her.

  • vickimarie
    4 years ago

    Having to explain and defend myself, ever, drains me. I wish I could just say, “sorry, I’m not able to join you,” and hear, “we’ll miss you.” and that’s it. Listen, I even have friends with chronic conditions who will respond, “can’t we just get together for a brief ______.” This morning, as I am recovering from an all-night migraine, I just deleted the request. I don’t have the energy to defend or explain. I just wish people would listen better . . . and respect boundaries. I know I am loved and appreciate that so much but it doesn’t feel loving to be asked to defend and explain.

  • domestictech
    4 years ago

    I totally get it. It`s like the more I defend myself the meaner they get.

  • MPgirl33
    4 years ago

    My new beau is just getting used to my daily migraines. He still doesn’t think things through when he turns on a light, uses his phone in the dark, blares music in the car, etc. I just quietly rub my eyes when in reality I want to rip him out for triggering my migraine or making it worse.

  • Lou
    4 years ago

    I feel defensive sometimes even when someone doesn’t say anything. There are times when I know I could have done better work or finished more quickly and I wish I could wear a T-shirt with all the reasons why my headaches hindered me. It is very hard to put forth a product that you know could be better if you just were pain free and had the energy. But people don’t want to hear it, and they don’t understand. Trying to explain just makes me seem lazy AND whiny. So I’m left knowing that I am not reaching my potential and I am judged as “less than” I actually am. It’s so frustrating.

  • Anne
    4 years ago

    yes – I just had this conversation with someone two days ago. They were angry at me for not phoning back because they wanted support on something. I had to once again explain that because of the heat right now, my migraine episodes are bad and I have been going to bed every day right after work (i already am almost out of sick days for the year). I had to remind them what chronic migraine means – how many migraine days I have. I think, unless people actually have chronic migraines (not just episodic, because this person has episodic) they don’t realize how many days you are incapacitated.

    Some people are more sensitive than others and take things personally that certainly aren’t – while to others, a unreturned phone call or two is no big deal as they know you are sick. I hate having to explain this, but I realized that this person has no idea the actual scope of my condition. I have not had enough strength to wash my hair, work out, eat properly, etc. and I cannot give my precious energy away right now. When I feel better again, I can give more, but I have to put myself first.

    I don’t think explaining the facts of chronic migraines is being defensive – I think people who haven’t experienced it just genuinely have no idea.

  • Luna
    4 years ago

    Trying to respond to a situation like this is a lesson in futility. Any defense is seen by them as a bolster to their position/attitude. As you said “engaging in the conversation wouldn’t truly resolve anything”. And may only make the situation worse. Let it go. Not always easy to let it go in our own minds. And actually that type of person isn’t worth the energy.

  • gemmafisher
    4 years ago

    This sounds like exactly what happened to me. Except it was three of my closest friends. I am a college student studying engineering whose episodic migraines became chronic a year ago and it is so hard to try and stay involved in everything and have the energy of a normal college student when I’m sick. From my experience, I think you were right not to engage. It has never worked out positively for me either, unfortunately.

  • Taylor
    4 years ago

    I’m finishing up my bachelor’s degree right now and can’t WAIT to get out of the college environment. Being among all these young, healthy people when I feel like my lifeforce is being sucked away is just depressing. I’ve lost all but a few of my friends after they got tired of “bringing along the old lady” or my constantly having to turn down plans. It’s so incredibly hard to make them understand… being in pain constantly makes you want to hide away in a dark room. We have to make choices about our energy expenditures, I usually end up using all of mine on school and managing my health. Even then, those things aren’t going so well.

  • inquisitivespirit
    4 years ago

    I am also at university studying engineering (along with science and French). I tend to keep my constant migraine a secret because I manage to at least appear to function most of the time. I’ve been slowly telling more and more people about it for a few years now and the reactions tend to be more negative than accepting. One good friend in particular has the incorrect attitude that ‘there are no barriers to success as long as you work hard enough’ which she is struggling to correct so she keeps saying hurtful things implying that I’m lazy and need to try harder. Trying to change this friend’s way of thinking when she’s actually trying to change it is hard enough, engaging with an acquaintance to try and do something similar would probably just be frustrating with nothing to show for it.

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