Second-Guessing the Severity of Migraine

Easter. Yet another holiday I spent at home alone while my husband brunched with his dad and ate dinner with his mom. I nagged at myself most of the day, thinking, “This migraine isn’t so bad, why didn’t you go out?” When I finally stopped beating myself up, I acknowledged that
the migraine PAIN wasn’t too bad, but the rest of it rendered me in no shape to be social.

I was physically and mentally fatigued. Combining words into coherent sentences was beyond my ability. My body felt weighted down by sandbags so that just standing up was a monumental effort. When I tried to walk, I shuffled and weaved drunkenly. The nausea, which prevented me from eating, was no picnic either.

At a level 4, the pain wasn’t “too bad” considering the level 9 and 10 migraine attacks I’ve had. You know what I mean — the amount of pain migraineurs call “not too bad” is usually pain that most people would find quite distressing. For a reality check, I consulted the excellent
comparative pain scale created by the Health Organization for Pudenal Education, which describes level 4 pain as:

“Strong, deep pain, like an average toothache, the initial pain from a bee sting, or minor trauma to part of the body, such as stubbing your toe real hard. So strong you notice the pain all the time and cannot completely adapt. This pain level can be simulated by pinching the fold of skin between the thumb and first finger with the other hand, using the fingernails, and squeezing real hard. Note how the simulated pain is initially piercing but becomes dull after that.”

Migraine is so often thought of as a headache, yet I’m reminded on a regular basis of the many ways it which it isn’t. Not only is the pain not the same as that of a “bad headache” a non-migraineur experiences, but it is accompanied by many other symptoms that aren’t present with a typical headache. These symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and vertigo can be debilitating even when the migraineur experiences no head pain at all.

Perhaps because so few people — including doctors — understand the myriad debilitating symptoms of migraine, migraineurs seem to spend a lot of time second-guessing themselves, wondering if their illness is real. Even I wasn’t convinced that pain, mental and physical fatigue, and nausea meant I was too sick to join in Easter celebrations. Quite practically, it was the feeling of imminent collapse when I stood, which I knew would make walking to the car difficult, that finally convinced me to stay home.

Clearly, I don’t know the magic words we migraineurs can say to ourselves when we’re doubting the “realness” or severity of our illness. How do you remind yourself that migraine is a real, debilitating neurological illness that significant diminishes quality of life? Or, in straightforward terms, how do you silence that voice in your head that yells “FAKER!”?

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.
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