The Stigma of Migraine... Among People Who Have Migraine
“Migraine’s not an ‘illness,’ it’s an annoying thing to deal with occasionally. It’s not like it’s disabling.”
“Anyone who says they can take an over-the-counter painkiller to stop a migraine doesn’t really have migraine.”
“If someone’s having a true migraine, they wouldn’t be able to be writing about it on Facebook.”
I see variations on these themes every day. The perspective depends where on the migraine spectrum a person falls. People who have infrequent episodic migraine find it to be a manageable condition and think that those who say migraine has overtaken their lives are being melodramatic. Those who have chronic migraine believe that anyone who isn’t as devastated by migraine as they are must be exaggerating a minor headache by calling it a migraine. Whichever faction a person falls into, they assume that everyone else experiences migraine exactly the same way they do.
Not everyone takes a side, of course. Plenty of people who have migraine have more compassion for others than this simple dichotomy indicates. Unfortunately, those people aren’t the vocal ones on the internet.
Oh, the internet -- it’s like the little girl in the Longfellow poem, either very, very good or horrid. When the internet is good, it is a tremendous source for information and a place of connection that lets people know they aren’t alone in their struggles with migraine. When it is bad, it’s where people who have migraine belittle and shame others whose experience is unlike their own.
Anyone who meets the clinical definition of migraine does in fact have migraine, but migraine looks different for different people. Some have a few migraine attacks a year, others have them daily. Some can immediately stop an attack with medication, others get no relief from any treatment. Some can push through normal life with a migraine, others can’t get out of bed. Some are laid up for a couple hours during a migraine attack, others for days.
The details may diverge depending on the frequency, severity and duration of a person’s migraine attacks, but focusing on those differences denies the strength of our similarities. All of us have experienced how dramatically life can be altered by pain or any of the numerous other migraine symptoms. We all spend precious time, money, and energy seeking treatment. We all have felt the impact of migraine reverberate through our work lives, our families, and our friendships. Maybe these factors come into play for an hour while someone waits for medication to take effect, or maybe they dominate every single day. Either way, the basics are the same.
There’s enough stigma surrounding migraine without people who have migraine stigmatizing other people who have migraine. How can we ever expect the general public to take migraine seriously -- something that is vitally important for the future of migraine research and treatment -- when we’re so busy fighting about what migraine looks like amongst ourselves?
Let’s stop our version of the Mommy Wars and acknowledge that some people have it better than we do, others have it worse, but migraine stinks for every one of us.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?