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The Well of Grief

As I see it, you are dealing with two equally important issues: migraine and grief about what migraine has done to your life.

I was floored when the naturopath summed up our two-and-a-half hour initial appointment with that statement. Never before had any of the health care professionals, conventional or alternative, or therapists I’ve seen over the years validated the massive grief that’s been a constant companion as I’ve struggled with migraine. Depression? Yeah, that’s been mentioned and medicated, but the deep well of grief? It’s never even been acknowledged, much less addressed.

I’ve always known I carried tremendous grief about migraine, but was afraid that if I let myself experience the extent of it, I would forever be stuck in the bottom of an infinitely deep well. Being from the Oprah and self-help generation, I knew I couldn’t avoid the grief entirely, so I allowed myself brief pity parties only when I’d reached my absolute limit. Mostly, though, I tried to put a positive spin on everything in an attempt to hide my sorrow. That served it’s purpose of carrying me through the days I wasn’t sure I’d survive, but it didn’t eliminate the grief. That’s been waiting for me.

Although I wasn’t looking for a therapist when I first saw the naturopath, she has become my weekly therapist (she trained as a counselor before getting her N.D. and maintains a counseling license) and the timing is perfect. As my preventives and diet are improving the pain enough that I no longer feel like my life is all about migraine, I’m able to process some of the emotional weight of the illness, instead of having to push those emotions aside in a bid to get through each day.

Migraine has altered every aspect of my life. It influences when and what I eat, when and for how long I sleep, the amount of exercise I can do, the type of body and cleaning products I can use, where I live, how I spend my time, if I can have sex, if I see friends, if I leave the house at all in a day or week, the clothes I wear, what hobbies I pursue (when I’m well enough to pursue them)…. I’ll spare you the full list. Suffice it to say that if you name some aspect of life, I can tell you how migraine has changed it for me. And, whether I have recognized the extent in the past or not, I carry sorrow for all of these unwelcome changes.

With the help of my therapist and some predefined limits, I’m slowly allowing myself to grieve for all that I’ve lost because of migraine, for all the ways it has changed and continues to change my life. That well still seems infinitely deep at times, but I no longer fear getting stuck at the bottom.

I cannot recommend seeing therapist highly enough. Finding someone who is experienced in chronic illness is helpful. Check if any of your doctors have recommendations, ask for suggestions on online forums, or check the Psychology Today Therapist Finder, which you can refine by issue. It can be tough to find a therapist you click with, but finding the right person for you can bring immeasurable benefit. It’s with utmost sincerity that I tell you working with my current therapist is changing my life in positive ways I didn’t even know were possible.

The well of grief is deep, but no migraineur has to drown in it.

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.


  • marlenerossman
    6 years ago

    Unfortunately, I HAVE drowned in the well of grief. I am no longer who I was before the onset of this four year nightmare.
    I had migraines before that, but a car crash four years ago seemed to be the trigger for every other day migraines.

    No medications (22 different ones) no doctors (12 different ones) no Botox, acupuncture, acupressure, biofeedback, massage, psychotherapy, etc etc. helps me.

    The only thing that works are the abortives. I have taken WAY too much of the triptans, but I cannot function with a knockdown drag out migraine.

    I have lost everything that I hold dear to me– my work, my relationships, my joy in life. I am barely hanging on from day to day. I grieve for my past life, which was marvelous, successful and joyus. I have nothing left.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi marlenerossman,

    I guess I didn’t realize you’ve had a car accident that seems to have triggered you into this migraine nightmare. We have something in common – 17 years ago I fell and sustained a TBI that changed my life forever.

    I too have many losses due to this injury – my husband (for the best I’ve come to realize) my career, relationships, income, hobbies, and more. This fall triggered chronic head and neck pain, fibromyalgia, IIH, more depression and other things. This makes be acutely aware and able to understand how much life changes in an instant.

    Some days are good, some days stink. It’s OK to grieve over our past life, we’ve been through tremendous loss. I’ve found the help of a counselor to be very helpful getting me through the grieving period. She’s also been helpful with accepting chronic illness, which in itself is another loss…

    I just wanted to let you know I understand and am here for support.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago


    I’m so sorry to hear you’re in such a dark place right now. Please know that you are not alone and that there is always hope for future treatment. There is no doubt that chronic migraine is exhausting and soul-draining, especially because we have to deal with the disappointment of failed treatments. I personally tried more than three dozen preventives before finding any relief.

    Some doctors actually use triptans as daily preventives once they’ve established that the patient isn’t having rebound (medication overuse) headaches. Since triptans work for you, this might be worth investigating.

    Please hang in there.


  • Dee
    6 years ago

    Every time I get hit with a 48 hour migraine as is the case this weekend, I grieve. I grieve for the pain I am in, for the people that I have let down, for the time I am spending trying to get better, for the lack of quality treatments, my inability to be at my best and the list can go on. Although I have been chronic before (2 years ago) and have successfully managed to get my migraines down to between 6 and 8 per month, I still grieve every day that this disease robs from me. I am at a point where I feel I may need to seek therapy as I am feeling beaten down by it. I used to go 24 hours with a migraine but lately, it’s 48 hours. I am not managing to break it as I used to. It’s that second day where I wake up again with the monster that gets me the most because I know it will be another full day of endurance. So much energy is required to get through a migraine! It is comforting to know I am not alone in the grieving and I admire how pro-active you are with managing every aspect of your migraines.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    I’m sorry you’re feeling beaten down. You’re absolutely right that tons of energy goes into living with migraine — it is absolutely exhausting. I can’t recommend therapy highly enough — it has helped with the grief, the energy drain, and the impact migraine has had on my relationships and pretty much every aspect of my life.

    I wish you the best of luck in dealing with your grief and in finding new treatments for your migraine attacks.

    Take care,

  • kischrjo
    6 years ago

    This article really hit home for me. I have not been able to get through my grief. I have been diagnosed since age 5 and now am 48 yrs young. Through my life there have been so many ways this disease affected my life. When my 3 girls were young it was always dictating what we could or couldn’t do, whether it was fun or chores or having friends over. I know my family has paid a hefty price. So many times I dragged myself to do things I was in no condition to do. Then people would say, “are you feeling ok? Or you don’t look to good or are you upset?” I know that family and close friends can tell with one look or even on the phone by my voice that I was suffering but how depressing when people you don’t really know can tell something is wrong. I felt embarrassed and knew that they would never understand. Back in those days the stigma about migraine was much worse. I remember someone actually saying to me when I tried to explain, “you mean a sick headache like Mrs. Kravitz from bewitched?” Now it makes me laugh but at the time it so frustrating.

    Very much like Kerrie’s story, it affects sleep, eating, etc, etc. It most definitely affects your mood and your mental health. I have been trying to find something that helps me my whole life. I have still not gained control. I am one of these people who is allergic to just about everything medication wise. All the triptans, every preventative, etc. this makes it very difficult to treat me and I have other diseases and health issues that developed over the yrs such as ruptured discs in my neck. There are several more serious illnesses I am dealing with that contribute to my symptoms.

    I have never seen a therapist, I am very isolated as my other illness has me currently confined mostly to bed and I am unable to drive at this time. My friends all gave up on me long ago or are no longer living here. I have 1 sister that is wonderful but doesn’t live here. My kids are grown and my parents both passed away very young. (50 and 56)I had turned to church group but in the past yr have been too ill to attend and you know, even they have not contacted me to see if I am alright which is disheartening. It has been over a year- not one call.

    I know that I am rock bottom but I also know it can only go up from here. I am going to start searching and talking to some professionals in the area to see if I can find some help with the mental aspect of being a migraineur. I hope I will be as fortunate as you have been. It has been a nightmare trying to find the right migraine doctor. Wish me luck!

    I appreciate the article as I am sure many others do as well, so thank you and best of luck to my fellow migraineurs.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    I’m sorry you’re in such a tough place right now. Please remember that any chronic illness can be a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs — and migraine has the added problem of mood-related symptoms. Although you’re down right now, it won’t always be this bad.

    I applaud you for starting to search for a therapist. If you have trouble leaving the house, it may be helpful to ask potential therapists if they Skype or telephone sessions if you can’t make it in person. That keeps you from having to pay for sessions cancelled at the last minute and it can be tremendously helpful to talk to someone when you’re so sick you can’t leave the house.

    Best wishes,

  • Vicki
    6 years ago

    Kishchrjo: despite me being very frustrated, AGAIN, with mine, just know that there are tons of us that are out here supporting you, though we may not be able to be there in person!

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