Stigma is all too familiar to each of us. As advocates, our passion is to educate patients and the general public. We believe that education is the best way to dispel the myths that perpetuate stigma. Most people don’t really mean to be insensitive about Migraine. They just don’t know the facts. Once we have the opportunity to educate them, many become allies.
Unfortunately, all too soon we all learn that not every person or situation is deserving of the effort and time we invest trying to educate and enlighten them. Frankly sometimes people who stigmatize Migraine are unredeemable trolls. These people have already decided what they think. No amount of education will change their mind because they truly believe what they are saying. They won’t accept that their opinions are based on outdated or inaccurate information.
It is important that we recognize a Migraine Troll when they show up because they can’t be rehabilitated. Your efforts will never get them to see Migraine or migraineurs accurately. By learning to recognize a Migraine Troll, you can save yourself a lot of stress and hassle.
Here are some examples of Migraine Trolls I’ve encountered over the years:
At first the Magician appears to be one of the good guys. He or she approaches you with gentle promises of relief, offering to “help those headaches.” Novice migraineurs have been taken in by the seductive promise of a cure. The longer the Magician talks, the more he gives himself away. The Magician naively believes he can cure migraine. Triggers are seen as causes and outdated information is all the Magician has to offer. When the Magician is challenged, that’s when the troll comes out. If the Magician is in a position of authority, that position is used to insist the migraineur “Do things my way.” In other situations, the Magician may use guilt trips or accuse you of “not really trying”.
This troll is convinced that “big pharma” is in cahoots with medical schools and doctors to “keep everyone sick.” Heaven forbid that Topamax really help you, because this troll will tear you to pieces for “selling your soul”. There’s no way to convince this troll that Migraine is a genetic neurological disease in need of serious research funding. If you aren’t willing to abandon all pharmaceutical treatments, this troll can turn on you in an instant.
The Skeptic will never be satisfied with any amount of research proving that migraine is neurological in origin. In his mind, Migraine is the psychosomatic disorder of women and weak-willed men. The medications used to treat Migraine are further evidence of psychological origin because they are also used off-label to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more psychological disorders. When provided with examples outside of psychiatry, the Skeptic brushes off the results as placebo effect. As far as the Skeptic is concerned, all migraineurs need to “suck it up”, take a pill, and get back to work.
The Headtrip can’t wait to crack open your psyche and discover what existential trauma is to blame for your misery. He or she thinks your pain is purely psychological in origin. The cure is found when all psychic wounds are healed. If you are still hurting, then you still have unresolved emotional issues.
The Faith Healer
This troll may or may not be religious. Sometimes they come in the form of a “positive thinker”. What each has in common is the belief that if you just pray hard enough, meditate long enough, think positive enough, your Migraine will be healed. If you follow his or her instructions and still struggle with Migraine, the answer is always the same, “Maybe you just don’t really want to get well.”
These stereotypes represent the most extreme versions. I’ve exaggerated their qualities in order to help you easily recognize Migraine Trolls by their unique traits. The actual people represented aren’t always malicious. Most of the time, their intentions are good. What makes them Migraine Trolls is that they are unable or unwilling to change their views, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Do not waste your time trying to educate those who simply refuse to learn. You will only frustrate yourself and add more stress to your life.
During the proofreading and editing process, one of my reviewers pointed out that she had been guilty of some of these behaviors at one time or another. I know that I have been guilty, too…maybe not with Migraine, but certainly with other conditions. It is all too easy to react without thinking, say something insensitive, or even close our minds to new information. We can become so blinded by our own bias that we forget to be open to new information or the experiences of others. In our efforts to help, any one of us could turn into a "troll" if we’re not careful.
So in addition to ignoring our own “trolls”, let’s make an effort not to become one either.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?