Why do I say I’m fine when I’m not?

Here’s a strange thing I do. Granted, I do a lot of strange things (I am kind of an oddball), but this particular strange thing has me scratching my head sometimes, and I thought it might be helpful to write about it and maybe even get some feedback from y’all.

If you’re reading this, it’s already obvious that you’re reading the words of someone who spends a big chunk of her life dealing with and writing about living with migraine disease. I’ve kept this blog for many years now, and I am totally open about who I am, what town I live in, and what I do for a living. I write about the ups and downs of living day-to-day with migraine disease, and I am usually quite honest when I am composing blogs for Migraine.com.

Here’s where the confusing part comes in: I can get squirmy and vaguely dishonest when real humans in real life ask me how my migraines are. I can spend a morning waiting for my triptan to work. During lunch, I’ll write a little bit about that day’s episode and how it affected me. And then I’ll go to work in the evening and, when someone asks some variation of, “How are the migraines?” I will say, “Pretty good.” And then try to change the subject.

I don’t always answer in a way that is overly optimistic; I don’t always provide a response that’s aimed at getting the subject changed. But at least a third of the time I will gloss over the ugliness of living with migraine, even when I’m in conversation with someone I know well.

Do I not want to overwhelm loved ones with what a big portion of my life is? Do I not want people to know that this strong, assertive, and confident person before then was throwing up in a garbage can just twenty-four hours ago? Do I not want them to see that I rarely, if ever, feel as if I am functioning at 100%?

Or is it something else that compels me to not be more honest about the harsh realities of living with migraine? Do I worry they will worry about me if I tell them how many days this month have been affected by migraine? Do I not want to get into a conversation about the bad aspects of my health when I am actually feeling pretty good? Do I spend so much time writing about migraine that I want to avoid talking about it?

I honestly don’t know why I do this, and I am not entirely sure it’s a problem. At some point or another, my loved ones find out just how severe a particular bout of migraine is. My partner, my sister, and my employees (who are also friends) witness firsthand what it’s like for me to be ill, and I’m a little more straightforward with them. But what about those other friends, people I trust and love, who aren’t getting the real answer?

Is it okay to gloss over the facts? Are you honest about your life with migraine when people ask how you’re doing? What happens when you’re not entirely truthful? And what happens when you are?

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 (24)
  • mia
    5 years ago

    Again, great article, right out of my own head 🙂 I agree with all the comments, especially Susan and Angie. I think it’s easier to say “Fine.” than to admit the truth, which is usually “Well, I’ve been battling a migraine for 6 days now”. I’m sick of talking about it to people who have no idea what it’s like, so I’m sure they are sick of hearing it. I also despise the follow-up comments from most people – “Seems like your Dr. could give you some better drugs” or my favorite “Can’t they figure out what’s causing it?”. Sigh. I also don’t think it’s a problem, maybe just a little self-preservation.

  • whall7
    5 years ago

    Mia,
    I agree with you, the comments about, ” can’t they figure out what is causing your migraines and most of all…can’t your Dr prescribe you something? I just can’t get into that conversation that I have tried over 100 drugs, yes Botox 3 times and yes those trip rains that work for your sister. I know they mean well but as a migraine sufferer of 31 years I have literally tried every medical, holistic and off the wall treatment under the sun. It is part of who I am. I suffer from chronic daily headache and migraines.

  • Susan L
    5 years ago

    I have struggled with this disease for 50 of my 70 years, and I’m a young 70 who totally identifies with every experience you all have had. I can’t empathize enough! You are all describing my life and the people who have wandered thru it. By now, although I still work, it is a home biz, and if I must do a work- related thing away from home, I try to plan it on a Mazalt day. (i.e. I can use it 3 days a week) Or hopefully my latest course of Botox will cover me. If I encounter an A.H. who gives me grief these days, well, I’ve finally gotten old enough to guilt him/ her out enof to really embarrass them! Also, when I must be out, “pushing through” in spite of a migraine, ( and we can’t push through the worst ones that totally knock us flat in bed), when someone asks me how I am I don’t sugar coat it anymore. I tell them I’ve been fighting a severe migraine all day…”I have an awful problem with those; yeah, thanks, but let’s not talk about them so I’ll be distracted from the pain.” I find that turns off a lot of different harmful categories of hurtful comments both friends, family, co-workers and strangers make. And I can go about my pain-ridden day outside my home in relative guilt-free/ stress-free/ anger- free motions as quickly as possible with my dark sunglasses on to protect my throbbing head.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Susan- you’ve crafted a great response when you don’t want to discuss the Migraines. You acknowledge the problem, appreciate someone’s concern, and take control of the situation by recognizing that dwelling on it can be just as painful as the headaches. It’s brilliant and I might steal that!
    -Katie

  • tina gascon
    5 years ago

    Close friends and family understand, most other people don’t. Trying to explain migraines to those who don’t have to deal with them would be like trying to explain string theory and rocket science to a one year old.Besides most people only use it as an opportunity to talk about their daily minor aches and pains just to hear their own voices.

  • shine4him
    5 years ago

    I think my reasons center around embarrassment (same as many others have posted).

    Earlier this week I had an alterations appointment (I’m getting married!! Aaah!), and I was fine most of the day. About an hour before the appointment, a migraine struck, so I had to call and reschedule. Through my tears, I tried to tell her I was “having a migraine attack.” She thought I was saying something like “my grandmother died.” LOL what?

    Luckily, when I met her again the next day and could speak clearly & explain myself, she told me that she also got migraines, so she totally understood. But that response is rare, unfortunately.

  • kaitjackson
    5 years ago

    I know EXACTLY what this is like. Sometimes I think it’s because I don’t want the sympathy, the “aww, feel better!”, the “why don’t you go home early?”, or any of that. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining. Sometimes it’s because those around me (even those who claim to know and understand what I’m dealing with, including my boyfriend of 8 years) say “well, you always have a migraine.” It’s SO hard for me too to admit that I’m going to be limited that day. My low-level abortive (Fioricet) takes at least two doses to work, if it works at all. I won’t take my triptan because the side effects are unbearable and it doesn’t work half the time anyway. Last week I spent two hours trying to get to a new neurologist appointment, calling and calling and calling to tell them I was running late because of transportation issues, only to get there and be told they couldn’t see me. I started to cry, in the middle of a doctor’s office. I was on day four of what has now been an 8-day migraine, and I was not in any shape to deal with having the hope of a doctor who could actually HELP being totally squashed after waiting for six weeks to get the appointment in the FIRST place. My coworkers come by my desk daily to ask “how’s the head?” and half the time, even though I’m dreading going in the bathroom because we have a horrible air freshener that makes it worse, and the flourescent lights are making me want to hide under my desk, I’ll say “so far so good” or I’ll just outright lie and say I don’t have one even when my head feels like it’s been bashed in with a sledgehammer. It’s maddening.

  • JoelleAD
    5 years ago

    I, too, agree with you all. For me my responses depend on who I am talking to. For my distant family, they just worry so I try to avoid the subject. For my immediate family it is difficult to admit the myriads of supplements, food restrictions and expensive doctor visits aren’t “fixing” me. For people around town (Athens too!) it can seem like a weakness I don’t want to share. I’m not sure if these are really problems either or just a way to cope.

  • Jan Piller
    5 years ago

    All of these responses could have come from my mouth also! LOL! And many of them have in the past. But honestly???? I’m now getting to the point where I just want to scream in somebody’s face “It is not just a F$#@ing Headache”!!! “No a F#&*king aspirin will NOT work”!!! and of course…. “I feel like F*@%king Sh*t !!! Thanks for asking sweetness!”. And half these people don’t realize I’ve already thrown up in their toilet bowls half a dozen times but I don’t dare tell them because they’ll complain I’m ruining their porcelain. There – that’s my rant. As you were!

  • whall7
    5 years ago

    😉

  • Still Smiling
    5 years ago

    reading this.is as if I wrote it myself. Saying ‘I’m fine’ is my mantra and automatic response when I get asked how I am. There is always 50% chance that I’ll black out, but no matter how bad I feel I’ll always say ‘I’m fine’. My best friend who I’m starting to think knows me better than myself totally calls me on it so why the pretence. With others though it’s easier just to say I’m fine. I think it is about not wanting the attention or the sympathy, but for me it’s also about control I’m too independent to admit that I’m not fine and that I. *potentially* need help; even if t myselfindanger. I always totally play down how I’m feeling to

  • Jan Piller
    5 years ago

    Yes – it’s my mantra too. I wrote that rant up there just because I never ever tell the truth. Even my son called last night and asked how I was and I automatically said “fine”. Only when he asked for details about my new medications, did I actually give him the details. I think I keep saying “fine” because I believe if I say it enough that eventually I really will be “fine”.

  • pkbear1970
    5 years ago

    This is so relevant to a conversation I had with my cousin last night. We were at a family party, and I happened to be mid-migraine at the time. It so happened that she started talking about our mutual friend, who was recently hospitalized because her headache pain was so bad. My cousin theorized that our friend went to the hospital because she “enjoys living in that world.” She stated that she couldn’t relate – why couldn’t our friend just let is “roll off her back” and “take an aspirin like I do” instead of making such a big deal? I was shocked at my cousin’s ignorance of the disease, and made a mental note not to talk to her about my pain EVER again. Clearly, she is a very lucky woman who has never had a migraine1

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Pkbear1970,
    Wow! I’m sure that kind of response from your cousin made you angry. It can be very difficult to communicate to people what it’s like to endure the pain of a Migraine, especially to the degree where you need to be hospitalized.

    I know you were not feeling well at the time this conversation occurred so it can be tricky to decide when to pick your battles. But I encourage you to try to educate this person, because clearly your cousin has at least 2 people in his/her life that suffer from Migraines.

    Here are 2 basic articles with info that you may be able to insert into your next conversation with someone who really doesn’t get it.

    http://migraine.com/infographic/5-reasons-a-migraine-isnt-just-a-headache/

    http://migraine.com/migraine-basics/

  • susan
    5 years ago

    I think all of these comments are so right on…and O could have written each one,,and a different ine each day. I have reached a point where even I am sick of talking about it…so how must my family and friends feel. I don’t want to be defined as a person by a Migraine…a “headache” or “you don’t feel good AGAIN “..I know who I am and the person I am….when I am feeling good.so the constant everyday Migraines even go unnoticed to myself…if I can function…I’m good. Those days when I have no signs at are so few and far between…but to me they are a NEW day..a glorious day….and the person I am. I don’t want my family to not trust me….nor to start taking away invitations…joining in or leaving me out of anything….for God sake that is why I try sooo hard to keep my management going. Thus far there is no cure…mostly no reason and a multitude of this works and this doesn’t….we battle to maintain minute to minute our life as normal as we can…so we can be who we are and not a walking or puking migraine (our definition).Yes I have found myself being more silent and a sufferer in solitude bacause there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do to change it but make sure I have water at reach. I have done the best I have ever been in the past two years with maintenance, and at present on fewer drugs than ever before..at my choice. It turns out that the preventative drugs were not making any difference if not maybe making it worse…so I am back to just Maxalt at the onset and sleep it off for a few hours…Massage therapy…and I talk to my therapist instead of anyone else…easier not to take all the feedback or have to listen . Is this good…I don’t know….but I do know finding this site has helped me personally to keep on fighting because as bad as I think I am….there are many more suffering much greater han I….Thank you all for that…and I hope we each find the joy that keeps us going during the excruciating hours that overwhelm us.

  • Jennifer Carter
    5 years ago

    There are several reasons why I fudge the truth about how I’m feeling. I hate it when people say “I get migraines too.” They just won’t listen when I tell them they are blessed to be able to go to sleep in a quiet room for a few hours for their once monthly migraine and wake up feeling better.

    As far as family and friends go, I get tired of always telling them how bad I feel. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m being judged for my constant migraines. “Oh, she’s got a migraine AGAIN.” I’m not sure what it is that I think they’re accusing me of. Is it that I am constantly complaining, or that I’m using it as an excuse to live my reclusive life, or even that I have the migraines at all?

    Is it right or not? From my perspective it is. It means I don’t have to deal with the response. From their perspective, I’m not sure. By playing down my migraine now will it come back to bite me in the future when I need them to understand the severity of my condition? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.

  • sandramhill
    5 years ago

    Wow, this is so me. And reading the other comments is like reading my mind.

  • Kim
    5 years ago

    I do the same thing. I don’t like looks of sympathy that accompanies the I’m sorries. I just want to feel better, as well.

  • Trishakr
    5 years ago

    I do the same thing. I think that I get tired of talking about the pain and what I can no longer do.
    I have had to leave my job, I was a teacher, and I am on disability for a neck injury which I believe has lead to the chronic migraines.
    I cry often. I think about where I should be in my career by this point.
    I have however found this website as a true “friend”.
    It’s awful that anyone has to suffer from a migraine, but it is comforting to me to know that I am not alone.

  • caringmom
    5 years ago

    My son does this also. I think he just gets tired of all the questions. He did find a specialized chiropractor (not a regular chiropractor) called an ao chiro, who realigned his top vertebra, which helped his migraines. Don’t give up…you will find something to help you. It must be so, so hard in the meantime though. Hang in there.

  • hobiegal
    5 years ago

    I think we say we’re fine because we don’t want to seem like we’re trying to get sympathy. It’s easier to just say you’re fine than to go through all of the questions, explanations, helpful advice, etc. And we don’t want to sound like whiners, especially to people who have never had a migraine and have no clue how miserable they are. After all, it IS just a headache, right? I’ve heard it all in over 45 years of migraines and don’t really want to talk about it to people who can’t possibly understand.

  • Jan Piller
    5 years ago

    Yes – it’s “just a headache”. I wonder about people that say that. It’s so dismissive. So cruel. So ignorant. My brother in law has Dystonia – so horrible- so painful and disfiguring and has had it for so many years. When I found out his diagnosis, I googled everything I could so I would understand and be able to empathize. I wonder what people would think of me if I said to him – “Oh it’s just a muscle spasm – suck it up Princess”. To me – that would be such a cruel and horrible thing to say to him and yet people say to a migraineur “it’s just a headache” and don’t think twice and it’s become almost acceptable for people to be so dismissive of migraineurs. And they don’t care that they’ve been so cruel and dismissive. I think that’s why most migraineurs just say “I’m fine”. Because it hurts too much to be dismissed off hand like that.

  • Angie
    5 years ago

    Funny, I do the same thing. I think part of the reason is because I do not want to worry family and close friends. But I also do not want to hear about the latest and greatest “cure” someone saw on TV. And I do not want the added stress of the other questions that follow, why can’t they fix this, how will you pay your bills this month, what triggered this one, why can’t you get it to break, and so on. It’s been almost 18 years of chronic migraines, I always find a way to take care of my son and me and I have discussed the migraines at length. I’m fine or I’m doing pretty good just seems easier sometimes. Especially if I am in the middle of a bad episode.

  • Elara moon
    5 years ago

    I gloss over because I’m so sick of talking about it. Most the time they ask I have a dull headache or getting over a big one anyways. Anyone that asks me I feel are just trying to be polite and really don’t care. My husband is the only one I can be honest with and he knows I only want to state little comments like – head hurts a little or I feel one Coming on- I just tooky med- it’s a bad one. He gets me and knows me well enough to know the truth. He’s watch the diease progress for 16 years. Anyway I could go on.. But wanted to say on my Pinterest I have a migraine board I feel as if there I can relate to other pins and some of my friends can see my “other side” I’m under sirenscure or Lorelei can’t remember if you want to relate on Pinterest

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