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You don’t ever “deserve” a migraine

Last month, I had a particularly bad week, health-wise. I woke with a migraine three days in a row with no easily discernible triggers in [hind]sight. Well, now that I’ve typed that opening line I can of course think of several things that may have triggered this episode/these episodes. I was doing really well with my walking but skipped the last few days; I also missed my morning smoothie (which often serves as my entire breakfast & is chock full of vitamins) for a couple of days after a week or so of drinking it faithfully. Oh, and the weather was shifting like crazy for the past several days. After a couple of days of solid rain, it cleared on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday was just gorgeous. I awoke Monday morning to the same drear from Friday: the skies were overcast and, for hours, it felt like it was *about* to rain.

I never truly think I “deserve” to get a migraine, but I still find myself using that term a lot. “Oh, I drank alcohol last night—I deserve this.” Or, “Hey! I’ve been keeping up with my exercise and diet—I don’t deserve to have a migraine right now!”

One of my best friends has an autoimmune condition. One night years ago, she drank too much and fell down. Her chronic joint pain flared like crazy, and she found that her partner had little sympathy. Sure, he hated to see her in pain. But it was hard for him to feel too much pity when she had deliberately gotten so drunk that she fell down in the first place. I admit to having felt this way about my own partner after he makes bad choices and ends up with a migraine; most certainly I do this to myself far too frequently.

Here’s something I want all of you to know: No one deserves illness and pain. Yes, there are lessons you can learn from your mistakes. Yes, it’s true that certain choices you make—bad choices, oftentimes—can exacerbate your condition. But you need to treat yourself with compassion and kindness; blaming yourself and telling yourself you deserve the pain solves nothing.

Do you have trouble with this emotionally-charged issue, too?

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

  • Diane Taylor
    8 years ago

    I’m responding to the original post here. We often don’t realise it but it’s not just our family and friends who blame our behaviour in creating migraines, subconsciously we blame ourselves too and see it as a punishment for making a bad choice in exposing ourselves to a known trigger. This isn’t a conscious thought process but something that goes on at a deeper level in our minds and we can be totally unaware it is happening. Once we tap into that part of our unconscious mind and switch off the self punishment programme we can vastly reduce our symptoms and in many cases become migraine free. I work with clients online to do just that. If you’d like to find out more visit http://www.shetlandresolve.co.uk or find me on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/shetland.resolve/. I hope this is helpful. Nobody deserves to have to live with migraine pain.

  • tucker
    8 years ago

    Well, I’ve spent years keeping a diary, though I will admit, I’ve never done the total food elimination thing, and still can’t seem to find all those specific triggers, save for the week of hormonal migraines that are fairly consistent, but not guaranteed, because that “week” could just as easily come in the middle of my cycle as THE week. And never mind the days between, around, and over and under. I have a fairly consistent boring diet so you’d think it’d be pretty easy to determine any food triggers. Weather – HA! – I live in the mid atlantic – in the past month we’ve had everything from 20’s to 80’s, rain to sun to snow flurries so any day could be a trigger this time of year. I have 2 75lb dogs that need a daily energy burn so I’m pretty good about walking them save for rainy, yucky weather. I even try to pretend it will make my head feel better unless I’m really pukey feeling.

    I only work PT now, by choice to be home with my kids more, but it also helps my brain. I’ve worked FT at 2 PT jobs several times over the past 10 years and only missed 2 days – one to migraine before I knew what that’s what I had (it was my first “throw up headache”) and 1 to the flu, but I miss life all the time. And I’m not so sure my job is 100% on many days when I am there. Headaches, migraines, life robbers – that’s what they are -I spent alot of my free “waking” time on the couch or in bed or even asleep in the car at the kid’s sports practice just last week.

    So the question is not only do we deserve it, but do our family, job, friends, etc deserve it? NO! I “yelled” at my boss a couple weeks ago at the start of my migraine week (10 days off and on really). Totally brain pain speaking in place of my usual jovial self. “Neglect” the family by not making dinner, reading to the kids at bedtime, helping with homework, going to their ball games, etc. Totally put off other responsibilities around the house or volunteer work I need to do. I’m actually getting good medical care with a headache specialist, had a physical therapist recently, see a massage therapist ocassionally, and have tried just about every other alternative therapy save for the really off beat ones.

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt I deserved a headache or a migraine. Have I felt guilty? YES! But only b/c I’m neglecting something – my family, my responsibilities, my kids, whatever. Have I felt sorry for myself? OH YEAH!!! Just last Thursday, on the worst day of this recent “cycle”, I had big plans for the day off. Instead, I woke up at 6:30am, made hubby’s lunch, could barely see if the kids were awake and dressed and was asleep on the couch with an ice pack behind my neck before they left for the bus at 7:10. It was a rainy, cold day and I was in pain, nauseated, depressed and about as woe-as-me as I could get. I was on that couch until 6pm when I finally got up to take a shower and all that medicine I’d taken had taken the edge off. But it wasn’t until Saturday when the sun came out and even though I was at work that I felt human again.

    So sure, I agree, if you absolutely know your triggers and can control them, well, it makes sense to try your best to do so. Then again, we’re only human and well, chocolate is divine… but in limited portions! But Deserve, guilt, depression, it’s all a big cycle. You can’t worry about controlling everything in your life though – then you get caught up in that cycle and create more problems for yourself.

  • Kathy Dunbar
    8 years ago

    I know that I do not deserve the severe migraines that I get but I wish someone would tell my husband. When I get the ones that last for months at a time he becomes distant and treats me as if I am lazy and not wanting to work. Someone needs to educate partners on the fact that we do not wish to be alone in our rooms to suffer from this pain. We have no choice when the pain is so intense that we are throwing up and any movement becomes agony. I don’t discuss my pain with him or anyone else as I do not wish to be perceived as complaining but it gets so tiring to be told “just go out and enjoy the sun” or “get over it and just work through it.” If I could work through it myself then I would as I do not wish to be in pain or to withdraw from life. I miss all the things that I am normally able to do and I miss spending time with my granddaughter.

    We do not ever deserve a migraine even if we accidentally do something that triggers one. Our brains are not perfect as others and people need to understand this about migraine sufferers. I don’t think any of us wouldn’t wish to free of these migraines. I truly believe that employers and partners need a better understanding of what migrainers deal with and how dibilitating they are for us. I wish all the best to all those suffering from migraines.

  • Lori Lesh Tush
    8 years ago

    You would be in much better health if you would leave him and be on your own. Much less stress. you would not have to stress out if you had a migraine and have to worry about telling your husband. Take it from me, that hidden stress your are dealing with from him is causing alot of your migraines.

  • Patrick Hearne
    8 years ago

    This is one of the greatest articles of discussion I have seen about migraines. It resonated really strongly with me and thank you for posting it. I feel like there are so many possible triggers, I just habitually blame something I did to cause it every time.

  • Cindy Maisonneuve Langilotti
    8 years ago

    exactly patrick! i don’t want anyone’s pity when i have a migraine. what i really want is for everyone to just leave me alone. don’t ask a bunch of questions, or sit on the bed and say i’m worried about you (moving the bed will usually cause me to throw up lol) , or accuse me of doing something to cause it. people will start asking me what i am depressed about that would cause it….ummm NOTHING! except the fact that they are asking. on my good days i am a very happy person. why would anyone think i am depressed just because i have a migraine? it’s called pain people! it hurts like crazy!

  • Janet Geddis
    8 years ago

    Patrick, thank you so much for the positive feedback! I’m pleased this resonated with you.

  • Patrick Hearne
    8 years ago

    Some people don’t realize it’s the exact opposite of the ‘pity me’ syndrome. I hate that view of what we face because I feel like it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think what we’re doing is taking responsibility for something we can’t control, kind of like telling ourselves after an earthquake that we didn’t do enough to warn people it was coming.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    8 years ago

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on some of these points, then. I do appreciate the feedback, though–as I said in my last comment, you’ve given me much food for thought.

    Thankfully, I had really great care from my parents when I was a kid (and still do). I sometimes wonder if things would’ve been different if I’d have made the seriousness of my illness known. I hid it from teachers if at all possible and didn’t want to talk about it with my parents. And no, I’ve never had an eating disorder–perhaps that’s another migraine blogger out there!

  • Stormlaughter
    8 years ago

    What I mean is that as a migraineur, I deserve better treatment from the medical community than I’ve gotten. You all have treated me quite well! LOL

  • Cathy Ashenfelter Christensen
    8 years ago

    I know that mine are triggered by smells most of the time. Vehicle exhaust or diesel is a biggie. In the winter if I’m in a car with others and I’m trying to get the window down for fresh air, they think I’ve lost my mind! Nope trying to get that horrible smell out. They are more concerned about being cold for a minute. I know cheese will trigger one also, so I’ve cut that out. I don’t drink alcohol and am gluten/wheat free. I do know major life changes/stressful times will also with me. Yet I didn’t ask for those…life happens. If family/friends would stop attempting to self diagnose us and just acknowledge that a “migraine…not just one of our headaches” must be very painful and is there something they can do for us or bring us? That’s it! We’d do the same for them in a heartbeat.

  • Patrick Hearne
    8 years ago

    Reading this made me laugh at some of the things I do now that I live alone, that others probably think I must be insane. Smell is a bad trigger for me too, and unfortunately that heightens my sense of a lack of consistent fresh air. I have often opened the windows at below 30 degree weather just because it helps a lot to get the fresh air blowing in. It’s ironic how often times we are stronger then most people to bare cold weather in place of fresh air, but then we are criticized for not being strong enough to work through a migraine. I think the migraines actually make us significantly more resilient against anything else more then people realize.

  • Stormlaughter
    8 years ago

    “…I still find that a vicious migraine attack is pretty severe “punishment” for a night (or five!) of drinking.”

    Maybe my attacks are worse than some. I do have Meniere’s syndrome to add into the equation. The way I see it, it’s beyond me that people repeatedly call “migraine attack” for a hangover but unfortunately, they do. People who do not have migraine also get hangovers. Should everyone with a hangover be treated with triptans so they can keep up a particular lifestyle? Should people with migraine who consciously and repeatedly fail to avoid triggers be given a “pass” from proper self-care for their disease? Where does the disease start and insufficient self-care end?

    I believe I see now where we’re looking at this differently. I don’t see migraine attacks as a punishment. They’re a natural consequence (for us) of our actions. I do see a real problem with people who expect to be enabled to perform behavior that obviously doesn’t sit well with them, when they drink and get a hangover and claim a migraine for instance.

    Frankly, my attacks are so bad I gave up everything that triggered me — everything that triggered me — in my work to get relief. I wouldn’t go back to the days of store-bought alcohol for anything, to pick one trigger out of my book. Now I understand now which components of alcohol give me trouble, and I make my own beer and mead so I can leave those components out. Yeah, it took astronomical amounts of work to figure out. But now I can have an occasional gruit ale or glass of mead without problems.

    I can’t bring myself to sympathize with anyone who pursues migraine treatment for hangovers. Enabling isn’t good in this instance.

    “I think of the 8+ years I spent in a horrible migraine disease cycle. I went to more than one doctor, and no one diagnosed me with migraine, which meant I did not fully understand how to take care of myself (or that there was even a way to cope with the illness). I took days off school and work and wouldn’t have passed the doctor’s note test since it took until I was 21 to be correctly diagnosed.”

    I had to read this a couple of times before it made sense to me but I think I’ve got it now. Ages thirteen through twenty one I see as a time when a child would still be under the care and control of a parent. Some children are not (I’ve got a close friend who wasn’t). No one wants to see a child suffering so when you were being evaluated by doctors, they would have been doing you a service to write a letter to school or work explaining the situation even if they had no answers. At that age, a school or an employer should be as concerned about a child’s health as the parents of that child. Please forgive if I’ve gotten you confused with someone else but were you treated for an eating disorder at one point? All the more reason parents, doctors, schools, and employers should all have been concerned about you and taken care of you including communicating with each other.

    I spent a number of years in management during my work career, before I retired on disability pension from migraine and Meniere’s Syndrome. YOU BET people lie all the time about needing a day off and giving migraine and/or headache as the reason! Once in a job when I acted as manager on occasion, a goofy man called in sick with a headache. When he came back the next day, he forgot that I took his sick call and proceeded to tell me about his exciting time with a prostitute!

    I believe FMLA should be the standard for anyone needing time off for migraine. Migraine is not simple, it’s not a joke, it isn’t always easily treated and if it were, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion. People with migraine deserve better care than we get. Unless we advocate for ourselves, we end up disbelieved, under-treated, damaged (well, I know I’m damaged at least) and cast aside from opportunities we really do have the capabilities to take advantage of.

    Yes it is up to us to convince our doctors that we’re not asking him or her to enable us as we live a carefree life laughing at a real disease we have, migraine. No, no one deserves a migraine attack even if he or she fails in proper self-care. A former migraine specialist I saw told me I’d have migraine attacks whether or not I avoided every trigger in the book. I knew that. But rest assured, I hate migraine attacks so much that I will do, have done, and continue to search for nearly anything in my quest for relief including a constant vigilance to locate and document triggers. And to avoid them once I find them.

    For medicine to enable migraineurs who don’t care for themselves seems wrong. It just seems wrong.

    And now I’ve got visual aura so I’m off to take care of myself. I deserve better treatment than I’ve gotten and it’s up to me to give it to myself.

  • Diana Lee
    8 years ago

    This is something I’ve struggled with for years. When I started getting migraines as a child I always thought I was being punished for doing something wrong. Even though the grown up me knows that makes no sense, it has been a hard habit to break.

  • Sue Ivany
    8 years ago

    For me this ties into that horrid term “migraine personality”. I truly despise the assumption that migraine is somehow tied to personality or character. No one has ever told my husband that he has “MS personality” or “diabetes personality” so what makes migraine disease any different? No, we are not causing our own illness, we are simply living. If we happen to have a glass of wine that we know we might pay for in pain – well, that is a choice we have every right to make, just like anyone else. Great topic for discussion Janet. Thanks.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    This is an emotionally charged issue for many of us who also deal with family and friends who think we cause our own Migraine troubles. We didn’t do anything to DESERVE one, but may have done something that inadvertently triggered one. Those are two very different things… Great topic Janet!

  • Vanessa Revis Jordan
    8 years ago

    sorry, but anyway, it just cant happen for me to be down, imagine this with migraines,lol. anyway, out of total desperation I ordered a wellness drink off of tv, that fights inflammation, well of course I didnt believe that i would work, but it did!!! you have to take a larger amount for the 1st month, a loading dose kinda, but after that you only have to take an ounce a day, which equals about 50 a month. I dont have medical insurance so it was a relief to me, I thought I was just stuck in pain the rest of my life. WELL i have noticed that my migraines got less and less, now I have not had one for over 3 months, I became an affiliate because I was so excited about it, now though, I feel like if I try to tell someone how great it is, and how its changed my life, its been a miracle, I feel like people just think I am trying to sell, so I hold back from telling people, but I HATE to see anyone suffer, its so unfair, we didnt do anything to ask for the pain, or the mirgraines, I am too scattered to keep up with what I eat everyday, I have two kids, its just impossible for me. I thought it would be great to share this and let people get the relief that ihave gotten, I just dont want to come off as a pushy salesman, its takes a good month to get in your system, its hard to wait, but its soooo very worth it guys, I just wanted to share, if you want a link or to talk just message me ok?

  • Vanessa Revis Jordan
    8 years ago

    yesI think its where they get I have a migraine so often from us, but they don’t understand, this is how often we are in unmanagable pain, it seems as though its a big pain to have to “deal” with my headaches,which is what I call the cause I get so sick of trying to explain how horrible the pain is, I finally found a wellness drink, I actually ordered it for my hip pain, ever since I had my last daughter, something was way wrong with my hip, it hurt everyday and only got worse over time, it was starting to keep me in bed, and thats a no, no, my husband is in congestive heart failure, if I even think of having the flu, or in bed for any reason,

  • Tina Maroon
    8 years ago

    I know just how you all feel. Not a fun thing to go through. Migraines are no fun thats for sure. My steroid shots in the neck, botox in the neck and head, and IV Infusion Therapy have helped. But many times I feel like all of you, as if noone believes the pain. It is debilitating at the time.

  • Marija Marcotte
    8 years ago

    omg–you have no idea of the debilitating pain unless you had it. and no one knows when it strikes–so many factors…and the lack of sympathy..basically the lack of knowledge to try to be sympathetic–we try to mussle through it at work and at birthdays, etc. thats strength. but, i do think there are more people getting thier stories out there and that helps!! thank you Ellen!!

  • Jeff Drobny
    8 years ago

    Quite often, the helplessness loved ones of migraineurs feel does come out in the form of blame. In the past I’ve been out for dinner with family and had drinks with no negative effect. Then, on other occasions, had roughly the same meal and drinks but there was a storm later that night and I would then have a migraine. Everyone’s assumption of cause- what I ate and drank. I have since gone gluten-free and eliminated alcohol from my diet. My daily headache is gone, but I still get severe attacks. I’m not doing anything in my daily life to “earn” them as people used to put it. So now they’re just freaked out. Maybe it was easier before. (kidding)

  • Teri Cossette
    8 years ago

    There have been several times I have had a migraine when I was suppose to be doing somthing (maybe a wedding, a graduation, dinner with hubby’s boss for example) I didn’t really want to do anyway. hmmm…did I cause the migraine without realizing it? could be!

  • Kim Sterns Lien
    8 years ago

    So True nobody deserve’s a Migraine!!!!

  • Rose Conley
    8 years ago

    Its very rough when your own family doesnt understand. Im on the couch for 3 days at a time. Not able to eat or drink. Just cry cause the pain is so bad. A lot of times it seems no one understands.

  • Endang Sulistiani
    8 years ago

    Yes, I also have migraine. Almost once in two weeks, I have it for about 10 hours. Relaxing and practing yoga is to help me to coupe with my migraine. I take aspirin. I cannot see lights when dear migraine visits me. Take care my diet is also to help me to struggle with migraine.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    8 years ago

    Oh, I do find that I have less patience when people (including myself) routinely engage in behavior that will trigger a migraine attack. That said, I still find that a vicious migraine attack is pretty severe “punishment” for a night (or five!) of drinking. I hope that people take good care of themselves and work to figure out what’s at the root of their chronic condition, but I still believe everyone deserves compassion, even if I don’t agree with their decisions. Chances are, someone who is consistently hurting himself by deliberately engaging in behaviors that trigger migraine probably has some issues he needs to work through. I still try as I might to not judge and be as understanding as possible.

    Your last paragraph, to my surprise, ended up rankling me a bit even though I know that was never your intention. I think of the 8+ years I spent in a horrible migraine disease cycle. I went to more than one doctor, and no one diagnosed me with migraine, which meant I did not fully understand how to take care of myself (or that there was even a way to cope with the illness). I took days off school and work and wouldn’t have passed the doctor’s note test since it took until I was 21 to be correctly diagnosed. I don’t like that some people lie and use a fake migraine as an excuse to miss work, but I am hopeful that those folks are few and far between.

    You’ve given me a lot of food for thought here; I’m sure I’ll be thinking about this for days to come. 🙂

  • Benice Shaw
    8 years ago

    To often you get “what did you do to cause this migraine?” From other people. Fortunately I have always said to people ” that no one wants to be in pain”. I believe the majority of us try our best to avoid triggers and do everything in our power to not get migraines or cause flare ups of chronic conditions. But I have known a few people who will crave foods or alcohol and say they know they will get a migraine and it will be worth it. For me the pain is never worth it. I am gluten sensitive too and had to give up almost all grains, and I gave up milk. I know what will happen if I eat those foods. Yes we all need to be compassionate with ourselves and others. Occasionally I will admit I think people make absolutely foolish decisions knowing the consequences and will want sympathy when they get the pain.

  • Ann M Dow
    8 years ago

    I often forget that life isn’t necessarily about pain…easy to do in the larger life perspective when one has chronic pain , fibro , fatigue, arthritis, migraine and major depression…..do we deserve it? no you are right we don’t nor does anyone..having lived in my body as long as I have (pun intended!) I have come to see its not about whether its deserved or not…life is entirely too brief to view it through any sort of guilt…it has become a learning experience entirely…sometimes our choices are good great even, and other times not so much…but they are OURS to make…i have found empowerment in this to combat those moments of guilt or awfulness I must face…i may have pain, i may be only one, and not much in myself…but still I am one and I have ability and the opportunity to choose if only to continue to fight the good fight and while I may not win medals at least I will have tried! Migraines ar just one more stepping stone – that’s right not a barrier but a bridge…we must use them to go further…<3.

  • Stormlaughter
    8 years ago

    No one deserves a migraine attack. No one deserves any kind of illness. But there is difference between living a normal life of exposure to triggers yet working hard to take care of yourself, and failing to participate in your own health improvement.

    A person who consistently fails to care for himself or herself, to use the examples you quoted about drinking too much and making bad choices, should be called out and shunned for miss-characterizing the results of their behavior as an exacerbation of chronic illness. Anyone who routinely takes diligent care to get a diagnosis, follow the plan, work to improve health between attacks, and otherwise avoid known triggers should NEVER be refused pain relief by anyone operating on the belief that the patient has merely failed to care for him- or herself.

    So, yeah, it’s a problem. People who routinely wake up in the mornings with alcohol hangovers, for example, should address their alcohol problem instead of demanding opioid pain medicine claiming they’re treating a migraine attack. People who are exposed to unavoidable triggers, like weather changes, should never be denied the best state-of-the art treatment for their attacks including opioids if indicated.

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that anyone who wants sick time for migraine and/or headache reasons should be required to produce a statement from a doctor with such a diagnosis. More people would get into treatment, I believe, and the temptation to use migraine and headache as an excuse for a day off would diminish. Just my opinion.

    There. I’ve said my piece. I feel better. 😀

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