caret icon Back to all discussions

Coping mechanisms…a double whammy?

I’m wondering if anyone else has the following issues…
I’ve had to deal with my headaches for 35+ years. For a very long time I was in denial that they were something out of the ordinary. I took 800 mg of ibuprofen a pop and tried to forget about the pain while I went on with school (they started my 4 th year of medical school). I did not have the time or energy to deal with them and I had no choice but to carry on. I had already learned to compartmentalize negative experiences and emotions / dissociate , from early childhood trauma.

I think as a result of living with chronic headaches for so long they became a sort of "baseline “ for me. It’s rare that the pain ever resolves for me completely. Thus I can have difficulty identifying my pain because of this coping mechanism, until it is severe. The occasional times when I have absence of pain is what I notice, so different from everyday - such a freeing feeling.

How many of you do not acknowledge your pain or dissociate from it for one reason of another? Does this coping mechanism make it more difficult for people to believe your disability?

And more importantly, for you to get the help you need?

To me it feels like a “ double whammy.“ I’m trying to slow down, be able to read my body ( as uncomfortable as that can be) and realize it’s ok to hurt, it’s not a sign of weakness.

  1. Reading you story immediately makes me think of my husband. Like you, he has suffered since school age. Treating with ibuprofen and other OTC drugs and a carbonated beverage with caffeine was just his way of dealing. He also had learned coping mechanisms to deal with emotional issues, childhood trauma, and still is a great compartmentalizer. Over a decade ago he was formally diagnosed with chronic, intractable migraine and New Daily Persistent Headache(NDPH). Hearing you refer to the pain you experience is exactly how he refers to his constant head pain. His pain tolerance is pretty high and he still functions fairly normally in the 4-5 range. He will push himself up to about 7 and then concedes and shuts down. The few times he has been 'pain free' he says is almost eerie like a sudden silence. Unfortunately, this never lasts for more than a couple of hours for him unless he's laid out with strong pain medications like during a hospitalization. He refers to his disassociation of the pain and other coping mechanisms as masking. It's a mental health term. He does it to make it through a task when his migraine is cycling up. It ends with the completion of the task. He regularly practices mindfulness and meditation as well as leaning heavily on his faith in God. He actually wrote an article that touches on this aspect. Here is the link.
    Slowing down for him has been a challenge, but as he is no longer in the workforce and on disability it has been an easier road. Having a disease does not make us weak. It is also no fault of ours. Too often we feel the need to own that burden. For those of us who push through our attacks and use coping mechanisms, it can appear to others that what we are experiencing is a minor, temporary issue. What is not seen is the impact migraine disease has on our entire bodily system. Invisible conditions, like migraine, make it easier for others to stigmatize our conditions. It can be challenging to communicate our experiences and bodily impacts to others and our doctors. My husband tracks his attack cycles using the Migraine Buddy app, and he uses the data from that on his doctor visits to create and easier to 'see' picture. Never forget you are strong and resilient! You deserve to be seen, heard, and loved by others and yourself. Stay strong. We are here for you. Warmly, Cheryl team

    1. Thank you for sharing this with me Cheryl. I feel not so lonely or strange to hear someone else has processed his/her disability in a similar fashion.
      I read the article your husband wrote and understood and agree with his message. I hope relief from the pain is out there for all of us. But regardless , grace and a better understanding of how we can heal and nurture ourself emotionally is something we can strive for.

      1. It is a process, for sure. If there is anything else you need, please don't hesitate to ask us. Healing from the emotional impact of migraine disease is an important piece of our total well being. At times, I think it's more difficult than an attack if that makes sense. The emotional ripples stretch out for a long way! Warmly, Cheryl team

    2. Thank you for sharing your story, although I'm sorry to hear about your struggle with migraine, more specifically identifying the pain. I too got migraine at an early age and have had them for about a similar timeframe now. It's an incredibly challenging condition to live with. I can only imagine going through something as intense as medical school with them. It must have been challenging to complete such intense and extensive studies.

      Regarding your question about identifying the pain, I think many find themselves in similar shoes. When you've been living with migraine for so many years, I feel like you're pain threshold changes. You kind of learn to live with the pain.

      To your point though, this can be a double-edge sword because migraine is best and most effectively treated when they're caught early.

      One thing that I have found helpful is to do frequent body scans. Now I'll be quick to say that I'm not as consistent as I would like to be with this, but I do find it helpful when I am. For example if you set a reminder on you phone once an hour when you're sitting at a desk for example, it can be helpful to catch tension before it builds up. Of course for you it may be different, you might not have tension, maybe it's eye strain, or just being aware of fatigue or others sensations in your body. It's just a thought that I figured I would pass along in hopes that it might help.

      Thanks again for taking the time to start this conversation. I hope that you find it to be helpful, as I'm sure others on this site will find it beneficial too! Please keep us posted on how you're feeling, if you feel comfortable doing so.
      Alene, moderator

      1. yes … thank you good idea that I always seem to forget. I need to be more resolved to do so. I’ve never tried a phone reminder- I like the idea.

      2. fantastic! I hope you find it helpful. Let us know how it goes.
        Alene, moderator

    3. I also have suffered from migraines at an early age and am now 72. I can relate to the measures taken to hide your migraine from everyone. I often hear people say. you must not of suffered from them when we worked together because you never learn at an early age to hide from it as in a way it is difficult to explain to those who think you just have a headache...also you do not want to be seen as weak in the workplace. However, now that I am free from work and raising children, I do take to my bed but I still cant not free myself of the quilt creeping in and often do not tell my friends I have a migraine and make up another excuse..I know crazy right, you would think after all these years I could resolve this issue but old habits die hard. Also I can only imagine what going to medical school was like with migraines....however, wish you were my doctor as at least you would understand,

      1. Hi there, I couldn’t agree more with you. After all these years I still make up other reasons why I can’t attend or simply didn’t show up. Even after conversations with my wonderful neurologist I’m still embarrassed to tell people as they cannot relate. I do understand why they don’t comprehend - it’s because they’ve never experienced a migraine or ‘walked in my shoes’. I’ve experienced negative feedback or just that ‘blank stare’ when trying to explain my migraines. I’m a chronic sufferer and chose to quit my career several years ago. I was diligent in going to work with migraines and as I look back and reflect I wonder how I did it for so long. However, I’m left weaker now and don’t have that degree of fight left in me. Thanks fore listening, Mare.

      2. It saddens my heart to hear that you've been given blank stares and negative feedback when talking about your migraines with others, . So many of us just want to be heard and understood. Even just a "I hear what you're going through, and anyone would struggle with that" is enough. I hope that this community can be a space where you feel safe enough to share your feelings about living with migraine. We all deserve a community to feel open and vulnerable in.

        Warmly, - Cody (Team Member)

    Please read our rules before posting.