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5 Ways to Describe Migraines to a Person Who Doesn't Have Them

For those who have experienced migraine pain, I can say, “I have chronic migraines,” and there’s no further explanation needed. An instant recognition happens between us and that person understands my pain.

Migraine pain gets lost in translation

I’ve learned that this same shorthand doesn’t exist with people who have never suffered from a migraine. My condition gets lost in translation, and because of this some friends and family still believe my migraines are just really “bad headaches.”

I didn't describe my attacks well

When I first started getting migraines, the only language I had to describe one was, “It’s like a headache but way worse.” I was at a loss to describe the agony I felt and in trying to find some relatable way of speaking about them, I used headaches as an example.

A migraine is not a “bad headache.”

Still, I couldn't figure out a way to accurately describe my migraine pain. Over the years, I realized I was going to have do better if I wanted to stop the stigma that a migraine is merely a headache gone bad.

Different ways to describe migraine

So, I decided to get creative (and fun) in my descriptions of how my migraines felt in my head. Here are 5 ways I’ve used to describe my migraines:

The waffle effect

When my husband asked me how a bad migraine run had felt, I said, “If I could’ve removed the red-hot waffle iron stuck to the side of my head and stopped vomiting like I’d been eating all the waffles my head was making, I’d have felt much better.” Once my head was better, we went out for waffles.

Hot yoga and nausea

Occasionally it’s the nausea that takes over during an attack. That’s when I like to mention that, “Having a migraine is like suffering through a hot yoga class while eating raw chicken from 2007.”

A horror movie

During Halloween one year, I was inspired to tell a family member that my migraines sometimes take on a monster-like quality. Discussing the movie Frankenstein, I asked, “You know when all that lightning goes into The Creature's head?” I began, “Well, imagine that kind of blinding pain…and then add flu symptoms.” Sadly, during an attack, I’m always too achy to sing a rousing rendition of Putting on the Ritz.

Comparing the pain to childbirth

When I was pregnant, I was never super concerned about the pain of childbirth mainly because I’d been a migraine sufferer for many years. I figured I’d dealt with my fair share of pain. Since birthing my baby boy, I’ve described trying to function during a migraine like this, “Migraine pain is like asking a woman a the height of child labor to get up and fix Thanksgiving dinner.”

Hibachi grilling my brain

My migraines are a searing hot pain on one side of my head and then add nausea and chills. My go-to description is usually: “My migraines feel like my brain is being grilled on a hibachi while my stomach is off eating funnel cake and riding the Tea Cups at Disneyland over and over again.”

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