In my experience, people generally respond to migraines with two different extreme emotions: sadness or anger. Which are you? This challenging condition is hard on us all. We experience debilitating pain and correlating exhaustion. It’s easy to feel waves of anger and sadness when migraines rob us of the most wondrous parts of our lives. However, in response to the same situation, ultimately, many of us land, and sometimes live, in one of these two emotional camps.
Infuriated into action
I have encountered many people with migraines who are infuriated with the way migraines have ruined the lives they once knew. They are incredulous at the way the condition has so drastically affected their lives. They are shocked at how little research is being done to address migraines. It is ludicrous to them that a complex neurological condition that impacts more than 37 million Americans has garnered so little attention in the media and among the medical community. How can it be that there are so few specialists; and so few treatment options? It is unacceptable that the few medications available to them have so many side effects. And, finally, they are mad at the injustice of having the condition in the first place.
Heartbroken into compassion
The other primary group I encounter come at the condition differently. These people are also reflecting on all that has been taken and all that has changed, but their emotional response is not one of fury, but instead of grief. They are heartbroken. They are heavy with sadness at all they have lost. You won’t find them rallying for a fight, but gathering for a group hug. The pain and related loss of life activities cause a pit in their stomach, a punch to their gut.
I wonder whether there is a correlation between how we respond to migraine and how we react when we get physically hurt. When we accidentally touch a hot stove, we all pull back in self-protection. Some yell out with a curse and kick the nearest wall. Others respond with a whimper and gently pamper their hand.
“Depression is anger turned inward”
Freud believed depression is anger turned inward. This seems to hint at the idea that those who are not releasing their frustrations outwardly are instead turning their sadness in on themselves- becoming weighed down in the process. Conversely, the Five Stages of Grief as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross tell us that we must work through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In this process, “depression” (sadness) is a positive and more advanced step than anger when it comes to achieving resolution in a difficult situation.
No matter how we react to and handle pain, we all have something useful and powerful to offer one another.
The angry among us may channel their anger into advocacy, pushing for more migraine funding and research. These advocates refuse to accept “no” for an answer. Meanwhile, the grieving among us may channel their grief into compassion, offering support to those who suffer. The truth is, we best address migraines when we work together.
Finding the balance
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to feel and no one way to feel. However, thinking about how you tend to feel and react might help you reflect on what drives you forward and what holds you back. What is helping or hurting you? Obviously, we all feel mad and sad sometimes, but reflecting on the emotions you wake up with most mornings may also help you seek more of an ultimate balance.
Ironically, despite the emotional extremes, we can land in the same place. Both anger and sadness can lead people to feeling stuck. Anger and crying can both also trigger migraines.
Finally, it must be noted that this whole idea is an over-simplification for those of us dealing with clinical depression (a frequent comorbid condition of migraine). Simply bringing focus to our emotional state won’t do anything when there’s a chemical imbalance at play. Further, it is an oversimplification to look at only two emotions. There is a huge and beautiful array of emotions that lie between and stretch outside of anger and sadness. Hopefully migraines don’t limit us to only two feelings. Still, it is interesting to think about how these two big emotions yank us migraineurs around. They are tough ones to navigate and bringing consciousness to the way they impact us might help.