Two female figures embracing/together. One present and one absent (dotted lines.) The missing figure is curled up in a bed in pain in the background.

The Challenge of Being There for Loved Ones in Need While Being in Need

We all want to come through for our loved ones in times of need.

The hardest thing about my migraine disease, honestly harder than the pain itself, is when I'm unable to be there for my family and friends when they are struggling.

Being there for my mother

My mother recently had hip replacement surgery. The surgery happened to come smack dab in the midst of an intractable, month-long migraine attack. I am so close to my mom and I had planned to be there for her all the way through her procedure and recovery.  Yet as we neared the date of her surgery, it was becoming clear that I could not be counted on. We had to create alternate plans, with other people in charge.

I thought back to her shoulder surgery six years ago. I was there the whole way through. I was with her at the hospital and then at home to care for her every need the full week after. It was a source of pride for me. Of course, once I got back home I was hit hard with a letdown migraine – but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, I was able to be there for her when it counted.

But this time, no such luck. I began to question whether I’d even be able to see her during the week after surgery. My immense desire to be with her and to help was immaterial because my migraine had other plans.

Migraine completely knocks me out

My migraine disease plays itself out with profuse and frequent vomiting. The kind that makes it impossible to do anything else. In some ways, I suppose it helps to make it clear that I cannot participate in life when it’s at its worst. There is no grey area, and no choice to be had. And yet, I feel as if I’m choosing not to participate.

When my pain and nausea are at their worst, I can't do anything but sit in the dark, curled up in the fetal position, with a bucket or toilet in reach. I am forced to put the needs of others on the back burner, though I continue to have a gnawing worry and real anxiety that I'm not where I need to be. These thoughts, of course, do nothing to help the healing process.

Seizing a window of opportunity

Like a break in the clouds, a small window of decreased (if still moderate) pain appeared amidst the severity. It opened long enough for me to get to the hospital on the day of my mother’s surgery and see her before she was taken back to the operating room. I sat with my sister and we waited. Though I waited as long as I could to see her post-operatively, I also knew my migraine clock was ticking. I wanted to see her, but I also needed to drive myself home.

I was able to stay long enough to know that the surgery was a success, but it was clear I wouldn’t make it until she was in recovery. I hated leaving and I hated knowing she’d be in the hospital by herself overnight (my sister also had to leave due to her own family obligations), but I also knew I needed to get home and care for myself.

The next morning I was able to head back over to the hospital and be with her as she was discharged. I was even able to handle taking her home and getting her settled. This turned into a very long day. I definitely overextended myself, yet I did what I felt I needed to do. I simply wasn’t going to allow my migraine disease to make this choice for me, even if it was clear I would see pain for days after.

Learning to be kind to myself

I realize my standards are probably a tad high for myself (I believe this is the case for most migraineurs), but I want so badly to be able to do it all. I suppose we are often given the challenges that teach us the lessons we most need to learn. I am learning lessons about pacing, accepting limitations, and letting go of the pursuit of perfection.

Despite my continued migraines, I did manage to make homemade soup for my mom the week after her surgery. I was also able to have frequent, if brief, visits with her.

In the end, I had to learn to treat myself with the same kind of kindness, warmth, and acceptance my mother gives to me, and that I try to give to her. It’s a hard lesson but it’s important to remember to apply the same kind of gentle compassion to ourselves that we give to others.

How do you handle the challenge of being there for your friends and family when you, yourself, are in struggling with migraine pain?

 

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