Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Coping with Dependence

Coping with Dependence

Before and after

I’m often tempted to draw myself a picture of life “before and after” migraine. At first glance, the comparison seems a bit tragic: before migraine I was a self-sufficient, financially independent, extroverted working professional following my lifelong dreams. With migraine I have become a financially dependent, introverted, precariously employed entrepreneur, making things up as I go.

Migraine has taken so many things from me (wine, aged cheese, my former career, late night dancing, the ability to take my body for granted, etc., etc.), but it hasn’t been all bad. While I continue to move through the messy non-linear process of grieving many losses, living with migraine has also increased my capacity for patience, resilience, and creativity in order to live well despite frequent pain and disability. I try to look on the bright side often, and I am grateful for my newfound goals and interests, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still grieving. And of all the things migraine has taken from me, the most difficult loss stems from the feeling that I’m no longer independent.

Living the single life and caring for myself used to feel pretty easy. Now, I can’t even imagine how hard it would be, and I hope I won’t have to find out anytime soon. I’m not sure how I would manage to feed myself properly if my partner didn’t do all the grocery shopping and bring me dinner on the nights where I can barely get out of bed. Even with a great support network of understanding friends and family, I’m not sure whom I would ask to sit quietly and hold my hand when I feel like I’m falling apart. Without the medical coverage through his employer, I’m not sure how I would afford any part of my current treatment plan. Considering my precarious income, I certainly wouldn’t be able to live in a detached house, and thus probably wouldn’t have nearly as much control over my environment. If I were on my own right now, I suspect I’d be way more of a hot mess than I already am.

My inner critic

So I recognize that I am endlessly fortunate to have this help and support. I wish every person with migraine could have at least this much help. But the independent woman inside me is SCREAMING.

You’re dependent on your partner!

You’re cleaning the house and doing food prep and cleaning the kitty litter while he’s out making the bacon!

What are you? A kept 50s housewife? A shell of your former self?

Why are inner critics so unfailingly harsh!? Geeez.

I know that if the tables were turned, I wouldn’t hesitate to extend financial support to my partner. I know that the disability caused by migraine is not my fault. I know that housework is an excellent way to keep moving and feel some control over my life when I don’t feel well enough to leave the house. Being sick is not a choice, and in fact, I work very, very hard to be as physically and emotionally well as possible, and generate some income too. So why do I continue to feel guilt and shame over this dependence?

It’s cultural

There’s a lot to unpack here, and more than just feelings of being unfeminist. I think it’s also about the messages I have been fed my whole life about being responsible, pulling my weight, and making something of myself. It’s about a cultural tendency toward individualism.

I keep trying to remind myself that none of us is ever fully independent. We are social creatures that rely on each other’s generosity and skills to survive. Even though the hermit life may seem enticing now and then to my migraine brain, I necessarily rely on so many people in my life, and really, I always have. From the parents that kept me sheltered fed and cared for right down to the farmers who provide my groceries, I haven’t truly spent a day of my life without relying on my fellow humans for comfort and sustenance.

Recognizing the beauty of INTERdependence

I’m currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllebeb, and there’s a passage early on that has stuck with me:

“On it’s own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.”

Are communities of people not similar in so many ways? Is it not worth our time to value every human life, nourishing and supporting each other so we can benefit from each other’s love and care and skills in order to be stronger together?

I may need more emotional and logistical support than I once did, but I haven’t lost my independence, because I was dependent on others all along. If we could see things this way even when we have our health, then perhaps losing abilities would feel more normal than tragic; our before and after pictures would not look so different after all.

Do you ever feel shame or guilt for relying on others? How have you dispelled these feelings?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Macbeck
    2 years ago

    The first sentence stopped me, because I don’t remember, really, a time when I DIDN’T have migraines. Even as a child I would get nausea & a headache then go to sleep. There was a long period when I was episodic, including while raising my children largely on my own, and I had to depend on them to care for me when I was sick; thus the idea of depending on others when I became chronic was nothing new.

    Since becoming chronic and then disabled I’ve had to become more dependent on others as I rarely drive because of my symptoms: making the decision to sell my car was one of the more difficult choices, and yet I’m thankful that my family gave me the space to reach these decisions on my own.

    Thankfully I have wonderful friends and neighbors who look out for and help me whenever needed. I’m comfortable with my dependence.

  • curemigraine
    2 years ago

    I’m glad you’re unpacking those feelings. However, for many of us who’ve had chronic migraine since early childhood/adolescence, we never had a choice but to reject society’s concept of “independence” and find value and self-respect in our own roles, whatever they might be, early. The things you describe as part of your “independent” pre-migraine life – like being “financially independent” and “self-sufficient” were never a choice or option for us because the potential for that was taken before we could grow into them. Even earning any income at all is often difficult because in order to have the experience and resources to do that (even owning your own business requires a base amount of social and financial capital) you need to have things like college education and prior work experience – things that are hard to acquire with chronic migraine. Heck even dating is hard with chronic migraine.

    The barriers to education and work are in no small part due to ableism (and often classism and capitalism). But even if people are unable to work entirely, even with any and every available accommodation, they still deserve to live lives of dignity. This is why I advocate for basic income – that all lives are worthy regardless of ability to work. Not everyone has people they can depend upon financially, and with basic income, they wouldn’t need to.

    Additionally, while I know that this “cultural tendency towards individualism” is part of white US culture, it’s far from the only cultural concept. Asian American cultures for example tend to value community and family far above individualism – in fact individualism is often considered selfish. Growing up in an Asian American family, my guilt often takes the form of my worries that I’m not able to contribute (financially or household work) to my family as much as I “should” rather than not being “independent” or moving out of my parents’ home.

  • kittykatblue
    2 years ago

    It’s great you have someone who sticks with you through it all and is there when you need someone. I would love to have a man like that in my life, but I’ve never found one who could (or would) deal with my chronic illness. I too live precariously, and if I were to lose my current contract tomorrow I’d lose my apartment in 2 months’ time. I am glad to be able to work again, for years I was unable to do so and lost everything…. my savings, then the home I’d worked so hard for, eventually my car, my credit and even loved ones…. I am slowly rebuilding my life in fear, knowing all the while that it could change drastically again at any moment. Guilt, shame and fear are always nearby.

  • butterflies
    2 years ago

    It does grow wearisome being dependent, especially for those of us who were raised in an era where anything less seems unacceptable! I appreciate your honesty in admitting the things about your former life which you continue to grieve even as you embrace the positives of your “new normal,” so to speak. When I have a series of concurrent migraine days I’m less able to feel accepting of my current life of dependence and pain. However, reading pieces like yours reminds me that I still have much for which to be grateful – like a husband who takes care of everything when another migraine hits.

  • bluebird
    2 years ago

    Dispelling guilt…seems like the work of generations… Compassion practice. Gratitude practice.. Love in every breath. Tree meditation. The life force and community of trees offers a model of living without guilt. Just happy to keep the juices flowing. These and other specific practices, however, are not possible during the many phases of migraine syndrome. When the amygdala or other parts of the brain seem to be hijacked by this disease, I am grateful to know I will return to a more balanced state. So a practice patience and acceptance. Sometimes I need to remember others who are suffering differently and who have fewer options, to kickstart myself back into appreciation for my life. While I struggle and focus on love in every breath…celebrate that life in all it’s forms is amazing…guilt falls away

  • bluebird
    2 years ago

    Thank you for this beautiful perspective. I too create more suffering by feeling like I am not contributing enough. My identity, like many women of my time, involved creating an independent life, and a commitment to generosity of spirit in community. Asking for help was a foothil on this climb over the mountains of migraine challenges. The hardest part comes from being so unable to make commitments to engage in activities on a schedule. Our society requires showing up on time and that has become a great challenge. Your compassionate perspective and world view are deeply informed in kindness. Thank you again.

  • Tamara
    2 years ago

    Omg I needed this. I am really struggling with letting go and having others help. I have always been an EXTREMELY independent person (bought my own townhouse at 25 years old, paid for my own 5 years of university with no loans, always been a very independent worker etc). I can’t seem to ask for help, I feel bad that I’m not the one giving. And when I finally have asked – the person seems to change their mind or in another way make me feel bad (mom came to help clean my house today because I have a showing tomorrow and a migraine but she complained about the work and that I should “try and keep it cleaner by doing something daily” – hello I have had TWO days under 6/10 pain this month and been 8-9/10 for the last 11 days. How do you clean during that? I barely could shove some food down my throat and feed the cats). Just goes against me and everything I’ve done.

    Funny too for the book quote …. that is a book I’ve been waiting to read for the past 5 months ….. it’s on our book club list for November. So excited!!

  • Amanda Workman moderator
    2 years ago

    You are most definitely not alone in having to learn to ask for help. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Even as an advocate and somebody who has been dealing with chronic migraine for an extremely long time, it still is not easy for me either! I will share with you something my therapist told me when I told her I was struggling because I am rather OCD and cannot keep up with the housework, she told me it’s more important to take care of you than the house so if the house has to suffer, let it. So I am telling you, take care of yourself first! If the housework cannot get done by you alone, let it be and ask for others to please help you.
    I’m so sorry you have to deal with comments like that. I really do not think people understand how saying something like that can make us feel. I hope she becomes more understanding for you.

    Maybe try sharing Kerrie’s open letter? You can find it here

    Amanda Workman (moderator & contributor)

  • Poll