The Guilt Trip of Migraine

When am I going to get better at managing the guilt that comes with migraine? After a lifetime of dealing with this condition, you’d think I’d have unearthed a better strategy. After forty years, why haven’t I developed a successful coping mechanism to handle this very real, very common, very awful dynamic that accompanies this very real, very common, very awful condition?

My Achilles heel

But, no. Guilt is the Achilles heel of my migraines. I don’t mean to be self-congratulatory, but when it comes to migraine, I like to think I’ve made some pretty great strides when it comes to maintaining a positive outlook. Acceptance was a major step. It took many years to stop fighting against the pain and see it instead as a partner with whom I needed to make peace. Doing so freed up what little energy I had to put toward more positive and healthy endeavors. I no longer felt angry or sad. I stopped feeling victimized.

Glass half full

It took another number of years to embrace the idea of migraine as something that was promoting health and wellness in my life. Rather than feeling limited and struggling with a sense of unfairness at having to eliminate fun food triggers (like sugar, caffeine, and dairy, just to name a few), I pushed myself to see the positives in eating healthy. Similarly, I came to see that while going to bed early might limit my social life, it, too, is ultimately a healthy choice.

If you can’t tell by now, I will just come out and say it: I’m a glass half full kind of person. Always looking for the positives in a challenging situation. I’m usually successful in that endeavor, but, I’ve hit a wall when it comes to the guilt that accompanies migraine.

Feeling guilty over something I can't control

Guilt is a huge, constant and looming issue for chronic migraineurs. We repeatedly cancel plans, we can’t fully participate in the lives of our children, we can’t be intimate with our partners when we want, we miss important life or work deadlines, we may have to stop working altogether, and so on. Daily, if not at every turn, we feel we are coming up short in one way or another.

I’m sure that figuring a way to more fully accept migraine as a neurological condition, wholly out of my control, rather than something that is my fault, would do worlds at assuaging my guilt. But that is easier said than done.

"I'm desperate to stop being known as the woman with the awful migraines"

So I am left to think carefully about where the guilt is coming from. Is it coming from me, or are others making me feel guilty? In truth, when I evaluate my life, I am compelled to observe that the guilt is coming from me. My standards are high, and failing to meet them is terribly hard. I want so badly to be there in every way for my children and to be a more active mom. I want to be able to get back into the workforce. I want to be able to do more than occasionally show up at family and social gatherings. I am desperate to stop being known as “the woman with awful migraines.”

A long and winding road

Like a broken record, I must keep reminding myself that the limitations that chronic migraine places on me are not choices I am making. They are forced upon me by the condition. When I “choose” not to attend an event, it is not my choice. It is an acknowledgment of my neurological condition. A painful and hard reality. I also have to remember that while the condition has altered my course and changed the way I pictured living – as a mom, a professional, a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a sister - it has also changed my definition of love and closeness. I might not have explored the world with my sons and husband, but we are utterly connected and share warmth and love in all the ways that matter. Migraine often alters our course, but new lessons appear along the way.

I still have miles to go in figuring out how to handle the guilt that arises when I can’t meet my own standards. The journey to true acceptance is a long and winding one.

What is your experience with guilt and Migraine? Please share your wisdom so we can learn from one another.

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