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The Guilt Trip of Migraine

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.

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.


  • ftwrkngmom
    7 months ago

    Great article. The guilt of my chronic migraines has been killing me lately. I am behind at work and at home. I feel like I let everyone down especially my kids. This piece was really encouraging.

    On a more serious side…
    Were all of your spouses always so supportive? Am I the only one with a spouse who just doesn’t get it? Ironically, he get migraines too – he just doesn’t understand that mine are not like his and that mine are getting worse. Any advice?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    6 months ago

    So glad this article resonated with you. The impact of guilt can be incredibly heavy and hard to manage atop an already challenging complex neurological disease. Please know you are not alone in this- we are all trying to figure out how to show up in the most important ways for our loved ones even if we can’t actually be there in person.

    On the topic of marriage and migraine- no, you’re not the only one who has a spouse that “doesn’t get it”. Many in our community talk about the challenges faced in their marriages with spouses who are less than compassionate and understanding. We have a number of articles on the topic you might find interesting:

    As for advice regarding how to handle these incredibly normal challenges, here’s a couple pieces that might be of help:

    So glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch!

  • mbabi1970
    7 months ago

    Holly, I always relate so well to your articles. Thank you for sharing your experiences and making me feel or rather reminding me we are not in this battle alone. Guilt is crushing and I don’t know when I will ever truly be able to rid myself of it. But I’m trying and reading your pieces help tremendously. Michele

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Yay! Good morning, Michele. Great to hear from you, as always. Yes, guilt is one of those buggers that I wrestle with frequently. I had to cancel out on a large family gathering last night as I was pulling out of a major migraine/vomiting event. Just too weak to make conversation in a noisy restaurant. I knew it would deplete my empty reserves and send me back into an attack. So hard to say no and miss out. Again. I re-read my own article as a reminder that it’s important to let myself off the hook and that it is more likely ME that I’m letting down than anyone else.

    Thinking of you.

  • AZReynolds
    7 months ago

    I had to just give it up. In reality, people give me migraines with their perfumes, strong detergents, haircare products, dryer sheets, etc. I have cut my migraines in half by accepting that I must live in isolation. Besides I decided, why feel guilty? If others don’t care enough about me to not use those perfumed items around me, why should I feel guilty for missing their events? I still feel sadness at missing the kids dance recitals and games, but I can’t control the rest of the world, so isolation is the only solution. God his kindness has brought me a friend who also can’t stand perfumes, so at least now I have a buddy.
    PS I loved the way you stated “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.” I also have Fibromyalgia and I want to share that comment with the FibroTeam network. It’s a great attitude adjustment! Thanks!

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Glad this article resonated with you (and that part of it applied to your life with fibro as well). I have found acceptance to be such a huge part of managing life with chronic pain. Isolation is also a huge part of these diseases. Coming to terms with that piece of things also can help. It sounds like you have made peace with living in a more isolated way as it has led to a less pained life. Wonderful that you have found a friend who understands! We’re here too! You are certainly not alone in either of these conditions.

    So glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch.

  • mistycatbaby
    7 months ago

    I’ve lived with migraines for over fifty years. Three of my four children also suffer with them. Medication has changed but helps only a certain percentage. I’m limited to T3s. The perception of opioid pain killers has become a very real problem. Doctors are reluctant to prescribe them. My children have been advised to take extra strength Tylenol. As fellow migraine sufferers we know that’s almost ineffective. Taking OTC medications for a migraine for me totally incapacitates me. When a migraine gets to a certain level, a cycle of nausea and vomiting takes over. This can lead to fainting from the rush of pain. There has to be an end to the stigma of taking pain medications.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    You raise such an important point regarding the new regulations and overall stigma surrounding opioids. People who are validly living with severe chronic pain are now being punished by the overreach of our government as they are desperate to respond to the opioid crisis in America. Doctors are less apt to prescribe opioids, and health insurers are making it an incredible challenge to fill existing prescriptions.

    One would hope that soon they will be able to parse apart those who are addicts and those who have real pain issues that respond well with opioids. There is a real divide in the migraine community regarding whether or not opioids are the best recourse when it comes to migraine- but for those of us that have taken them and have found that they work best to manage our pain, there is no question. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’m sorry to hear you have been living with migraine for so long and that it is now a reality for three of your kids. You are not alone in this! There are migraine specialists out there who are willing to prescribe opioids, but they are getting harder to find:

    Glad you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch.

  • jmedlin
    7 months ago

    I hear you. I have a good Dr at the moment who prescribes the opiates that work for me. Others however are constantly questioning the validity of taking them. Some Drs are now saying they don’t work, which for me they do (a lot of the time)so I don’t understand. In Australia we were able to get over the counter opiates until about a year ago . There used to be a codeine and aspirin mix that was really effective. Since the government stopped all otc codeine products I have to “make” my own

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Interesting to hear that the challenge with opioids stretches to Australia. You are right, there is much controversy regarding the application of opioids for migraine. However, for many, this course of treatment has proven the most effective. Still, many doctors believe that taking opioids eventually causes the disease to worsen. Difficult to argue with those who swear by its efficacy when nothing else has worked.

    Thanks for chiming in. Please stay in touch!

  • Anna
    7 months ago

    I can relate to this article so much! Especially as a young woman who is trying to progress in her career and keep up a good social life – I feel so guilty if I have to call in sick at work or if I have to cancel on after work dinner/drinks because of another migraine. And very much like a broken record. Work colleagues understand, but I feel unless you’re a sufferer yourself they just can’t really appreciate how debilitating it can be and so I always worry what they really think.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi Anna- Thanks so much for chiming in. So sorry to hear that this is your reality too! It really is so challenging to figure out how to make peace with this part of migraine disease. But, as I said in the article, it’s more likely that our worry about how we are being perceived is coming from us more so than from our friends, family/loved ones. I suppose, then, the trick is how to make peace within ourselves and with all the ways that migraine takes from us- because it can take so much. Not an easy journey. Not glad you have migraine, but glad you’re part of our community! Hope you’ll stay in touch.

  • Thunter
    7 months ago

    I’m glad that I signed up for this site. I’ve suffered from a teenager.
    The guilt is terrible and I hold myself to very high standards but others haven’t helped by their comments to me. I’m thankful that my husband, family and a couple close friends see what I go through and understand.
    I don’t really have advice on guilt because I still beat myself up–this is my weakness. Thank you for your insight. These articles are such a support.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    7 months ago

    Hi Thunter- I’m so glad to hear that this article, and our site in general, is resonating with you. What a wonderful thing that you have connected with us and that you are now a part of our community! Welcome!

    Good to hear that you have what sounds like a healthy support network in your spouse, family, and close friends. Guilt is a challenge for so many of us. We don’t have to have all the answers, sometimes it’s just good to remember that we’re not alone in this incredibly complex challenge.

    So glad you’re with us! Please stay in touch.

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