How to Talk to Someone With Migraine
Dear Loved One,
Bringing migraine into a conversation can be like dropping a bomb on the table. Everyone is terrified by it, but no one knows what to do about it. Some want to put it under the table and pretend like it isn’t there, others try to disarm it with pep talks.
People don’t react this way when you talk about how exhausting it is to parent a toddler and a newborn at the same time. Or when you talk about how infuriating your boss’s micromanaging is. But it’s the same thing.
Listening is key
When I talk about migraine, I’m telling you about my life. I’m not complaining (or maybe I am a little bit, but no more than you do about your mother-in-law). I’m not looking for you to tell me everything is going to get better (there’s no guarantee it will, though I’ll work myself to the bone to make it better). I don’t need you to search desperately for compliments like “but you don’t look sick” (who cares how I look when I feel awful).
When you tell me about your life, I listen. I don’t judge and I don’t think I have all the answers to your problems. I try not to give advice unless you ask for it, and I don’t try to cheer you up unless you tell me that’s what you need. That’s what I need you to do for me when I talk about migraine.
Being disabled at a young age is scary
I know migraine can be scary. It’s awful to think someone could get sick and stay that way forever. You probably feel bad for your sick friend, but you may be a little scared for yourself, too. After all, if Joseph can become disabled by a chronic illness like migraine at 24, what’s stopping you from developing one at 44? If you learn that Jessica’s frequent headaches are actually migraine attacks that cripple her for days at a time, what’s to say your aching knee won’t require a replacement when you’re 37?
Importance of support
That’s why it’s so important that you listen and support us when we talk about migraine. It’s scary to live with a chronic illness. Many of our coworkers and even families and friends don’t even try to understand how hard our day-to-day lives can be. So we feel misunderstood and alone and frightened. This is when we most need our friends to be genuine and supportive. Instead, too many people change the topic or invalidate our feelings with undesired pep talks.
Put yourself in our shoes
If you’re still a little freaked out (and, truthfully, aren’t we all a lot of the time?), then think of something in your life that gets you down. What are you looking for when you talk about that problem? Do you want your friend to tell you how their cousin’s boyfriend fixed his problem? Do you want the person confiding in you to say, “you’ll get over it”? Do you want them to change the subject with an irrelevant compliment? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. So remember that’s what we’re looking for when we talk about migraine, too.
We’re generally not looking for sympathy or attention. We just want to talk about our lives and experiences honestly. We don’t want to have to whitewash everything for people who are too afraid to hear the truth. We want to be authentic with the people we care about. And we want the same for you.
Thanks for taking the time to learn how you might build a stronger relationship with your loved one who has migraine. It’s appreciated far more than you’ll ever know.