How to Educate Others on Migraines
Last updated: June 2023
I’ve been living with migraines for more than 30 years. If you’re reading this, then you likely know all too well what that journey is like – debilitating pain, nausea and vomiting that often sends you to the ER for dehydration, and of course the desperate search for a cold, dark room to find some relief.
How have I managed my migraine?
Over the years, I've worked closely with my neurologist as well as taking an active role in my health through diet and lifestyle habits, all of which have helped to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. However, I am by no means "cured" of them. There is no cure for migraines (yet!).
I've learned how to adjust and adapt over the years. I've been able to identify my triggers and have done my best to avoid them. Yet, one struggle persists: How do I describe a migraine attack to someone who's never had one?
How is it more than a headache?
They think it's "just a headache." They had headaches before, and they were able to still function. So, what's wrong with you? You must just be "weak."
It's not "just a headache" though, it's a battle. People with migraines aren't "weak," we're actually some of the strongest, most resilient people I know because we’re fighting a silent, unpredictable battle.
The unpredictability is often an overlooked aspect of migraines but it’s so challenging. It's not just about the pain, but the looming uncertainty that follows us around.
How do we help people understand?
Having your migraine experience fully understood by others in your world who have never experienced them is a struggle.
Often the people closest to us who have a front row seat to our migraine experience, helps them to understand it better than someone that we have less interaction with. But we're constantly meeting new people over the years, so how do we help people to understand migraines?
We all just want to be seen and understood, and we don't want to be viewed as weak, how do we do this when we live with unpredictable migraines?
How do we know who wants to learn?
Let’s be honest, there are some people that aren’t open to understanding our experience, and we should not carry the burden of their judgement. I love the quote, “what other people think of you is none of your business.”
That’s said, more often than not, there are people who care, they just simply have never been exposed to the realities of migraines. Just as I may have not been exposed to their struggles in life. It’s this person, that I want to better connect with. I believe that the key to empathy is education and conversation.
Here are a few tips that have helped me over the years and perhaps will do the same for you:
What can you share about your experience?
Be honest about your experience. Let them know how a migraine impacts your life, not just physically but emotionally too. Share your journey with them, the good and the bad. When doing so, I try my best to come from a place of education. That conversation will feel very different than just venting about my struggles. There’s a time and place to vent, but it’s not when I’m trying to educate someone.
Explain to them what a migraine is. It's not just a severe headache but a neurological disorder characterized by intense, debilitating head pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Analogies can help. I used to say that it feels like a severe case of the flu combined with your worst hangover. That was especially relatable when I was trying to educate my fellow classmates in college about migraines. Find something that they can relate to.
What can you ask them?
Encourage them to ask questions. This interaction will help them understand better and will also give them a chance to express their concerns.
It may be challenging to help others to truly understand migraines, it's not impossible. Always remember, even if some people don't understand, it’s not your job to convince them that your experience is very real. Their opinion doesn’t validate your experience. And above all, remember you are not alone in this journey.
What do you find to be helpful in helping others to understand your experience with migraines? Please share below!
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?